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Carnatic music is vocal music that is associated with South India. Most of the compositions in Carnatic music are created to be sung and if played on instruments, it has to be done in a singing or gayaki style. Ancient Hindu traditions have given birth to 2 main genres of music, that being Carnatic and Hindustani music. Hindustani music that is popular in North India has distinctive Islamic and Persian influences. The main features of both these kinds of music is the presence of the sruti or the musical pitch, the swara or the musical sound of a note, the raga or the melodic formulae, and the tala or the rhythmic cycles.
In Indian classical music, the voice and singing are given great importance. Carnatic music is taught and learned through compositions. The kirtanam or the kritis popularized by composers such as Purandara Dasa and the Trinity of Carnatic music namely Tyagaraja, Syama Sastri, and Muthuswami Dikshitar are usually sung during performances. During a Carnatic vocal music performance, there is an ensemble of musicians such as the vocalist or the principal performer who is given melodic accompaniment through a violin, rhythm accompaniment with the help of the mridangam, and with the tambura being performed in the background as a drone throughout the performance. Other musical instruments that are also popularly used during a performance are the veena, the kanjira, the ghatam, the morsing, venu flute, and chitraveena.
Carnatic vocal music is very popular in the South but especially in Chennai. The Madras Music Season is an international cultural event during which you can attend performances by world famous Carnatic vocalists. These concerts are organized by sabhas and entry is strictly through tickets. Carnatic music was patronized by the kings of the South such as the Kingdom of Travancore and the Maratha rulers of Tanjore. Purandara Dasa known as the Pitamaha or Father of Carnatic music flourished during the time of the Vijayanagar Empire. He is credited to have formulated the system of teaching Carnatic music. Carnatic singers maintain the beat by moving their hands and fingers up and down in specific patterns in order to keep time.
Improvisation is an essential part of Carnatic music. The ability of the musician to improvise in raga alapana, kalpana swara, and neraval reveals the true talent of the artist. Improvisation is the ability to create music on the spot and to perform it without any previous preparation. Kalpita sangita is composed music that a student learns and plays to get better insight into the melody and rhythm of Carnatic music. They usually sing the compositions of renowned composers such as Thyagaraja and Swati Tirunal. The student does not just reproduce the compositions, they start to change or enhance them, and to create new harmonies and melodies even as they sing. Constant listening also helps them to recognize the subtleties and intricacies of music. They learn how to structure alapanas and how to develop neraval, kalpana swara, and tanam. Manodharma sangita or improvised music is what a musician aspires to when he begins to learn Carnatic music.