Prince Rama Varma, an eminent carnatic musician and teacher, points out a shortcoming in swara gyanam that’s common even among advanced carnatic musicians. He also explains why it is common in our traditional raga-by-raga learning process:

Carnatic music has 16 swarasthanas packed in 12 distinct positions. The 12 tones are more or less universal; many systems of music around the world have them, may be with some differences in the ratios/frequencies of individual notes. (Checkout Shruti Carnatic Tuner for precise swarasthanas used in Carnatic music)

Carnatic Swarasthanas

In addition to the usual 12 notes, Carnatic music has 4 more swarasthanas, however they simply share their positions with existing notes. Sounds tricky? Not really, read on.

Sādhakam Carnatic Ear Trainer is an android app which helps students build their Swara Gyānam. Practicing with the app, doing the interactive exercises, students gradually develop their ability to identify swarams they hear. Hearing a sound and being able to tell the swarasthanam instantly is a wonderful skill, isn’t it?

Challange answered correct

This article describes how the app works, various stages of swara gynam development, and how to get the most out of it.

In an earlier post, we had demonstrated the difference between Carnatic Ga3 and its closest matching note on keyboards, the Major 3rd. It sparkled some discussion on forums and social media, and some of the readers began to think that only Ga3 is different from what is on keyboards while other swarasthanas are ok.

Actually, all swarasthanas deviate from their respective western notes!

Take a look at this visualization that shows the deviation of carnatic swarasthanams from their nearest western equal-tempered notes:

deviation of carnatic swarasthanas from their nearest ET notes

As you can clearly see from the chart:

In carnatic music, Anthara Gandharam (Ga3) has a peculiar characteristic. It can be heard clearly even when we play just Sa on tambura. It is a Swayambu Swaram, comes alive automatically due to the wonderful acoustics of tambura. This phenomenon is fundamentally important for carnatic music.

On a keyboard*, Major 3rd is used to approximate Ga3. However, Major 3rd (western music) is 400 cents# whereas proper carnatic Ga3 is at 386.31 cents above Sa (5/4 ratio).

ga3 is several cents flatter than major 3rd on keyboard

Stuff on carnatic music is not usually hard to come by. Nowadays, one can look up Arohana/Avarohana of a Raga or list of compositions by a composer with a quick web search. And then there are resources- massive, huge, immense resources- that serious students and researchers should be thankful that they exist online.

Journal of the Music Academy

14th February is Musicologist Professor P. Sambamurthy’s birthday. I started reading his treatise, South Indian Music (6 volumes), when I got more than slightly interested in Carnatic music. I can’t say I liked it very much at first. But I knew it was a very important resource and kept coming back to it often.

At first, it didn’t feel like a crisp, concise theory book. I thought it had a lot of fluff and unnecessary boasting (about the system of music). I began appreciating the quality of the contents only after reading a few more theory books. Some of them had passages literally copied from Sambamoorthy’s, while others didn’t have much of theoretical value IMHO (particularly the ones began with “Carnatic music originated from Shiva’s head”)

Professor Sambamurthy's books



Reaper is my main Digital-Audio-Workstation. It’s just awesome!

Another score graduated from my Carnatic Scores Repository - Saint Tyagaraja’s kriti Brochevarevare in Sriranjani Ragam, Adi Talam

Music score sample: Brochevarevare

A typical page in a music theory/appreciation book looks like this -

Introduction To Music Appreciation - Miller

Problem: It’s difficult to go through the musical examples. One must look for the recordings, or try to play them on an instrument (or sing). In some books, musical examples are printed in a separate section and referred through out the book (Refer: Ex. 1…). This makes reading the book unnecessarily complicated while the material discussed itself may not be that difficult.

Added two varnam tables. 8 Adi Thala Varnams (from year 2, certificate course, AP govt. music colleges).

Working on this -

I’ve created a repository for Carnatic Music Scores. One can download Carnatic Music Notations/Scores for Varnams, Kritis along with the source file/document which generated the score. At present the repository has a few completed scores and a few more almost ready scores.

An Avant-Garde Tuesday, Composed and Performed by Ananth.

Occasion: Annual day celebrations, Sri Bhakta Ramadas Govt. College of Music and Dance.

I’ve prepared some study material on Carnatic music theory. These notes are based on the syllabus framed by Potti Sriramulu Telugu University for Certificate in Music (Karnataka Sangeetham) examinations. Government music colleges in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh also follow the same syllabus. So, if you are a music student from one of the above mentioned colleges, or preparing to appear for the university exam as a private candidate, you’ll find these texts useful. This might also serve as an easy-to-follow introduction to Carnatic music for those who are generally interested in the system but not appearing for any particular examination.

These texts are updated and improved from time to time. You are encouraged to share the link to this page, or simply Never share or host or link to pdf files directly.

Carnatic music theory - Year 1
Edition 2.5 (Nov 2018)

Carnatic music theory - Year 2
Edition 2.0 (Nov 2018)

Apps for carnatic music students

Here are the android apps specifically made for Carnatic music. If you are a carnatic music student, teacher or professional, you’ll find them very useful.

Pocket Shruti Box: Carnatic Tambura
Authentic tambura sound. Clear and accurate.

Sādhakam Carnatic Ear Trainer
Easiest way to improve your Swara gyānam! Learn to identify swarasthanas by ear.

Shruti Carnatic Tuner
Tune any instrument quickly. Sing to see which swaram you are singing.

  • “Chalamela” - Varnam
  • Ragam: Dharbar, Thalam: Adi, Composer: Thiruvotriyur Tyagayyar
  • Score Transcribed by Ananth.
  • License: Creative Commons - Free for Non-Commercial, Share-alike use.
  • Download PDF
Dharbar Varnam Score - Page 1
Dharbar Varnam Score - Page 2

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