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Posts: 12
Reply with quote  #1 
Can anyone explain clearly to me how melody and tal relate in Indian music? Specifically, why do some gats "start" on beats 9 or 12 etc. in teen tal?

I'm think I'm having trouble because I'm thinking of a gat as a "tune" with a definate starting point - on the first beat, and don't get why this first beat isn't the sum.

I've been told that improvisation in teen tal often hppens from mukhra to mukhra or from sum to sum, but I'm confused!

Any help much appreciated.
jaan e kharabat

Posts: 1,401
Reply with quote  #2 

Here we go, I will take a deep breath and try and do the best i can to explain this:

There are two basic types of compositions in Indian music that span across genres like khiyal, dhrupad , thumree and even tarana and tappis.

These two types are called bandish and cheez when vocal, and gat when intrumental. The two compositions are known as stayee and antara. Now a composition can theoritically start and end on any beat in the cycle.

Indian music however is fond of the theme. And so a composition consists of a portion to which the players constantly return. This portion of the composition is called the mukhda and it consists of that part that leads up to and includes the sam. Players when they are improvising will start their improvs after sam and will usually end it by reentring the composition at the beat where the mukhda starts. So say a sthayee starts on beat 9, a player will play the mukhda which ends on beat 1 of next cycle (sam), he will then start an improv on beat 2 (say) and end it on beat 8 and then play the mukhda again with or without the rest of the sthayee. (And he can keep doing this over and over again).

Now, you may ask why not have a mukhda that goes from sam to sam? I think the main reason is that it takes too much space. A shorter mukhda is more dramatic and it provides plenty of space within each cycle for improvisations.

BTW there is also some compositions that have a vi-sam. That is the sam falls on a beat other than the first say like the second beat of the cycle.

If there are just ''six tones'' in an octave [sic] then why have frets for tones that don't exist?
Jim Palmer

Posts: 2
Reply with quote  #3 
Interesting question, but reconsider the idea that tunes normally go from 1 to 1. I think this is more the exception than the rule. Many tunes start with a pickup - anda 1, 4eanda 1 etc.
These can be thought of as lead-ins or short introductions. In Indian music we often hear a longer version of this.
According to George Ruckert (The Classical Music of North India Vol. 1) the definition of mukhra is "the introductory and main phrase of a composition".
The mukhra contains a phrase that describes the raga well, so that by the time we get to the sam we pretty well know where the music is going.
For example: Nd P Mg R -gd P is a sure start for Raga Kirwani (slow teental from 12).
A simpler example of the mukhra as a pickup is in a Ramesh Misra recording of a Bhajan (from 13 in sitarkhani) - S R -S G +G G MGPM GR etc.
In my opinion, this also creates a tension and release not uncommon in Western Classical music, though Western composers handle it differently.
In improvising it makes musical sense to come back to it, but it is not a rule.
Hope this helps

Posts: 12
Reply with quote  #4 
Thanks guys. I'll try to assimilate what you've told me.

It kind of make sense, but there are some compositions (I've been getting a few from the Ragaparichaya program of the net) where the sum is neither a "landing point" or the begining of a tune or anything like that.

If I try to make parallels with western music, I can't help but think that pretty much any beat of the 16 could be the sum, and the whole thing could just be "shifted". (you mentioned tunes that have a displaced sum)

Is this possible?

The musical form I'm must familiar with is Irish dance music, which has a simple AABB form (A could be asthai, B could be antara), but these tunes "start", if not on the first beat of the bar, on a short "lead in", which is different for the B part.

I can use this form as the basis for impro, as I know what's going on. Is there any sense in trying to fit this model to what happens in a composition in Teen tal, or should I be totally reconceptualising?

Sorry if I'm seeming slow to get it, but I'm still a bit confused.

Also, does what happens in Teen tal apply to other taals like jhap and roopak?

Sincerely if slowly,


Posts: 599
Reply with quote  #5 
Wonderful topic, tal and melody. It is perhaps the most confusing aspect of Indian music to westerners used to melodies starting on or very near the first beat. To just clarify what has already been well put by Jaan e khabat- This mukhda is indeed like a long pickup and sam is the first beat- with gats, especially the Masitkhani, slower or medium gats, there will be a space (rest/pause/) on the note the falls on sam- what we would call a half note or whatever if it were western 4/4 time. So you have the mukhda, then the sam with the space after it , then the rest of the gat starts, usually on the 4th beat . To western ears this SOUNDS like a short pickup and the 5th beat will sound like a downdeat, i.e. sam, but this is an illusion. Listening to the tabla during a gat is an easier way to hear the cycle, however with time you get bvery used to it. The slower the gat the more challenging to keep your place. A tabla player showed me years ago how to count slow teental. Start with the tip of your index finger and touch it with your thumb- each beat move down a joint, then the other three fingers- 16 beats! My understanding is that centuries ago, Majeet Khan kind of invented this "shift" where the melody didn't start with the tabla on 1 so as to create a more interesting and syncopated form. Fast gats quite often will start right there on the sam or very close, like most western music. This shift, in teental, is not as common in other taals like roopak and dadra.
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