Spring Sangeet
Author: Gnaana

Our April Newsletter is out, and this month it’s all about spring sangeet!  Music is a fantastic way to connect with kids.  Although musical talent and ability starts from a very young age, most formal music lessons – be it piano, violin or Indian instruments – are not available until kids reach the age of 5 or 6.  And understandably so – children are only beginning to refine their fine motor skills so their young hands may not be able to perform complicated maneuvers on keys or strings.

But young kids can still learn music on a simple instrument such as a xylophone.  The color-coded keys lend themselves to an easy and natural way of learning the basic musical notes, or swaras, and the instrument’s simplicity builds musical confidence in kids – a perfect starter instrument!

Here are some exercises to teach kids the basics of Indian classical music (Carnatic or Hindustani) on the xylophone.  Starting with short, brief lessons, you can eventually move on to having kids learn 2 basic songs – Kamala Sulochana and Vara Veena Mridu Pani – songs which virtually all students of Carnatic string and wind instruments start with.  Of course this process will take time and persistence, but the benefits are many – kids will learn the virtues of practice and persistence, gain musical agility and connect with our culture!

1. First, you’ll need a xylophone.  The basic 8-note plastic models are fine to start with, but you’ll eventually want something with at least 12 keys.  We recommend Basic Beat 12-Note Glockenspiel. If you’re not familiar with Carnatic/Hindustani swaras (notes) – here they are:  sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni, sa (much like the Western Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do).  NOTE: for the second swara, ri is used in Carnatic music and Hindustani uses re.
2. Before you embark on your musical journey, bless your instrument with some kumkum and haldi and say a simple prayer – such as Sri Gurubhyo Namahah (“obeisance to my master”).  The child should thereafter pay respects to his instruments before each practice session.
3. Start with having your child practice hitting the keys with the mallot – with a slow and steady hand – until he can produce crisp notes up and down the board.
4. Have him practice hitting each note twice (sa sa | ri ri | ga ga….) up and down.
5. The next exercise is in a 2-1 format (sa sa ri | ri ri ga | ga ga ma |…) up and back.
6. Now we up and back a little – this will take some practice (sa sa ri ri sa | ri ri ga ga ri | ga ga ma ma ga…) up and back.
7. You child should now be comfortable hitting the keys and going up and down the board.  Now we learn to recite the swaras – sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa (NOTE: in Hindustani music “re” is used instead of “ri”).  Repeat steps 2-5, this time having the child recite the swaras.
8. Now we introduce tala (beat or rhythm).  First is Eka-tala – which is a simple beat of 4’s.  Have your child play notes up and down the xylophone to this beat (sa ri ga ma | ri ga ma pa | ga ma pa da…) .
9. Next is Roopaka-tala – a beat of 2,4:
|| sa ri | sa ri ga ma ||
|| ri ga | ri ga ma pa ||
|| ga ma | ga ma pa da ||
|| ma pa | ma pa da ni  ||
|| pa da | pa da ni Sa ||

Now we’re ready for our first song – Kamala Sulochana.  This song is played in Eka-tala and Raga Anandha-bhairavi.  Before we start the song, we play the musical scale of this Raga – called Arohana when we ascend the scale and Avarohana when we descend the scale.  These are the notes that we use in the song, so have your child play:
Arohana:         sa ga ri ga ma pa da pa ni Sa
Avarohana:    Sa ni da pa ma ga ri sa

Here is the song (full page printout here).  Take your time, learn slowly and enjoy!
And here is how the song is supposed to sound:  Audio here.

Another beautiful song is Vara Veena Mridu Pani.  This song is played in Roopaka-tala and Raga Mohana.
Arohana:          sa ri ga pa da Sa
Avarohana:     Sa da pa ga ri sa

Full page printout here
Listen to the audio here

**NOTE:  Given the limitations of the xylophone, the notes are simplified.  E.g., both songs use the second “ri” (r2), but only “ri” is used here.



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2 Responses to “Spring Sangeet”

  1. Wes Reineke Says:

    Everyone loves it whenever people get together and share opinions. Great site, stick with it!

  2. Clair Riskin Says:

    Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a top notch article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never seem to get anything done.