The Basics - Indian Notation - Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa - Sargam

In Indian music the western notes that we all know are not used so the first thing to do is familiarize yourself with the system that is used. Most western people will at least have heard of Do Re Mi La etc. which refer to steps in a given scale, or pitch intervals, rather than actual notes.

This means that you can sing a scale in any key without needing to know what the actual notes are, it is the relationship between the notes that is the important part - so the difference between Do and Re is always the same no matter which note you start with.

This is the way you need to think in Indian classical music. However, it's not that simple. They do not use Do Re Mi, they use something called Sargam. This is an acronym for some of the note names they use.

The notes used are: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa. 
They can be shortened to S, R, G, M, P, D, N, S. 

These are the pure natural notes, called shuddha. This is also equivalent to the Ionian mode or major scale in western music. In Indian music this is called Bilawal Thaat.

So we can say that western equivalents are:

S - R - G - M - P - D - N - S
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

However, this is not really the way to think about Sargam. Indian music doesn't use a fixed pitch to refer to the notes. Remember the relationships rather than how westerners think of notes. Indian instruments are usually tuned to a key somewhere between C and D so Sa could be anywhere in this range. This is why it is difficult to refer to Sa as C, for example, as it depends entirely what base key note is being used.

We can think about it in this way, T=whole tone and S=semi tone:

T - T - S - T - T - T - S

The most common notes to tune to with sitar is C# so in this blog whenever notes are referred to in western terms, Sa will be C#. So for general intents and purposes these are the notes in sargam compared to the western equivalents that I will use:

Sa - C#
Re - D#
Ga - F
Ma - F#
Pa - G#
Dha - A#
Ni - C
Sa - C#

Of course, Indian music isn't limited to these pure, shuddha, notes. R, G, D, and N can be flat (komal) and M can be sharp (tivra). There are different ways of writing these notes but the one I will use is by using capital letters for shuddha notes (S, R G etc) and lower case for komal notes (r, g, d, n). The exception is Ma, where the capitalized note refers to the sharp and the lower case refers to the natural shuddha note. So we have:

S, r, R, g, G, m (natural), M (sharp), P, d, D, n, N, S.

This may seem confusing but once we get started with a raga you will see that it's actually very easy to remember. The raga I will be exploring has all pure notes expect for a sharp Ma so it is unlikely that you will see much of the komal notes in this blog.

Now we have the notation explained (and hopefully understood), the next step is crucial - to learn about tuning!


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