Friday, June 16, 2017

Why a piano cannot be tuned perfectly


The mathematics of music means piano strings can never be in perfect harmony

Unlike with guitars and violins, pianos’ strings can never be perfectly tuned to one another. The solution? As this short animation from MinutePhysics explains, the instrument’s 88 strings across more than seven octaves means tuning a piano using harmonic intervals will inevitably lead to notes being fractionally off-pitch, with the issue compounding across octaves. So instead of using harmonics, piano-tuners generally keep octaves perfect, while leaving every other interval out of tune by just a tiny fraction. This workaround forsakes the appealing mathematical patterns of harmonics, but makes it possible to keep the kind of uniformity that is so valued in an era of mass production and reproduction of music.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: The Raga-ness of Raga-s. The Statesman, Kolkata, April 16, 2016

  Beyond Grammar

Author presenting the book to Pt. Arvind Parikh
Deepak S Raja, disciple of Pandit Arvind Parikh (sitar-surbahar, Etawah gharana) and the late Dhondutai Kulkarni (khayal, Jaipur-Atrauli gharana), is a much-respected name in the world of musicology. He studied the subject under the guidance of eminent scholars, has won several prestigious awards and works as a repertoire analyst for India Archive Music Ltd, New York, apart from having authored three books including Khayal Vocalism, and Hindustani Music Today. He blogs extensively about his experiences at http://www.swaratala. blogspot.com. Raja’s analytical but melodious writing draws its sap from a wide variety of disciplines like art, history, culture, economics, sciences, psychology, etc. His latest book is The Raga-ness of Ragas: Ragas beyond the Grammar (published by DK Printworld (P) Ltd in 2016; Rs 1,250).

The book begins with “Perspectives on Raga-ness” by explaining and analysing the concept called raga and its relation with rasas; and then moves on to explore and identify the essence of a raga in a) bandishes: that showcase the features of a raga from several angles; b) alap: which elaborates the raga at slow pace; c) taan: which follows raga movements at fast pace that “emphasise the sameness of all ragas”; and, above all, d) the raga-ness of the musician who performs and composes at once.

Raja admits that since “Hindustani music grants the musician the simultaneous roles of performer and composer”, this creative licence has helped in the evolution of ragas. According to him, the raga is “a melodic structure, tight enough to remain distinct and identifiable and yet loose enough to form the basis for considerable improvisational freedom”. Under the circumstances, “Ragas can, and do change even over time.”

The second part of the book, “The world of the Raga”, contains the analysis of 49 ragas replete with their ascending-descending orders, catch phrases, parental scale, sister ragas, etc, along with their historical evolution and opinions of several legendary musicians and musicologists. The book is further enriched by a foreword penned by eminent vocalist Vidushi Ashwini Bhide, an introduction by Lyle Wachovsky, a guest essay on the concept of “Rasa and Western System of Keys” by Alessandro Dozio and a glossary of terms — nicely explained. The most admirable qualities of the book are the author’s lucid pen, at times dipped in humour. Interesting anecdotes have spiced up the book that opens new vistas of melodic analysis.

Reviewer: Meena Banerjee


Book Review: The Raga-ness of Raga-s. The Hindu, April 15, 2016.


FRIDAY REVIEW: April 15, 2016
Musicologist Deepak S. Raja explores “the Raga-ness of Ragas” in his latest book.

It is a fact that as compared to the art of music, its philosophy is a dry subject. Even highly educated practicing
Author with Ustad Shujaat Khan
musicians, therefore, keep musicology at arms’ length. This is one sphere where, in their haste to master the delightful techniques, most aspirants prefer to follow the footsteps of their gurus without any counter-question arising out of personal understanding and resultant views. I have a feeling they know not what they are missing!

But exceptions are there who straddle both music and musicology with delighting clarity. My Guru Pandit Amarnath, inspired by the analytical aptitude of his legendary ustad, Amir Khan Sahib, never accepted anything without weighing its values. This, according to him, would give additional thrill and confidence as what-s and why-s always enrich the how-s. He would often tell us to think beyond the clichéd Ranjayate iti ragah and explore the tattwa (matter) that resides behind the façade of a given raga, that makes it a living thing, that dies with the end of a concert to be reborn in another – and in a new avatar!

All those cherished memories dawned upon me gleaming with new discernments when I read “The Raga-ness of Ragas” authored by well-known musicologist Deepak S Raja. The title of the book has the tagline “Ragas beyond the Grammar”. It was obvious that the book’s domain is empirical – beyond the tangible periphery of mere academics. It had to be; because those who know Deepak Raja, are aware that he is a sitar and surbahar exponent (Etawah Gharana) and learnt khayal (Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana) apart from studying musicology under the guidance of eminent scholars. He is a repertoire analyst for India Archive Music Ltd., New York and writes extensively about his experiences as a musician-cum-researcher. Far away from the scholastic dryness, his works (this one is his fourth book in a row) are steeped in tried-and-tested melodic recipes.

The author admits that since “Hindustani music grants the musician the simultaneous roles of performer and composer” this creative license has helped in the evolution of ragas. The raga is “a melodic structure, tight enough to remain distinct and identifiable and yet loose enough to form the basis for considerable improvisational freedom.” He reiterates a well-known fact that “Ragas can, and do, change even over time.” Under the circumstances, standardisation of ragas’ features becomes necessary. But being a sensitive musician himself, the author did not try to shackle the beautiful body of the raga; instead he approaches the core of its heart from a totally different angle of a mystic.

Divided into two parts this book begins with ‘Perspectives on Raga-ness’ by explaining and analysing the concept called raga and its relation with rasas; and then moves on to explore and identify the essence of a raga in a) bandishes: that showcase the features of a raga from several angles; b) aalap: which elaborates the raga at slow pace; c) taan: which follows raga-movements at fast pace that ‘emphasise the sameness of all ragas’; and above all d) the raga-ness of the musician who performs and composes at once.

According to the author, musician’s own personality reflects through his art as he relates to his music according to his saatwik (pristine pure), raajasik (passionate) or taamasik (impure) mindset. Saatwik chooses to treat the raga as the Almighty. Raajasik follows the commonly accepted form of raga to win mass approval. Taamasik remains oblivious to raga’s soul; only entertainment becomes his goal to earn money. Any one or all can influence an artiste’s psyche.

To add to the melodic content in the real ‘practical’ sense, the second part of the book, ‘The world of the Raga’, contains the analysis of 49 ragas replete with their ascending-descending orders, catch phrases, parental scale, sister ragas etc. along with their historical evolution and opinions of several legendary musicians and musicologists.

The book is further enriched by eminent vocalist Vidushi Ashwini Bhide’s soul-searching foreword, an introduction by Lyle Wachovsky, a guest essay on the concept of ‘Rasa and Western System of Keys’ by Alessandro Dozio and a glossary of explicated terms. The most admirable qualities of the book are the author’s lucid pen, at times, dipped in humour, and an eye for apt melodious anecdotes. It opens new vistas of melodic views, no doubt.

Reviewer: Meena Banerjee

Monday, April 11, 2016

Book Review: The Raga-ness of Raga-s. by Shuchita Rao



Title: The Raga-ness of Ragas
Author: Deepak S. Raja
Hardcover 366+ pages, 
ISBN 978-81-246-0835-7
Published in India, 2016 by D.K Printworld
Available on Amazon.com Price: $62.50

Growing up in India and learning about “ragas” from master musicians, I learned how to sing several ragas with ease. I never felt the need to explain the concept of a raga (a key melodic concept in Indian classical music) to anyone. Every listener was already familiar with it.  After moving to the United States, I found my listeners asking for an explanation for the term “raga” even before listening to it. “What is a raga?” they asked.


For decades (if not centuries), the exercise of defining the term “raga” has challenged academicians, teachers and practicing musicians alike. The noted Indian musicologist and author Deepak Raja started out on a journey several years ago with the mission to explore the subject of what constitutes the essence of ragas (what the author terms as “raga-ness”) and to articulate it to the best possible extent through the medium of language. His reflections on this topic have taken the form of a book titled “The Raga-ness of Ragas” published in early 2016.

In this beautifully bound hardcover book, the author Deepak Raja examines the concept of a raga and its raga-ness from the points of view of their melodic and aesthetic grammar. The author’s personal observations on Hindustani music, quoted excerpts from ancient classic treatises as well as contemporary books on Indian music and the scholarly perspectives of practicing musicians make the book an interesting read.  By relating funny stories and anecdotes, the author manages to infuse liveliness in what could otherwise be a dry and theoretical study.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part contains eleven comprehensive essays on the foundational concept of the raga, and how the essence of a raga can be established through the proper and effective use of elements such as bandish (composition), alaap (slow, meditative movement that unfolds the raga), taans (faster melodic movements performed during the rendition of the raga) as well as special techniques used by vocalists and instrumentalists. In his capacity as a repertoire analyst for India Archive Music Ltd based in New York, the author analyzed over one hundred ragas performed by 50 prominent musicians. A survey of 49 of these 100 ragas are presented in the second part of the book.

A brilliant foreword by the eminent Hindustani vocalist and composer, Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, a succinct introductory chapter by Lyle Wachovsky of New York based India Archive Music Ltd, an illuminating guest essay on the concept of “Rasa and Western System of Keys” by Alessandro Dozio, a detailed glossary of terms and explanatory notes as well as a comprehensive bibliography are great additions to the book.

The opening chapter of the first part of the book introduces the concept of a raga as a specialist vehicle in communicating emotional ideas. In the remaining ten chapters of Part I of the book, the fact that the raga takes on a new shape each time it is performed, the examination of the socio-economic context in which music practice evolved up until the 19th century, the consideration of ragas in terms of chemical metaphors such as allotropes, compounds and emulsions, a discussion about suitable performance times for ragas unique to the Hindustani system of music, the evaluation of the theory of Rasa in Hindustani music and the exploration of the concept of raga-ness manifested in the melodic elements of bandish, alaap and taans are discussed at length.

The second part of the book is an analysis of 49 ragas in terms of attributes such as melodic ascents, descents, parent family, musical notes of importance and the critical skeletal phraseology that establishes the center of melodic gravity for each of the ragas.  The author looks at the evolution of these ragas from a historical perspective and quotes the opinions of several well known scholars such as Bhatkhande, Manikbuwa Thakurdas, Peter Manuel, vocalists such as Faiyyaz Ahmed Khan and instrumentalists such as sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan.

“I feel that raga-tattva or raga-ness of ragas is the most important facet of our musical culture requiring comprehension and preservation” said Deepak Raja to this book reviewer. Deepak Raja has authored two other books on Hindustani music titled “Khayal Vocalism” and  “Hindustani Music Today”. His blog on ragas http://www.swaratala.blogspot.com commands a dedicated following from Hindustani classical music lovers. 

Deepak Raja’s fine analytical and writing skills as well as the application of his knowledge from a wide variety of disciplines such as art, history, culture, linguistics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, economics and psychology to the study of Hindustani music are praise-worthy. His reputation for serious research in Hindustani music, critical thinking skills, sound analytical approach and brilliant articulation shine through this book. “The Raga-ness of Ragas” is one of the most enjoyable books on raga music that I have read in the recent times.

Reviewer: Shuchita Rao in Lokvani E-Paper