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  . . Karaikudi Tradition | Performing Technique

1. Wire plectra are always used. Previously, a silver plectrum was used for the little finger also; now it is seldom used now. The index and middle fingers alternate in plucking downward past the string, in a perpendicular motion. Upward plucking is never used with respect to these two fingers. The initial exercises emphasize this aspect of the alternation of these fingers, aiming at a balance and evenness for the two fingers reducing the strain on the fingers. Use of the index finger alone most of the time brings lot of stress and over use on the finger. When a melodic phrase involves a held note the choice of the finger becomes automatic. For example in the phrase:

m g s , n d

the svara 'sa' with the rest period (kaarvai) receives an imaginary middle finger pluck, resulting in
the same index finger plucked twice. This is the Tadai mettu described in the literature on the finger plucking. The name tadai (an obstacle) suggests the loss of evenness, not necessarily in terms of
plucking quality as much as in terms of the phrase structure, but it could also
be both.

2. It is stressed that the plucks should not be loose. Pattu mittu is taught in the beginning for the clarity of independent tones.

3. When the strong beats of a tala and the syllables (whether of the svara or saahitya) synchronize, then the gotu mittu is used. Gotu meettu is the index and the little fingers plucking in opposite directions to bring a synchronized stress. For example, if it is adi tala, the counts, 1, 5 and 7 receive Gotu mittu. When there is no syllabic synchronization with the strong beats of the tala, the little finger alone plays the side strings, marking the tala angas. In the context of playing a composition or improvisation in the framework of a tala, the function of the little finger is to keep the tala angas without fail. This is orally referred to as playing talam (denoting the tala keeping function of the little finger). This is mandatory in the Karaikudi school. The other function of the little finger is to pluck the appropriate side strings downward, individually for a pleasing effect or sometimes as adumbration of the inner realization of the pluses.

4. The function of the little finger is also apparent during tanam playing. Here the little finger strikes the side strings upward, alternating with either index or middle finger. In tanam playing, the finger plucks follow the pattern of the syllables used while singing. The words anamta (eternal) and anamta (bliss) are combined in different ways in singing. Also some meaningless syllables like namta, tomta, etc., are used. But they generally conform to the following patterns:

(a) nam , ta (3 pluses)

(b) A nam , ta (4 pluses)

(c) A , nam , ta (5 pluses)

(d) A , nam , ta (6 pluses)

In the above examples the symbol under the commas shows that the tala strings are plucked at those points. Here there will be no gotu mittu used (simultaneous sounding of the main and side strings).
The little finger always functions independently, striking the side strings in an upward movement. As one would notice, if the syllable is extended more than one unit of time, as in "A , , nam ta" the tala strings are strummed a pulse before the next syllable. To my knowledge there is no technical name used for this independent function of the little finger in tanam playing.

5. In tanam playing on the pancama or mandaram string the ring finger plucks the sarani upward just the same way the little finger is used while playing tanam on the sarani string. There is no name mentioned for this special technique in the available musicological literature. This technique is optional and is seldom used.

6. Sometimes the index or the middle finger plucks the individual main strings for pleasing effects as in the case of the side strings, to symbolize the ever flowing pulses felt deep within.

7. Occasionally the index or the middle finger strums all the four playing strings or the first two or three of the four main strings for effect.


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