‘Self-learning’ a Karnatak Composition – Thenuga Thevapalan (Denmark)

Posted by on Sep 6, 2017 in Music Forum, Uncategorized | 0 comments

IMG_2433Thenuga with Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian

I was assigned to self-learn Muttusvami Diksitar’s kriti ‘Ganarajena Raksitoham’ through Patantara (https://patantara.com/ganarajenaraksitoham). Here is my process of learning the kriti.

Composer: Sri Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar

Rāgam: Ārabhi

Tāḷam: Misra Cāpu

Pāt̤āntaram: Dr. Karaikudi S. Subramanian


My audio

I mainly used the vina recording to learn the song since it was easier for me to understand and comprehend the gamakas, but I listened to the svara rendition as well as the vocal version to know the lyrics.


My way of approaching the kriti


I learnt the song on the vina. First, I listened to the pallavi a few times, both the vina and vocal version (svara and sahitya). Then, I listened to the first sangati of the first line repeatedly by using the loop-function on Patantara. I tried to reproduce what was being played, but I soon realized that I missed out on important details. I decided to download the audio so that I could listen to the line at a lower tempo on VLC media player. In that way, I obtained a better understanding of the gamakas. Sir’s rule number one is that one should be able to play a line/phrase at least four times without faltering. Thus, I practiced the first sangati repeatedly until I was able to play it without stopping or faltering. After some time, I started to get an overall flow. Subsequently, I played along with the track on Patantara and thereafter, I moved to the next part. I practiced the rest of the pallavi line by line the exact same way as the first sangati in pallavi. Hereafter, I played the entire pallavi along with the recording. I looped the entire pallavi on the audio editing software ‘Wavepad’ and played with the vina recording repeatedly. At last, I practiced the whole pallavi without the recording. I used ‘Tala Keeper’ (http://talakeeper.org/) to keep tempo.

I made a recording of my first practice session. I realized that there were many flaws in my playing and I worked on perfecting and refining the first section. I observed the following:

  • First line:
    • I am putting too much force to the first m when playing (S)m P D P (the beginning phrase)
    • Work more on the phraseh R mG R
  • Second line:
    • Pull R slightly back when playing SN DD PP | mP DP | mG RS ||
  • I tend to pluck hard at some places. The pluck should be neither too harsh nor too soft. I will work towards a clean, equal and middle-level pluck.
  • I need to work on getting an overall flow

I played the pallavi for Sir. Since I had been learning other compositions in the meantime, I had not put time aside to practice the kriti after that one time. Before playing for Sir, I spent one hour on refreshing the pallavi. During the lesson, he corrected ‘R mG R’ (first line, first sangati). I failed to see the small bend on the second R. In addition, I did not give enough time on m. He approved the rest and told me to move on to the next section.


I practiced the rest of the kriti the exact same way as the pallavi. I took one line at a time and lowered the tempo on ‘Wavepad’ to capture every detail.

Number of hours put to learn the sections:
  • Pallavi: 2.5 hours
  • Samashti caranam: 2 hours
  • Madhyamakala sahitya: 1 hour
  • Cittasvara: 1 hour

I did not play for Sir right away. Even though I had practiced the entire kriti, I was not satisfied with my playing. I did not feel that I had attained an overall flow and I kept stopping when I tried to play the entire kriti. Therefore, I decided to spend as much time as I needed to refine the kriti before playing for Sir. During my practice, I would listen to the tracks several times. In my opinion, listening is as important as playing. I consider the recordings as my reference point. I spent a long time just listening to the recordings over and over again, both the vina, svara and sahitya version. Afterwards, I played along with the recording and subsequently without the recording. At last, I tried to play with tala for which I used Tala Keeper. I realized that it was much easier for me to play with Tala Keeper than without. I was able to play the gamakas more precisely when having a fixed tempo. I did this practice-routine every day.


I played the entire kriti for Sir. He corrected the last line in cittasvara: ‘mP DṘ ṠN DP’. At DṘ, D is pulled before moving on to . He approved the rest and told me to keep practicing and perfecting the kriti.


My thoughts

For me, one of the most useful tool is the loop-function. I think it is great that you are able to play the same track repeatedly without the necessity to stop and keep rewinding to the point where the specific line starts. In that way, your mind will not scatter easily. Your focus will only be on your playing and you will not worry that you have to stop in a few seconds to reverse. Furthermore, I think it is extremely helpful that you can listen to the kriti in both vina and vocal version. Additionally, you have the svara and text version. The COMET method gives a lot of importance to right pronunciation of a composition. I also find it crucial to learn the proper pronunciation of the words in a composition. In that way, I know to which svaras I need to give stress when rendering the composition on the vina. That is why it is helpful that Patantara also offers a text recitation of ‘Ganarajena Raksitoham’. It contributes to a wholesome practice and you get a better understanding of the kriti. This makes the self-learning process less complicated. I also find it helpful that I am able to slow down a line on audio programs such as ‘VLC media player’ and ‘Wavepad’. One might overlook small details when listening in the regular tempo. Thus, it is useful with this function.

Patantara provides a great way of perfect self-learning. If one has a strong and good foundation, it is possible to self-learn a composition through this method. Every student should be thankful for Patantara’s pioneering work and for making the platform available for everyone. By developing this method of self-learning, Patantara is offering a way for students all over the world to facilitate their learning. By self-learning a composition, the student improves his/her skill of listening and sharpens the ears to hear even subtle details. This tool is also beneficial for the guru who can attend to students who require his/her help more than the advanced students.

I would say that it was quite challenging to learn the entire kriti on my own with minimal help from my guru, but it was not completely impossible. I am certain that this is due to my rigorous training in the COMET method (Features of COMET) of learning Karnatak music. Every exercise that my guru has given – not only on the vina, but also rhythm, mantras, vocal exercises and the meditation sessions – plays an integral part in making it easier for me to learn a composition on my own. However, I am aware that I have not yet reached the self-learning stage, but I am able to perceive a composition better than before. Even though I have been learning music for more than a decade, the rigorous training that I have received from my guru the past 1.5 years has been the most beneficial and valuable. This is because of his holistic approach towards learning through COMET method. Each exercise that Sir has given and continues to give contributes on their own way to make me better equipped – starting from tuning the vina towards perfection to perfect and equal plucking, moving on to non-gamaka basic exercises and subsequently learning the basic exercises with gamakas. Afterwards, learning the gitams and now varnas has given me a deeper insight into the various and intricate gamakas. However, I believe that the time I have put into the basic exercises and the fact that I continue to practice these exercises everyday are the main reason why I am able to comprehend any composition in a better way. One should not underestimate the value of the basic exercises. I believe it is vital that the student rigorously and consistently practice these exercises. Only with a strong foundation, one can reach the stage of self-learning.


Thenuga-Mathuriga playing ‘Ganarajena Raksitoham’

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