Music Theory

Shruti Matha, Laya Pitha” means shruti is the mother of music and laya its father.

Shruti or Pitch – Carnatic Music is a melody based system and every sound produced revolves around a central concept of ‘Shruthi’ or ‘Pitch’. ‘Swaras’ or ‘Notes’ – There are basically seven swaras – Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni.

Talam – It is the rhythm component of Carnatic Music. In Carnatic music, the tapping or keeping the rhythm is done by hand gestures. There are several talas but to get started, it is good to begin with the most common tala, the Adi tala, which contains 8 beats per cycle. Each and every talam has a structure, that is governed by the rules pertaining to it. For example, if we take the most common tala – Adi Talam,  we can describe the process of the tala thus :

1 beat of the palm of the hand on the thigh, followed by counting three fingers, then beating the palm and turning it over, then beating the palm and turning it over

If we count a number each for every beat, fingercount or turn of the palm – the number comes to eight. So the tala has eight units. The units are called Aksharams and the Adi talam has 8 aksharams.

The first part of the tala which consists of the beating of the palm & counting is called Laghu. Here the number of units is 4 (Chatusram) and the laghu is Chatusra laghu. The Jaathi of the laghu determines the jaathi of the tala so the tala is Chatusrajaathi Adi Tala.

The next process of beat and turning the palm is called Drtham. It is done twice, so the tala has 2 Drthams. The units of the laghu vary according to the jaathi whereas the Drtham is constant.

1. Thisra Jaathi
2. Chatusra Jaathi
3. Kanta Jaathi
4. Misra Jaathi
5. Sankeerna Jaathi

A dhrutam is a pattern of 2 beats. This is notated ‘O’.

An anudhrutam is a single beat, notated ‘U’.

A laghu is a pattern with a variable number of beats 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9, depending upon the type of the tala. It is notated ‘I’

The seven families with their default lengths are:

Talams Avartanam Default Length of Lagu Toal Aksharam according to Sapta Alankaras
Dhruva I-O-I-I 4 14
mathya I-O-I 4 10
Rupaka O-I 4 6
Jhampa I-U-O 7 10
Triputa I-O-O 3 7
Ata I-I-O-O 5 14
Eka I 4 4

Every Tala-type has 5 Jati variations. The result lines up to 5*7=35 different Talas.

Jatis Dhruva Matya Rupaka Jhampa Triputa Ata Eka
Tishra I3-O2-I3-I3 I3-O2-I3 O2-I3 I3-U1-O2 I3-O2-O2 I3-I3-O2-O2 I3
Chatushra I4-O2-I4-I4 I4-O2-I4 O2-I4 I4-U1-O2 I4-O2-O2 I4-I4-O2-O2 I4
Kanda I5-O2-I5-I5 I5-O2-I5 O2-I5 I5-U1-O2 I5-O2-O2 I5-I5-O2-O2 I5
Mishra I7-O2-I7-I7 I7-O2-I7 O2-I7 I7-U1-O2 I7-O2-O2 I7-I7-O2-O2 I7
Sankeerna I9-O2-I9-I9 I9-O2-I9 O2-I9 I9-U1-O2 I9-O2-O2 I9-I9-O2-O2 I9

Aadi Talam

For Aadi taaLam, first beat the palm of the hand (1), then tap the fingers pinky (2), ring finger (3), middle finger(4). Then beat palm (5), turn the hand over and tap or wave the back of the hand (6), palm (7), back (8). This is one cycle and has 8 beats. This cycle will repeat throughout the song.

Rupaka Talam

For Rupaka Talam, first start with Drtham , then beat the palm of the hand , count the small finger , ring finger followed by the middle finger. It  totals to 6 beats because of the 1 Drtham ( 2 beats) and Charusrutha JAthi lagu ( 4 beats).

There are many more Talams, but for now, the above described will cover the basic areas.