South Indian Classical music, or Carnatic music, is to me one of the most intricate and complex musical cultures, which makes it so exciting and intriguing to learn!
In contrast to Western music, Carnatic music does away with the concept of harmony. Because of this, there is no longer a need to organise simultaneously sounding pitches in time, freeing up the melodic and rhythmic lines to develop to incredible levels of intricacy.
This is the first episode in South Indian Rhythm lessons. Do watch the video and follow the accompanying notes to fully understand the topics covered!
Episode 1: Sols and Tala
Solkattu is the art of using oral drum syllables to create rhythmic patterns in time. The term 'sol' refers to a word used in this art form, and just like in any language, strings of sols can be used to create meaningful sentences, paragraphs, and essays.
There are sols which comprise of different numbers of syllables. While there are countless number of sols, below you will find some of the most common ones for 1-10 syllables.
5: Thaka Thakita
6: Thaka Thakadimi
7: Thakita Thakadimi
8: Thakadimi Thakajonu
9: Thakadimi Thaka Thakita
10: Thaka Thakita Thathikithathom
If you noticed, once we get to 5 syllable sols, we can start counting them as a compound of smaller sols. (eg. 5 = 2 + 3, 10 = 2 + 3 + 5) Hence for the exercise in this lesson, we simply start with reciting sols with syllables up to four.
Note: Most Carnatic music performances translate these drum syllables onto sounds produced on percussive instruments such as the mridangam, ghatam, and kanjira. The art of performing such drum syllables orally is known as konnakol. While konnakol is rarely performed in concerts, the concept and understanding of solkattu is the essential foundation of all Carnatic rhythms, and learning this art will greatly improve your sense of rhythm in any genre as it did for me.
Tala is similar to time signature in Western music, which refers to a fixed number of beats (aksharas) that repeat in a cycle, organising the music in time. The most common tala used in Carnatic music is Adi Tala, an eight beat cycle.
Talas are kept by a series of hand gestures known as 'angas'. The three angas we will learn are:
Anudhrutam ( X ) : A single hand clap - duration of 1 beat
Dhrutam ( 0 ) : A single hand clap followed by a wave - duration of 2 beats
Laghu ( I* ) : A single hand clap followed by finger taps starting from the little finger to thumb - variable duration
Adi Tala can be written out as "I4 0 0 ", comprising of a 4-beat laghu followed by two dhrutams.
For this exercise, recite sols from 1-4 syllables while keeping Adi tala. Recite one sol per beat, and change the sol to the next number of syllables after each tala cycle.
- Keep tala to a metronome, starting at 60 beats per minute (bpm) and slowly increase to 80bpm.
- You can literally practise solkattu anytime and anywhere! I've made hundreds of hours on bus/train/plane rides wonderfully productive this way. Just don't say it too loud :)