You may have heard Carnatic musicians perform solkattu at rapid-fire speeds that it sounds like a machine gun! How is it done, do they have two tongues? Our second lesson aims to demystify this bullet-speed rhythmic art, and introduce the concept of 3 speeds in Carnatic music.
Constant Tempo/Steady Tala
Before talking about the 3 speeds, we must first understand an essential concept in Carnatic rhythm: that tempo never changes within a piece of music. Tempo refers to the number of beats per minute (like how you would set a metronome to 60bpm, for example). Hence once you begin the tala cycle at a specific tempo, it remains the same throughout the piece.
So, if tempo remains the same, how can there be different speeds?
Speeds refer to the number of subdivisions within each beat (or akshara) of the tala. The three speeds are:
Vilamba Kaala (slow): 2 subdivisions per beat
Madhyama Kaala (medium): 4 subdivisions per beat
Vilamba Kaala (fast): 8 subdivisions per beat
Note that if you are in a specific speed (or kaala), it does not mean that every beat MUST have the specific number of subdivisions per beat. It simply refers to the undergirding pace of subdivisions. For example, in exercise 1 below, the first beat begins with 'tha', followed by 'kita' in beat 2. Although beat 1 had only one subdivision within the beat, the general pace of the tala cycle still 'feels' like 2 subdivisions per beat or in vilamba kaala.
Follow along with the video to familiarise yourself with the exercises, then proceed to practise on your own while keeping tala to a metronome. Note that we always give one cycle of tala before beginning reciting sols.
Exercise 1 moves through speeds 1-3 on the following sols:
Exercise 2 is similar to exercise 1, but uses the following sols:
Tha kita kita thaka
Thi kita kita thaka
Thom kita kita thaka
Nam kita kita thaka
Start slow!! Don't worry about the third speed just yet, it takes plenty of time to get your tongue familiar with these movements.
Feel free to leave comments or questions in this post and I'll be happy to help you out.