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The Three Speeds of Carnatic Music

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.

Slow/Medium/Fast Speeds

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.


Exercise 1

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:

Tha kita

Thi kita

Thom kita

Nam kita


Exercise 2

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

Practise tips:

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.

- Neil

1 commento

Elisaveta Berger
Elisaveta Berger
11 apr 2021

Thank You - its all very well and clearly explained. The speed exercises super! I am a great fan of Carnatic music and play some Kanjira. Would be interested in some nice korvais...

Mi piace
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