34pp, Publ.9Jan2018, Intensely Pleasant Music
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This book is a collection of six Indian raags, re-imagined for piano, and simplified for fledgling pianists (both children and adults). The purpose is to provide an introductory experience of classical Indian music-making in an easy, hands-on way at a piano, offering a very accessible first encounter with improvisation. It is designed for near-beginners (pre-grade 1) through to early intermediate players, and can be used as a stepping stone to the much bigger volume for more advanced pianists: How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano (Intensely Pleasant Music, 2016).
The first three raags are each presented in three versions – “really easy”, “easy” and “quite easy/not so easy” – so that students and their teachers can quickly find a best fit for their level, and add complexity when ready. The “really easy” ones should be accessible to near beginners. They largely have a smallest written note value of a quaver, and a simple left hand part that is very repetitive. The “easy” versions include some grace notes, and occasional semiquavers, and the “quite easy” versions include a four-bar repeating pattern in the left hand. The sixth raag – Raag Desh – is labelled “slightly less easy”, requiring a slightly higher degree of dexterity.
Raags (also spelled rāga or rāg) are India’s classical music – its highest musical art-form. Traditional raags feature highly ornate melodies that are partly improvised, with a typical set of conventions and a typical structure. The word raag literally means ‘colour’ and from that also ‘passion’ or ‘emotion’. Each named raag is defined by a particular set of musical phrases and ingredients which determine its distinct ‘colour’. Raags are typically played by a melody instrument (or voice) accompanied by a drone instrument and rhythmic percussion. But the six raags in this book have been first reimagined for piano, then pared down and simplified for easy piano. They are designed specifically to be performable by a single pianist – or if helpful or necessary, with a teacher or friend playing the left hand.
Three of these six raags originate from North India (Hindustani – Todi, Patdeep, and Desh) and three from South India (Carnatic – Latangi, Madhuvanti, and Vachaspati). In selecting these particular raags, out of countless contenders, I was seeking to choose raags with scales and phrasing that have an immediately eastern feel to them. To keep them as simple as possible I have put them into keys with only one or two black notes.
All six raags in this book follow more-or-less the very simplified structure below. Full raag performances are actually much longer and more complex than this, but in these pages we have the distilled essential components of a raag, capturing the essence within a simple but satisfying shape. In the introductory section (called the alaap), no rhythms are given – as this is played with a completely free pulse, and with free, uneven rhythms. This is a key characteristic of the opening section of raags. For rookie pianists, this provides an ideal and easily accessible introduction to improvising: it is liberating – allowing the learner to concentrate on finding the notes without the pressure of getting any rhythms right (or even getting the order of the notes right). After the gat (the composed melody, in 4/4, mostly on the second page of each raag), there is a second chance to improvise – this time using the same short collections of notes from the alaap, and more-or-less in the same order, but now over a strict crotchet rhythm in the left hand. You may find the recordings below helpful.
Structure of each raag
Alaap (the introduction):
- Tonic notes of the key played low and high (or in the case of younger students, they can play every note of that letter on the piano). NB: the sustain pedal is held down through the whole performance, so these tonic notes should set the piano resonating.
- Slow, pulseless drone in left hand.
- Descending cascade in right hand, outlining the scale of the raag.
- Improvised melody with no regular pulse, gradually unveiling the main melodic phrases of the particular raag
Gat section (the main body of the raag):
- Gat – the composed melody in 4/4 time – 16 bars long (plus some optional repeats). NB: Tempo markings are only a guide, but however fast you take it, there must be a regular pulse.
- Some improvisation using the notes of the alaap, but this time over an easy left hand pattern in crotchets. My advice to start this is to work your way through the alaap phrases again, repeating or re-ordering them at will, but giving them a rhythm over the strict crotchet patterns in the left hand.
- The gat can then be repeated (in the “quite-/slightly less- easy” raags).
- A short phrase played three times (known as a tihai)
- Descending cascade.
Contents: Raags Latangi, Madhuvanti and Todi (each in 3 versions: really easy, easy, and quite easy/not so easy), plus Vachaspati, Patdeep, & Desh.
|Videos of each piece in this book are available below, and freely downloadable mp3s of each piece will be published here on 31 Jan 2018. Also below are recordings of the left hand parts of the first three raags – to allow you to practise just the melody with a recorded backing.|
Complete Playlist of all 12 Easy Raags
Videos and downloadable mp3s of complete performances of each Easy Raag
Click on the titles to download. Of course, your own performances will sound slightly different in the improvised sections!
1a Really Easy Raag Latangi (page 6)
1b. Easy Raag Latangi (page 8)
1c. Quite Easy Raag Latangi (page 10)
2a. Really Easy Raag Madhuvanti (page 12)
2b. Easy Raag Madhuvanti (page 14)
2c. Quite Easy Raag Madhuvanti (page 16)
3a. Really Easy Raag Todi (page 18)
3b. Easy Raag Todi (page 20)
3c. Not So Easy Raag Todi (page 22)
4. Easy Raag Vachaspati (page 24)
6. Slightly Less Easy Raag Desh (page 28)