Musical illiteracy: it’s a seldom discussed problem in the worldwide bansuri community, but it is widespread – and it may be impacting you – so it warrants a discussion.
Most bansuri players these days cannot read or write Indian classical music, leaving them unable to take advantage of one of the greatest educational techniques mankind has ever created: the ability to put thoughts onto a page, or to read the thoughts of those who came before them, who in a moment of creative genius or inspiration, laid their thoughts down onto paper (or PDF!) for the benefit of current and future generations.
Can you imagine how much success you would have in life if you were illiterate, unable to read or write English, Hindi or whatever your local language is? You wouldn’t get very far, very fast, or with any degree of comfort or success.
Similarly, your ability to read and write Indian classical music will be a primary determinant in the quality of the music that comes out of your bansuri. A world of raga and tala opens up to the mind that comprehends the exceptionally easy to learn Indian classical music notation system. Ragas, compositions, taans, jhalas and tihais you learn now will, rather than fade away into your distant memory, become inspirational practice material for literally decades to come.
A few nights ago I wanted to remember the raga Hansa Nad, which I had last performed ten years prior and rarely practice or listen to. I opened my notebook of lessons collected over ten years of studying with Pandit Vijay Raghav Rao. There was a jhaptal composition of Hansa Nad that I had completely forgotten that I had ever known. I studied it for a few minutes while waiting for dinner. Later that night I played it (and loved it) for a half hour with Saawan Kakkeri accompanying me on tabla…and I plan to start playing it a lot more. Recovered from what may have been lost for eternity.
It is not simply that written music serves as an archive of past lessons and an assurance of present and future musical inspiration and education, it is also an irreplaceable method of understanding the music. Can you imagine trying to learn calculus verbally, without writing out the formulas and equations and seeing them in front of you? By seeing the music on a page, frozen in time, we can more easily analyze, conceptualize, and memorize the music. Our increased understanding of the music frees up our mind so we can listen on a deeper level to the finer details of the music, and when the music is coming out of us provides extra time to consider, plan and more beautifully deliver our next phrase.
All this results in better music and therefore increased happiness for ourselves and our audience.
Dr. Kerry Kriger plays a Rajasthani folk tune atop a mountain near Jodhpur, January 2018, accompanied by Dr. Krishan Kumar Sharma on drums, and the students of the Shree Sarswati Bal Veena Bharati School.
How To Learn, Practice And Read Indian Classical Music
Enough talking about becoming musically literate! In this video, I teach an actual bansuri class to students around the world via video conference on May 27th 2019. While aimed at bansuri players, much of the material is equally applicable to musicians in any branch of north Indian classical music.
Concepts covered include:
– How To Learn Indian Classical Music (0:30)
– How To Practice Indian Classical Music (6:24)
– How To Read Indian Classical Music (19:00)
– How To Play A Simple Alankar In Kalyan Scale (24:45)
– When To Breathe While Playing Bansuri (32:25)
– How To Improve Your Tone And Sense Of Pitch (37:57)
Video recorded live from Bogota, Colombia. Dr. Kriger’s flute is Sa (three holes closed) = F (+8 cents).
Learn Indian Classical Music In A Systematic Manner
If you are tired of struggling with bansuri and want to learn in a systematic manner so that your music actually sounds Indian and you can play freely, consider becoming a Bansuri Bliss Member.
Bansuri Bliss Membership gets you direct access to Dr. Kerry Kriger through a complimentary introductory private lesson upon signing up, and online group lessons every weekend (group size is small enough that you can always ask your questions and get replies).
As a member, you will also gain access to the entirety of the Bansuri Bliss Acaademy, where you can download over a hundred pages of written music in a variety of ragas AND watch videos of Dr. Kriger clearly explaining how to play the music.
Bansuri Bliss Membership gets you an array of courses in a variety of ragas, complete with audio, video and downloadable PDF compositions. The compositions are written in clear, precise notation of a higher quality than any you will find elsewhere online (as virtually all compositions online are written in degraded notation that was altered in order to be typed, losing much of the nuance of truly correct Indian musical notation). Dr. Kriger’s musical notation maintains the traditional style to the finest detail, and is visually easy on the eyes, facilitating a successful practice session.