What is music according to you? For me, it is the play of seven notes.( Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa). These are the notes of Carnatic Music. Man has made efforts in simulating the sound of birds and animals from ancient times and the introduction of swaras or notes was through keen observation and perception. Sama Veda has hymns from Rig Veda set to the musical tunes which would be sung using three to seven musical notes during Vedic yajnas. Due to Persian and Islamic influences, there came a demarcation between Hindustani Music and Carnatic Music. Later, Carnatic Music flourished in Vijayanagara Empire. Also, development of various musical instruments happened during this time. Chennai soon became the locus of Carnatic Music.

Carnatic Music and Hindustani Music are two subgenres in Indian classical music.  Purandaradasa(1484–1564)is known as the father(Pitamaha) of Carnatic Music. He formulated the basic lessons in teaching Carnatic music.

The contemporaries Tyagaraja (1767– 1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar, (1776–1835) and Syama Sastri, (1762–1827) are regarded as the Trinity of Carnatic music. Composers were often religious having compositions in one of the several languages like Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu.

Let us take how mathematics is involved in music. The rise and fall of swaras are accompanied by mathematics. Even the Ragas names have mathematics imbibed called Katapayadi sutra.

There are 7 notes namely sa ri ga ma pa dha ni – Shadja, Rishabh, Gandhara, Madhyama, Panchama, Dhaivata and Nishada. Sa and Pa are immovable whereas the other notes can vary in pitches. Hence there are totally 12 notes. Table for better clarity. 

PositionSwaraShort nameNotation
2Shuddha RishabhaRiR1
3Chatushruti RishbhaRiR2
4Shuddha GandharaGaG1
4Shatashruti RishabhaRiR3
5Antara GandharaGaG3
6Shuddha MadhyaaMaM1
7Prathi MadhyamaMaM2
9Shuddha DhaivataDhaD1
10Chatushruthi DhaivataDhaD2
10Shuddha NishadaNiN1
11Shatshruti DhaivataDhaD3
11Kaisiki NishadaNiN2
12Kakali NishadaNiN3

Below I touch upon the concepts taught in Carnatic Music so they are familiar to you.

Using the combination of notes, there are combinations of ascent called aarohana and descent called avarohana made. Saralivarase are simple notes on ascent and descent of these seven notes.

Jantivarase are pair notes. Dhatu varase are zigzag sequences that increase the students’ overall command of notes. Dhatu Varase are the sequences in which the notes “jump” up and down. The exercises help you hit notes no matter what their sequence.    

Melsthayi Varishe are higher octave sequences, which increase the students’ vocal or instrumental range. Mandrastaayi Varise is the complement to the Mel staayi varisai. They allow you to increase your command of successive lower notes.

Alankaras – An alankara is any pattern of musical decoration a musician creates within or across tones, based on ancient musical theories or driven by personal creative choices, in a progression of swaras.

Geetam – The simplest music form in Carnatic music was created by Purandara Dasa in order to introduce talam[beats] with the Sahityam[lyrics] without the complexities of pallavi Anupallavi charanams etc..

Swarajati is a form in Carnatic music, which is helpful before learning a varnam. It has pallavi, sometimes an Anupallavi , and at least one charanams.

Varṇam is a form of song in the Carnatic music repertoire consisting of short metric pieces which encapsulate the main features and requirements of a raga.

Kriti is a format of a musical composition typical to Carnatic music. Krithis form the backbone of any typical Carnatic music concert and is the longer format of a Carnatic music song. Kriti also means Creation.

You can also refer to South Indian Classical (Carnatic) Music Basics (Sarali, Janta, Alankaram), Geethams & Varnams Archive: Audio Music Class and Lessons  for all the lessons.

So what are the steps to learn Carnatic music? We need to learn the technicalities of music. How best to learn Carnatic music?

I have found this app called Carnatic music which is good.

  • Carnatic Music App by One Team, LLC on Google Play Store

Carnatic Music – Apps on Google Play

It has all the Saralivarase to Varnam and more basics. So it will have you covered with the fundamentals of music. They also have theory notes on different aspects of music.

Music lovers identify music with Ragas. What are Ragas? Ragas are musical frameworks which evoke emotion in the audience. A musical framework is provided within which the musician can improve.


There are 72 Ragas in the Melakarta Raga system. 

36 have M1 and 36 have M2. And there are combinations of Ri, Ga and Dha, Ni pairs to achieve the above 36 in each group. This is caused by the variation in pitches in each note mentioned above.

  • Carnatic101 on Youtube and Twitter – Emphasis on Ragas and musical concepts.

The best place to learn Carnatic Music with emphasis on Ragas is @Carnatic101 {They have a Youtube channel [ Carnatic101 ]and Twitter ID[ @Carnatic101 ] with the same name.]

Let us take a simple Raga like Mohana Raga.

Mohana Raga :


S R₂ G₃ P D₂ Ṡ


Ṡ D₂ P G₃ R₂ S

These notes should be present in the song. That makes patterns in the song unique to the Raga. By constant listening and practice, you will be able to identify songs with this Raga. E.g., Giridhar Gopala song from 1948 movie Meera.

I wish someone had explained to me concepts of music as easy as T M Krishna does in the CMI(Chennai Mathematical Institute) Videos.

  • TheCMIVideos on YouTube.

TheCMiVideos Playlist on the talks on music by T M Krishna.

For collection of Carnatic songs, you can look at

Music is very simple. Yet complex and in detail I have attended vocal music classes, veena and guitar chasses, learnt on my own yet I can’t say confidently that I know and understand music. It is that vast. An endless ocean.

I have made many attempts to understand this vastness. I falter but I am determined. It is a slow process of practice. Even a doorbell can be music to ears. You can try to associate the notes of Music with the doorbell sound. You may be wrong. But you need to practice. Sometimes I wish there was an online tool to bifurcate the notes of each song for me but life is s teacher and music too. We need to practice. Practice makes man perfect indeed. Practice of play of just 12 swaras. I wish you luck with the practice.

This blog post was written by Shwetha Maiya. You can check her blog at Chutney Mix.


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