Comparison between Western and Carnatic music.

January 19th, 2014 by Anjali

The question that often comes about when discussing music is, “What is the difference amongst different types of music?” Take, for example, Western and Carnatic music. They vary in terms of reference of notes and other musical aspects. However, many of the fundamental concepts stay the same.

The notes are referred to differently in both types of music. In Carnatic music, the notes are referred to as the Sapta Swaras collectively. Individually, they are referred to as Sa (Shadjam), Ri (Rishabam), Ga (Gandharam), Ma (Madhyamam), Pa (Panchamam), Da (Dheivatham), and Ni (Nishadam) respectively. In Western music, though, they are referred to with the first seven letters of the English alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G). The concept of seven notes in essence is a common factor in both types of music though.

Furthermore, the way the notes are shown on paper differ. In Carnatic, the notes are written straight across with the first letter of the Swara, or the short form of it. For example, the notes can be written the following two ways:

S R G M P D N S

or

Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa

Western music does not use this method. Instead, it depicts the notes via staff notation. In this, the notes are shown as ovals on five lines. These five lines can represent a treble clef, which is used for notes higher in pitch, or a bass clef, which is used for notes lower in pitch. An example is:

As per this example, the treble clef is the group of five lines above, while the bass clef is the group of five lines below. The ovals portrayed are the notes. Clearly, the way the notes are shown is different between these two type of music.

These two varieties of music are unique in their own ways. All the same, they remain similar in the fundamental level of music. In conclusion, both types of music are beautiful with their individual characteristics, while both have the core concepts of music embedded within them.

Photo credit: (Staff) http://www.ace-your-audition.com/how-to-read-sheet-music.html

- by Ashraya Ananthanarayanan. Ashraya has been an Online Bharatanatyam student since 2009. Ashraya is an eight grader and author of two books Ring of Hope and Aria. She was also crowned the State Spell Bee champion in 2013. She also manages the SOHAM music newsletter of Shruthilayam Academy and has won the Veena Gayathri award for proficiency in Music. She was chosen as the winner of Prathyogitha a carnatic music competition held in PA by Judge Smt. Vidya Subramanian for her vocal talent at a tender age of seven. She was proud to be featured in one of the shows of Raagarasika. She is an ardent lover of Bharatanatyam and enjoys learning under her guru Smt. Anjali Nandan. 

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  • 1 Luciana Apr 2, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I simply adore your website! I’m really just a curious person, I’m not a learner/student of Bharatanatyam unfortunately :)

    I was wondering, do the choreographies of this dance style are all different one from another?