Harmonium Lesson 1

Harmonium is just like an electronic keyboard too, so these lessons apply equally to the harmonium as well as to the electronic synthesizer keyboard. The important difference is that you can – and do play the electronic keyboard with your LEFT hand also; but for harmonium, your left hand is used in pumping the bellows to force air under pressure into the inside of the harmonium. In keyboard our left hand is used for playing chords. An ordinary keyboard is sufficient to master all the lessons that will follow. If you already have a keyboard, you do not need to buy anything else as of now. For solo performances, you can use a synthesizer keyboard or a harmonium, depending upon your taste, convenience and availability. Harmonium traditionally suits better for accompaniment during performance of Ghazals, Thumri, and some other types of Indian music. For accompaniment to movie songs, and all varieties of songs, the synthesizer keyboard is the preferred choice. Keyboard offer a wide variety of instrument sounds. Types of keyboards are given below:

In a keyboard the instrument sound you choose is called a voice. Before you play a song, choose a voice that you like. Practice selecting different  voices, and remember the setting for the ones you prefer. Look your keyboard owner’s manual to help you. When you play the songs you can use any sound you wish.  The rhythm controls provide drum beats to play along with. These rhythm beats are also called styles. The drum rhythms or kits can be changed to suit the kind of song. If you have a keyboard equipped with floppy drive or flash  usb media then you may copy rhythm styles in your keyboard which can be played using user style button.  Melody keys are used to play the tune by right hand. The chord keys are used to play along with the melody with your left hand. Chords  make the song sound full and harmonic. If you do not know how to play chords then you may use auto chord accompaniment. 

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Learning Keyboard in Desi Style

The article here is to teach you keyboard in desi style and in the end you will be able to play Indian raga based bollywood songs. Harmonium, keyboard and synthesizer keyboard are taken to mean the same thing, and are called simply the “keyboard”. The  notations are used to describe the keys on the keyboard: In our lessons for convenience, the reference note, called the tonic or the Sa, is assumed to be the first black key, indicated  by the letter “S”. If you want to sing-along music then you may assign any key as “Sa”, according to your voice scale.

In this article the fingering system of keyboard and harmonium is kept same so, that we will be able to play both instruments. Most people who play harmonium find keyboard difficult due to different finger assignments. Some musicians use first white key as starting or reference note (Sa)  but we will use first black key as our starting reference note for quick learning.

Keyboard and Computer Music

Music can be defined as collection of small notes of regular sound played at predefined time interval.  It is the small water droplets that make the ocean, likewise music is also an ocean that  is made up of  small parts, it is called a “note”.  An ingenious collection of these notes played over a period of time results in a melody which could be a Mehdi Hassan  or A . Rahman  song.  Hence both  western and Indian music has a set of basic notes from which they grow, something like alphabets.  There is new concept  evolving called “computer music”  where a musician  explores beyond the basic  notes  that  are defined  in music.  In Cubase (music software) it is possible to explore beyond basics. Today  almost all  the keyboards are computerized and produce midi music.  MIDI means  musical  instruments digital  interface. Midi music is editable in computer or in midi keyboards and midi music can be produced with 16 individual tracks of different instruments.

Let us see more on Notes.  “Notes” what are they?  Note can be technically explained as a sound frequency. Actually the sound that is produced when you press a key on musical keyboard is called as “NOTE”.  It does  not matter  if you press  the white key or the black key. Each key plays a predefined frequency. A frequency is number of cycles per second. The note gets its shape by the amount of time you hold down the key and release it.  This is called the note length or duration.  Hence to make a “tune” or a “melody” or “song”  you should play a bunch of these notes at proper duration and length. 

Western Notes Verses Indian

Indian classical music has 7 basic notes (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni), with five half-notes, resulting in a 12-note scale. Unlike the 12-note scale in Western music, the base frequency of the scale is not fixed, and inter-tonal gaps may also vary. Before we can learn  how to play  scales  chords  and various progressions it is vital that we  learn  the notes on  keyboard or harmonium  and how  these notes relate  to each  other. The  best  way to describe the notes on the keyboard  is by comparing  them to the notes of the alphabets. The first seven notes of the keyboard are ( A – B – C – D -E – F – G ). Each note differ with each  other in sound.  Notice that  the seven notes  of  keyboard  repeat themselves over and over again. The notes sounds the same but the pitch differs. For example if you play C and move to  the right  until you  find  the next C,   you  will  notice  that if you  play them simultaneously, both notes sounds the same but one is higher than the other. It is a well-known fact that Indian music is based on melody and Western Music is based on Harmony. This does not mean that Western Music does not include melody. In western music, the harmonizing effect of different instruments and voices given to a certain melody plays the important role. In a similar manner in Indian music the melody has an upper hand. Usually, it is said and believed that harmony doesn’t play a role in Indian music. But, to my way of understanding, harmony is equally important in Indian classical music performance though, not the way it is used in western music. In Indian music the harmony effect is a steady continuous drone effect created usually by a ‘Tanpura’.

Please read carefully:

Middle C marks the center of the keyboard. As you will notice the C major is the easiest and simplest scale of the twelve. It consists all the  white keys from  any starting  C  to  the next octave  C.

A standard  semi professional music  keyboard  has 48 keys.  You  will see  4 sets  of  12 keys.  This 12  set of notes  is technically called  an  octave. Why 12, why not  13?, Good question.  The aim of  this article is to keep it simple;  Western  is  based  on  logarithmic division. You can start playing Indian song  from any  note and starting note will  always  become  our  reference note or Sa. Remaining notes will  be arranged  according to thaat or scale of the song. It is more easy to start our Hindi scale or thaat  from first black key. In western music also,  fifth  note from C is as 5th . In Indian music “Sa” note is  based on your reference note or the key you selected for starting point as Sa. We can further go in deep by playing song in raga of that particular thaat (scale).  

In the western music system the “C note” itself does not change and  “scales” denotes the pitch changes. Western music system has an “absolute” naming for the keys whereas in Indian  the notation is “relative. Desi music have combined  both. In the seven tone-scale the second,  third,  fourth,  sixth,  and seventh  notes  can  be sharp or flat,  making up the twelve notes in the Western scale. However, ragas can specify micro-tonal changes to this scale: a flatter second, a sharper seventh, and so forth. Furthermore, such variations can occur between styles, performers or simply follow the mood of the performer. In Indian music there is no absolute pitch; instead, each performance simply picks a ground note, and the other scale degrees follow relative to the ground note.

Note:  “Sa” does not “map” always onto “C”.  It could  start at F and still form a S R G M P D N scale in which case the corresponding western notes also change. Presently you may relate the “Sa” of Indian  to “C” of Western which is fortunately identical to each other .  A scale is a set of 7 notes in a proper order and intervals. Just remember this, a scale is set of 7 notes with predefined intervals. The distance between each note is called as interval. It is true that  scales and ragas are not same. You will learn about ragas in raga section of our book. Apart from having seven different notes, there are not many similarities. There is a huge difference between a scale and raga in tonal quality or the sound density. 

Raga has many dimensions to it. First,  it has an emotional overtone.  Just simply going over Sa to Sa can be called as a major scale or Cmaj. Though the notes and intervals are just the same. A raga can have 4 or more notes with intervals. This kind of reduction of notes in a scale is called as modes in western classical music. Experts believe proper training is required to play ragas fluently. This comes by good practice and understanding of note usage. A western trained first-rate musician will be able play a phrase of 1/64 note at a good speed but will find it difficult to play raga without proper training. It is the reason that western music is fast. Indian music is melodic in nature while western music is harmonic in nature. Chords produce harmony. Now you will be ready to believe that it is not possible to play Indian songs with only western training. Desi Style music lessons is the mixture of Western & Indian system.

Selection of first note as our Sa

On the keyboard, the area S through N is called a saptak  or an octave. There are three octaves: the Madh (middle), the Mandar (lower), and the Taar (higher/upper). The lower octave is situated to the left of the middle and is shown with a sign of apostrophe ( ‘ ) on the left side of the note. The upper octave is situated to the right of the middle octave and is shown with a sign of apostrophe ( ‘ ) on the right side of the note. Again, this is clearly shown in the diagram 1 and diagram 2. Whereas a note belonging to the middle octave has no sign of apostrophe ( ‘ ) when represented on the paper; for example, the Pa of the middle octave is represented simply as: P. The note belonging to the lower octave has an apostrophe to its LEFT. Thus, for example, the Pa in the lower octave is represented as: ‘P. The note belonging to the higher octave has an apostrophe to its RIGHT. Thus, for example, the Pa in the higher octave is represented as: P’.  The 36 keys represent the notes in all three octaves e.g.. 12×3=36

*In the following table 1, ‘S means lower octave/saptak note ( left side of middle octave)

Lower Octave or Mandar Saptak‘S‘r‘R‘gG’‘m‘M‘P‘d‘D‘n‘N
Note Numbers123456789101112
Table 1

*In the following table 2, S’ means higher octave/saptak note of harmonium or keyboard ( right side of middle octave).

Higher Octave or Taar SaptakS’r’R’g’Gm’M’P’d’D’n’N’
Note Numbers123456789101112
Table 2

*In the following table 3, S means middle octave/saptak note of harmonium or keyboard (middle octave)

Middle Octave or Madh SaptakSrRgGmMPdDnN
Note Numbers123456789101112
Table 3

The rule of achal, komal and tiver  will apply to all three diagrams given below. Before playing student must understand notes of all three octaves. Tiver notes are mentioned by capital letters and Komal notes are shown in small letters.

Selection of first white note as our Sa (starting note diagram 1)

Diagram 1

Fourth  black key from left selected as our Sa (starting note diagram 2)

Diagram 2

First black key selected as our Sa – Ideal key arrangement for playing

Diagram 3

There may be five saptak in a keyboard. The saptak to the left of the keyboard is for playing chords and to the extreme right is one more taar saptak but with very sharp voice.  We can also play melody in chords saptak but the sound of melody will show base sound. The chords saptak and extra taar saptak to the right side is  not perfect for playing melody. In a complete saptak there are 12 notes which are seven white keys and five black keys. So, in a harmonium mostly there are three saptak and 36 keys but in a professional keyboard there are four to five saptak and 48-60 keys. It should be noted that in both instruments while playing songs you will usually deal with three saptak. In keyboards you will also use chords saptak which is located to the extreme left of keyboard. In keyboards or harmonium most of the songs begin from madh or middle saptak

To summarize:  

Achal or Qyme Swar:  These notes are notated as S and P (the swar without saathi swar)  

Komal or Flat Swar: These  notes are notated as   r, g,m, d, n & are shown in small letters.

Tiver or Sharp Swar: These  notes are noted as   R,G,M,D,N and shown in capital letters.

Achal, Komal, Tiver Swar: By combining achal, komal and tiver swar we get 12 notes of a saptak. S r R g G m M P d D n N

Achal swar Sa and Pa are also shown in capital letters.  All notes belong to madh-saptak by default and have no sign of apostrophe. Notes of Mandar saptak are preceded by ( ‘ ) sign of apostrophe, and notes of Taar-saptak are succeeded by ( ‘ ) sign apostrophe. Lastly, a comma ( , ) represents a pause between notes. It is important that you learn achal, komal and tiver system of 12 music notes of any saptak.