An inspiring book for all performance artists

I recently read Steve Martin’s autobiography : Born Standing Up

Part philosophical treatise, part how-to guide, it’s a deep dive into how a performance is created-an intersection of art and science, intense honesty and brutal self examination. He delivers an elegant and sophisticated analysis of his journey from Disneyland to sold out shows and hit movies with not a single gripe against anyone, solely focusing on improving his art using audience reaction as his guide. Whether you play classical music or hard rock or dance Bollywood and are serious about your art form, this book delivers invaluable insights.

Key points for me were:

1. A performance requires special planning and treatment, especially if you have a paying audience

2. It takes time to develop your own style –  you will inevitably start out with someone else’s material, but with hard work and honesty, you can develop your own

3. This is a long hard slog

4. Complaining about how the world is sabotaging you is probably not a good strategy – no -one owes  you a living.

5. Intense and brutal self examination is important, as is the advice of mentors and seniors.


New Sarod !

I just returned from India as the proud owner of a new sarod….

Sounds great so far….

Here’s me practicing my eternally favourite raga Darbari Kanada on my new sarod…., playing both a slow alaap as well as a fast paced composition in 16 beats to check out the sound….

Raga Bihag: An uplifting melody


A most pleasing and enjoyable raga, Bihag is at once a very popular and common raga. On the sarod, practically everyone has played this at some time or the other. Associated ragas include: Maru Bihag, Nat Bihag, Hem Bihag and Pat Bihag (I heard the last one once, and have no idea of the repertoire…. will find out if I get the time)….

Bihag, also spelt Behag etc… is a straightforward raga

Aarohan: N(lower) S G M P N S(upper)

Avrohan: S (upper) N P, G M G

Bihag employs both the Major (Shudda) M and Teevra (Sharp) M…

The phrase GMG is a signature of Bihag …..

It evokes feelings of happiness, joy and celebration. According to some musicians (notably Ud Vilayat Khan), this is a raga for weddings.

Here’s a quick compostion in Vilambit Teentaal

Followed by a few compositions in Drut Teentaal (16 beats)

I really should move these to their own page-…

Bihag Jhaptaal composition is still in the works…


Raga Improvisation & Expansion


(Picture above: my hometown of Varanasi, India, famous for Indian classical music, especially tabla)

Ever wondered what musicians play after the main composition and how it’s structured?

Especially in the slow (vilambit) part of the composition, there are a number of devices and pathways available to the artist.

As a short example, I start with a very standard composition in slow 16 beat cycle in Raga Marwa-(notations provided below)…

The main composition is repeated a few times:

(italics: lower octave) Bold: Upper Octave, lowercase:komal, UPPER CASE: Shuddha

Starts from 12th beat.DD N rr G m D-, D m G r SS, N r N D

It is essential to maintain a very prominent Dha in the lower octave, to bring out Marwa’s mood.

Thereafter, the following expansion pathways are demonstrated:

-Vistaar (expanding upon the notes, with our without metre)

-Aamad: Rhythmic variations

-Bol – Taans with Bols

– Peshkar (rhythmic phrases)

Only a few short samples are provided, and the main composition is played over and over again – but these are just few pathways which can be explored in playing the raga…

Playing Indian Classical Music on non traditional instruments

For some time now, I have been asked whether it’s a good idea to play Indian Classical music on western instruments. I myself used to play Indian Classical Music on the guitar, so here are my thoughts on the subject.

So, the question is: should I play Indian classical music on the guitar/piano/cello/harmonica/french horn/saxophone etc?

The answer is : It depends (on what you want)

The key point is the musician’s approach to Indian classical music. If you are after a quick superficial look, you can pretty much play the “envelope” of the music on any instrument. Even the Beatles tried their hand at sitar (with disastrous results)

However, if you are after reproducing Indian classical music in accurate detail, you will have first have to devise a method of executing melodic line improvisations  on your instrument. This is easier said than done. In some cases, you can approximate the gamak, murki and other embellishments, but if you start on a brand new instrument, you will have to develop the instrument and technique.

That will take time and effort. Unless you are a genius of the calibre of Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma who has translated traditional techniques to the santoor through brilliant innovation, you will be in for a hard slog.

The other and possibly easier option is to go for an established instrument like sitar, sarod, sarangi. These not only are optimised for the music, but also have a huge body of work behind them. One reason why old timers were in general sceptical of new instruments was that it takes generations to build up a body of work. Newer instruments need time to generate that level of optimisation.

However, if everyone just focussed on established instruments, we would not have much innovation. So, newer instruments are welcome as a matter of innovation and progress.

So, in summary, there is no wrong or right answer -it pretty much depends on what you want to achieve.