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…

Raga Jhinjhoti- Continued

Here is the first video of Raga Jhinjhoti – a fast (drut) composition in 16 beat (teentaal) followed by a variant of the same composition set to the same taal.

This composition is from the Shahjahanpur Sarod Gharana, and was developed by Abdullah Khan or Mohammad Amir Khan…

Originally meant for the sarod, this has been adapted on other instruments. The composition has several rhythmic accents, which take time to learn.

The notations are :

RR MM GG, DD nn P D S R  G (Sam)

-R M PD Sn R S nn D PD, M P DD MM g RG,

SS RR g SS n D nn

P D  S R G, S R M G (RR MM GG etc)

The antara is very complex and I’ve found that a lot of musicians leave it out.

G S R M P D n P D M, P D S R GGR R S


SS RG SS n D nn P D S R G, S R MG (RR MM etc)

The key points of this composition is to stick to the rhythm. As the composition veers off  the main beat, the rhythm has to be tightly controlled. Fortunately, the composition does not veer off randomly, it still maintains the flow of the taal, so can be learnt after some practice.

Here’s a Youtube video of me playing this composition, recorded at a practice session in my room…

Beautiful Ragas from the Khamaj Garden- Raga Jhinjhoti

Recently I played at the Independence day function for a local association, and ended up playing Raga Desh. Which made me think of other ragas which are related to Desh. In this category lies the beautiful raga Jhinjhoti. For some reason, Bengalis often call this raga Jhijhit…. not quite sure why….

Here’s a brief introduction to Jhinjhoti as I’ve leant it…

Raga Jhinjhoti

Thaat (Parent): Khamaj

Ascending: Aarohan: S  R M P D S

Descending: Avrohan: S n D P M G R S

Pakad (Distinctive Phrase):  P(lower) D (Lower) S R G – R P M G, S R G n(lower) D (lower) S

Jhinjhoti is a sweet raga, full of emotion and feeling. I visualise bright flowers in a beautiful garden when I think of Jhinjhoti. While it’s considered a light raga, there is no end to plumbing its depths….

In the instrumental tradition, the Shahjahanpur Gharana takes the honours for detailed treatment of Jhinjhoti. In particular, two compositions by Abdullah Khan and Mohammed Amir Khan demand special attention. They are rhythmic, bright, sweet and unique. Under the masters of Shahjahanpur, these have become part of the repertoire of a generation.

I’ll continue this discussion with the first of these compositions in Drut Teentaal.



Raga Bageshri- Conclusion

Here is my last post on Raga Bageshri – a gat in Rupak Taal (7 beats) to round off the full series: Vilambit, Madhyalaya and Drut…

I learnt this composition from Ustad Shahid Parvez – he also showed a different style of taankari- using phrases. As always, I’ve ended up experimenting with tihais etc – more of a concert thing…

The notation is fairly simple – starts from 1. (Sam)


g R S  D(lower) n(lower) S


g- M- Dn D

M- P gg R- (back to Sthayi)

The taans are played in a style which is not commonly heard either on the sarod or sitar, so very much enjoying this -it’s got a bit of rhythmwork (layakari) in it. There are some concert grade “dazzlers” in there such as the one taan where the end of the tihai is played thrice – once with space, the second at regular speed and the third without a space. All that is good for concerts, and musicians must keep their arsenal equipped for performance purposes. Even if you are not playing these in concert, it focusses you on taal practice and control of your laya.



Bageshri- Drut Teentaal – Some compositions

I’ve been a bit late with my posts – but here the latest one covering off more material in Bageshri –  this time some select compositions in Drut Teentaal…(Bageshri is such a “big” raga, one could spend years on it..)

I’ve recorded a video showing 7 compositions in Drut Teentaal, some never played on the sarod (e.g. sitar heritage) but all unique in some ways:

First up, without the tabla – is the vocal composition “Balma More Tore Sang”.. sung by many (even fusion bands)
Then the lineup begins with an intricate composition that I learnt from Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan. What is different about this composition is the rhythmic phrasings and long taans, not commonly heard on the sarod.
I then play an old composition from Ustad Amjad Ali Khan from the 60s. I’ve modified the antara by truncating it the first phrase only – which works better for me

Then some traditional compositions in sarod from the Shahjahanpur Gharana, learnt via Shri Sugato Nag

Then two masterpieces by the greatest musicians of the last century: Ustads Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Amir Khan Sahab.
In particular, as I went back to Ud Amir Khan Sahab’s original rendition of the Bageshri, it really had a profound effect on me in terms of his notes and tone. He managed to say so much in a few notes… we mere mortals can never hope to accomplish that. I now know what Pt Nikhil Banerjee felt when he first heard the legendary Ustad… please read the article here….
Then a self composition that I’m working on.

Next, Bageshri in Rupak… to round out the collection…

Raga Marwa – An evening mood

For some time now, I’ve been “besotted” by Raga Marwa. Raga Marwa is a unique raga in many respects and its characteristics can take a while to understand. The Raga goes like this

Notes of Raga Marwa:

Family (Thaat): Marwa

Ascending (Aarohan): N r G m D N S

Descending (Avrohan): S N D m G r S

Characteristic phrase (Pakad) : N(lower) D (lower) N (lower ) r,  G  m D m G r, N(lower) r S

What makes Marwa a unique raag is that Sa plays a secondary role in this raga. N D N r bypasses Sa  and builds up a tension, which is released when the Sa is finally reached. In doing so, Marwa establishes a signature distinct from its derivative ragas : Puriya and Sohini (Sohni)

On the sarod, there are hardly any Marwas recorded at all. The deep sound of the instrument suits the raga and I present here a simple composition in Vilambit Teentaal

The notations of the vilambit compositions are as follows, starting from the 12th beat:

D N R G m D – m – G R S – SS N

r- N D x x , N N S x, NN r X, G m G r, N D S

I’m going to record a few more compositions in Marwa and upload them as soon as I can…

Short samples in Bageshri

Here’s the video from a recent program where I went through around 6 compositions in Bageshree – the time was limited, so I instead of doing an in-depth performance of the raag, I meandered in and out of the various gats- got a few negative comments from listeners for this approach.

As always, the videos are good learning exercises – one can see areas of improvement.

1. Vilambit Teentaal

2. Rupak Madhyalaya

3. Drut Ektaal – Based on the famous khayal “Apni Garaj” performed to perfection by Ud Shahid Parvez (and many others)

4. Drut Teentaal (3 gats – the first one is my composition)

I will record these gats in detail with taans, notations and (hopefully) better sound (than in the past) along with the brilliant tarana by Ud. Amir Khan – which translates nicely to the sarod.


Raga Bageshri – Part 1

Of late, I’ve been studying and playing Raga Bageshri (variously called Bagesri, Bageshree, or Bageshri Kanada).  Bageshri is a grand raga, attributed to Thaat Kafi and is a staple of evening concerts. The time prescribed for this raga is evening to late night.

I learnt Bageshri when I was 7 years old from my first music teacher Smt Ruby Bose (wonder where she is these days). She taught me a drut khayal “Moha Liyo ” a Sadarang composition. As Bageshri is a staple of music schools, everyone learns it. But, like Yaman, it’s a ocean of a raga – the  more you delve into it, the further you can go.

Bageshri has the following scale :

 (italics – lower octave, bold – upper octave – Caps -Shuddha -Natural swaras, lower case – komal (flat)

Ascending: n S g M D n S

Descending: S n D M g R S

Bageshri uses the Pa beautifully to embellish the emotion of the raga. Pa has to be judiciously used, as too much or too little can ruin the raga character.

I start off with a slow (Vilambit) composition set to 16 beats recorded raw in my music room. I learnt this composition from Shri Sugato Nag, and it has Imdadkhani and Shahjahanpur elements in it. A number of other vilambit compositions are similar to this one:

The notations are (simplified form)-Starts from the 12th beat


S n D – M P g R D n S

D n SM g M D P D nD g-g R

S n D – M P g R D n S

Manjha – starts from 4th

N d M DD N S M g R N S

D P D n D g g M D N S

S N d M PP D M P D g R S – back to Sthayi


N D gg MM DD N S-S-S


S N D n D  M D N R S- M

M g R S D N D – M PP D M P D g R S – back to sthayi

There is infinite scope to vary this composition and put in embellishments – that is the nature of Bageshri.

Next, I’ll do the Madhaylaya and Drut gats from various sources.