Learn Techniques Of Indian Violin

Kalashree Foundation is a charitable 501(c)3 nonprofit organization offering online music education. Start learning right now. Play along with each video lesson below. Practical bowing and fingering exercises are given; written descriptions enhance the video lessons. Enroll in online classes if you need additional help mastering this material.

Advanced students, please submit an audition video demonstrating your mastery of the material in the lessons below. Beginners of all ages can register for classes without an audition. Please mention if you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced player when you enroll in online classes here: classes@kalaramnath.com.

Lesson #1: Tuning the Violin

Maestro Kala Ramnath shows how the Indian violin is tuned. It is different than the western tuning system: G, D, A and E. However, even within Indian music, there are different ways to tune the violin. Some will tune the strings to Pa Sa Pa Sa; others use Sa Pa Sa Pa.

Either method can be adopted simply by re-tuning the same strings used in the west.

Kala’s Tuning System: Remove the E-string. Move all other strings one position to the right. The A-string is now in the top position, where the E-string was previously. The D and G-strings both move to the right. Tune the G-string up a whole step, to A. The low string space is now open.

Maestro Kala Ramnath innovated by adding a special C-string, now made for the violin, in this space. Tune it up one whole step, to D. This C-string now becomes the low Sa. The new tuning: Sa, Pa, Sa, Pa. The pitches correspond to D, A, D, A. The low Sa now has a deep resonance.

Lesson #2: Holding the Violin & Bow for Indian Music

Place the violin under the collarbone for support. Place the scroll of the violin on the ankle of the right foot, which is extended. Fold the left leg, and let the hands remain relaxed and free. This position allows you to play Indian violin gliding and sliding techniques such as gamak, murki and meend.

This is the standard Franco-Belgian hold, which is used all over the world. Curl the thumb at the base of the bow. Relax the right hand into a natural position. The point-of-contact is around the second or third ridge of the middle finger, opposite the thumb. A relaxed, flexible pinky finger best supports this hold by providing counter-weight.

Start the bow stroke from the tip. Relax the joints of the arm, hand and fingers. Keep the bow halfway between the bridge and the fingerboard; maintain a parallel relationship to the bridge. Bowing speed-pressure must be even and proportionate, so the violin’s true tone can emerge.

Lesson #3: Playing The Scale, Bilawal Thaat : Sa Re Ga-ma, Pa Dha Ni-Sa

Finger terminology: The first finger is called the index; the second finger is the middle; the third is the ring; the fourth is the pinky. The sargam corresponds to scale degrees in the west.

Bilawal is a parent scale, or thaat. It has the same half-step pattern as the Major/Ionian scale in the western modal system. Half-steps occur between third and fourth notes, and also between seventh and eighth notes: Ga-ma, and Ni-Sa, respectively.

Lower String: Sa Re Ga-ma

Play Sa on the open string. Play Re Ga-ma with index, middle and ring fingers. Index and middle fingers stretch to play Re Ga. Middle and ring fingers stay close together to play Ga-ma; this is the half-step.

Upper String: Pa Dha Ni-Sa

Play Pa on the open string. Play Dha Ni-Sa with index, middle and ring fingers. Index and middle fingers stretch to play Dha Ni. Middle and ring fingers stay close together to play Ni-Sa; this is the half-step.

Lesson #4: Learning to Use the Bow

Play Bilawal again, but this time, play two notes per bow. Divide the bow equally so that each note will have equal length. Finger changes happen around the mid-bow area. Place each finger clearly. The fingers must stop the string with a relaxed hand.

Once playing two notes per bow becomes easy, try playing four notes per bow. Once this is easy, try eight notes per bow. Divide the bow evenly while playing the variations. Maintain even speed and even pressure throughout the entire bow stroke to ensure good tonal quality.

Mindful repetition is the key to getting comfortable enough to advance your speed without sacrificing clarity. Complete all previous lessons before attempting the advanced exercises.


Lesson #5: Exercises for Finger Control, Coordination of Both Hands

Advanced exercises develop virtuosic control of the fingers when practiced daily for many years.

Here, the bow does not change directions with the fingers. Instead, lift and put back the fingers quickly at the bow’s mid-point. The human mind generally expects both hands to do things at the same time; this exercise breaks that norm.

Play Sa with the ring finger on the third string. Play Pa with the pinky finger on this string, too. Finger articulations must be crisp and fast; use minimal motion. Advanced players can play two in a bow. Try four and eight in a bow, as demonstrated. Play slowly; then, increase the speed.

Lesson #6: The Beginning of Gamak

In this pattern, play three notes in one bow. Slide the index finger from Re to Ga and back to Re in one bow. Continue this pattern up the scale, as demonstrated. Play along: Make sure to relax the hand so that you play Indian gamak beautifully.

Keep the third and fourth fingers close, for support, when playing Ga-ma on the lower string. Use the same shape for Ni-Sa on the upper string. Play two, four and eight per bow, just like the earlier exercises. Remember, judicious use of the whole bow produces good sound quality.

The next gamak variation starts with four gamak motions in one bow. Count them while playing along. Then, try eight in a bow. Finally, try 16 in a bow. Notice that while the left hand goes faster, the bow movement remains constant. Your mind is learning to accept different tempos for each hand. Even when you get faster, remember to use the whole bow.

Lesson #7: Controlling Bow Speed and Movement

In this lesson, Bilawal is played at three different speeds. Start at a comfortable speed. Make sure the bow stays parallel to the bridge during the entire stroke. Gradual tempo increases develop greater control over the bowing; however, this requires much practice. Repetition counts.

Play the first speed one time. Play the second speed twice; play the third speed four times. Then, double these repetitions: Play the first speed twice. Play the second speed four times; play the third speed eight times. Use the whole bow for all three speeds.

To play the fourth speed, just shorten the bow stroke. Start at the tip of the bow, and play quickly to the mid-point. The fifth speed uses an even shorter bow stroke. Use more pressure and speed at the upper half of the bow. The bow strokes get shorter as the speed gets faster.

Lesson #8: Playing the Octave, Single Finger on One String

Watch the video before playing. This scale is played with one finger on one string. Play Sa and Re as you would normally. Then, the slide technique begins, as follows: 

The notation of the first half of this phrase is: Sa Re Ga-ma-Ga Pa

The notation of the second half of this phrase is: Pa Ni Dha, Sa-Ni-Sa

Play these two phrases in one bow.

Descend in three phrases: Sa Ni-Sa Dha Ni Pa Dha : Dha ma Pa Ga-ma : ma Re Ga Sa

Glide smoothly and accurately between notes, as the underlined phrases above indicate: Don’t stop on the notes. Trust your ears. Place the index finger right underneath the middle finger. Finish by switching from the middle finger on ma down to the index finger on Re. The switch of the fingers is not audible.

Play the same exercise with your ring finger on Ga: Support it with your middle finger. This is the same half-step shape used for playing Ga-ma. Play along with the video daily; it takes time to learn the correct hand motion for gamak.

Lesson #9, Part I: Advanced Exercises for Finger Control

The next variation builds on a previous lesson; review that finger pattern first. This next pattern is similar, but it has a few extra turns. Use even pressure and even speed in the bowing; divide the notes evenly. This produces a continuous sound, even when changing bow directions.

Start by playing four in a bow, as demonstrated. Notice how the change in the finger pattern affects the timing of the bow as it crosses one string to another: Bow timing is as important as the finger work.

New students must expect to practice these five exercises daily for about six or seven years to establish real control and coordination of both hands. Two faster speeds of this exercise are demonstrated. Do you see how it looks and sounds to have well-balanced clarity and speed?


Lesson #9 P-II: Advanced Exercises for Finger Control

Learn the last of the Five Core Exercises in this lesson. At a slow tempo, these exercises might seem simple; however, they transmit a profound level of control into your hands once you balance accuracy, clarity and speed.

The first pattern is: Sa Re Sa_Sa, Re Ga Re_Re, and so on.

The slowest speed possible is presented first. You can play two, four, eight, 16 or even 32 in a bow. This exercise is great for beginners, but advanced players will also benefit. Improve your clarity first. This gradual method allows your true speed to emerge naturally.

The next pattern is: Sa Re Ga Re_Re Sa_Sa : Re Ga-ma Ga_Ga Re_Re, and so on.

Shifting: To shift, slide your index finger to the ma position, as demonstrated. Practice this shift several times, in-tempo. Don’t drag the fingers. Lift, and switch the position clearly. Increase the tempo when comfortable with this shift. Daily repetition produces clarity, speed and control.

Lesson #10: Raga Bhoopali

Composition Lyrics (asthai): Eta naijo bana para maanana kariye: Dariye prabhuso aaj aali

Maestro Kala Ramnath now demonstrates how to bow exactly with the syllables of a composition. Slide your left hand to mimic the vocal style in raga Boopali. Learn how to play the slow, sliding technique called meend by playing along with this video.

Additional bowing techniques covered: Changing bow speeds, shaping the phrase, and bowing according to the syllables of a composition. Some passages require the bow to slow down, but other passages call for a faster bow speed.

Play along with these videos many times, and you will notice a dramatic improvement. Play this composition along with the tabla to see how much you’ve learned! If you wish to continue advancing in your classical Indian violin studies, enroll in Kalashree’s online classes.

Contact classes@kalaramnath.com to register for class. Please mention if wish to enroll in the beginning, intermediate or advanced class.

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