An example in raga Janaranjani (based on the Major Scale but differing in sequence of notes)
Some examples are from Robert Morris and Chitravina N Ravikiran paper on Ravikiran’s Concept of Melharmony (Boston 2005)
It is essential even for quality composers of harmony to be aware of the intricate melodic approach in evolved systems like Indian Classical. Melharmony dictates that a composition based on a well-defined raga not only features chords and harmonies drawn only from notes permitted in the raga, but also highlights the sequence, structure and typical ornamentation that bestow the raga its unique individuality and identity. In this manner it is distinct from simple diatonic harmony that takes care of only the scale but not the other aspects associated with a raga.
A few important aspects involved in giving a distinctive feel to a given raga include:
- Scale: Notes used in the raga that enable a Carnatic raga to be classified under one or more of a possible 72 parent ragas (mela-kartas) which are 7-tone scales akin to the Major and Minor in Western music.
- Sequence: Specific to both ascending and descending scale patterns. This is a very fundamental aspect of a raga that composers must be well aware of, since even a minute change in the sequence can mean a different raga. The audio example will demonstrate a short melharmonic segment based on raga Janaranjani, which uses the notes of the Major Scale (Shankarabharanam) but in a sequence of: C D E F G A G B C - C A G F D C.
- Hierarchy of the notes: Many ragas have certain notes that are dominant, notes with development potential as also 'touch me gently' notes which can only be rendered fleetingly as well as notes in which phrases cannot begin and/or end.
- Typical ornamentation: Again, each raga has well defined rules of what notes can be rendered plain or with movement or micro-tonal variation depending on the context. In the South Indian Carnatic system, oscillation of a note is a major ornamentation that is in fact the lifeline of some ragas. Composers seeking to use Carnatic ragas will find it most rewarding to acquaint themselves with some of these principles.
- Key phrases: Since Melharmony aims to bring out the beauty of the raga, one must be aware of the ways in which a raga can be made to come alive in the course of a composition. The classical approach to ragas in India have been focussed on revealing the raga from the very first phrase. Even an awareness of 10-12 key phrases of a raga will go a long way in enabling a composer to feel the pulse of the raga and create quality compositions in those.
However, Melharmony does not merely act as a subset of possible chords or harmonies within a raga. It also explores new harmonic possibilities for composers with its melody-centric demands. Thus, it does not impose limitations on a composer but opens up exciting new possibilities.