Gamaka is a challenging idea to comprehend in Carnatic music. Usually handed down from teacher to student, as a part of the guru shishya parampara, a gamaka, or a decoration added to a note, gives each raga its own identity. The embellishment can be implemented by stressing on the note or singing it on a higher or lower pitch by oscillating the swara.
“It is these gamakas, which come in innumerable varieties that have kept the common man believe Carnatic music as something he cannot aspire to practice or appreciate,” opines music composer Ramesh Vinayakam. “I went to meet the President of India in February 2014 during the screening of Ramanujam, for which I scored the music. That was my last contact with the outside world. From then on, I’ve been engrossed in doing research to capture gamakas with paper and ink through my notational system ‘Gamaka Box’. ”
The results of the research have proved that Gamaka Box can be used as a tool to disseminate Carnatic music. The existing notations, Ramesh says, give only a skeletal structure of the song using step notation. “We follow a system called Kalpitha Sangeetham while learning Carnatic music. That is, we play or sing tunes that are already composed. Students are asked to follow their teachers’ instructions and they are made to learn gamakas by ear since no notation exists,” he explains.
Gamaka Box, a small box with three lines in it, is expected to give a visual aid to students. The floating of each note, the gamaka, is captured in this box using curves and lines, with each note having its own box.
When asked if artists would have the time to assimilate so much information when singing fast songs, he explains gamakas reduce when the tempo of a song is high. “With more research, we can compare how gamakas and more importantly, how music changes with tempo, scales and other musical parameters. This opens avenues for research into Carnatic music which will help unravel the mysteries around the art form,” he adds.
Ramesh has already drawn up a number of varnams using the Gamaka Box and has students of every level and even foreigners play Carnatic music. “The bottom line is everyone can learn classical music through Gamaka Box!” he declares. He will be presenting Gamaka Box at the National Seminar on Music Notation, which will be conducted at the University of Madras on February 24.
Applications of Gamaka Box
- Machines can be taught to play gamakas and notate recordings
- Teaching gamakas to students would be simpler with notations
- An analysis of a singer’s performance can be done to sharpen gamakas
- A statistical study could be conducted to identify the characteristics of raagas and their relationship with gamakas