• Issues of Raga Definition •


Exploring some of the inherent dilemmas posed by any attempt to ‘tame’ raga into formalised theoretical frameworks: spanning the practical to the metaphysical, plus plenty inbetween…

Notation Notes
Definitional Dilemmas
Metaphysics & More:

• Notation Notes •

Defining a ‘quasi-standardised’ system of raga notation (used throughout the Raga Index): emphasising flexibility, readability, and text-search utility. Criticism encouraged!

Swaras: Higher/lower forms of swara:

  • UPPER: shuddha [RGDN], tivra [M], achal [SP]
  • lower: komal [rgdn], shuddha [m]

Timings: Phrases & passages:

  • Spaces [n SR]: elongations & pauses (e.g. when a swara is sustained, or followed by silence) – also used as a visual separator within long taans
  • Commas [mG, Pm]: phrase-end separators within a passage (akin to melodic ‘sentences’)
  • Semicolons [DnS; gRS]: passage-end separators (akin to melodic ‘paragraphs’: e.g. to mark the end of a lehra, or to split the sthayi & antara)
  • Underlines [SnD]: denotes the location of the ‘culminating sam’ within a passage (excepting grace notes)

Ornaments: Melodic decorations:

  • Slashes [P/D]: smoothed transitions (i.e. when both swaras are rendered with roughly equal weightings)
  • Brackets [P(D)]: kanswar & subtle motions (i.e. when one swara ‘accents’ another, or when a sustained tone ends with an ornamented flurry)
  • Compounds [P(/D)P, (nD)P, G/m(GRG)]: denoted in rough hierarchy of swara prominence – with ‘summarised’ groupings sometimes used for clarity (e.g. a rapid ‘P(DnDPDn)’ may become ‘P(DPn)’, or a sustained ‘G(mGmGm…)G’ andolan may be reduced to ‘G(m)G’, depending on context)

Others: Topic-specific indicators:

  • Arrows [SGmPnS<>SnPmGmgS]: reserved for ‘aroha<>avroh’ swara sets (i.e. the raga’s summarised ‘up<>down’ path).
  • Short dashes [S-gG-m-P-n-S]: reserved for swara-set notations (i.e. when core form takes primacy over melodic specifics)
  • Long dashes [S–G–d]: reserved for geometric features, e.g. polygons, symmetries, mirror lines, etc (i.e. when swara-structure takes primacy over temporal motions)

–Guiding Design Principles–
  • Use your ears! As always…

• Definitional Dilemmas •

Discussing some of the inherent issues of raga ‘formalisation’…



• Metaphysics & More •



Hindustani Raga Index

An open-ended project seeking to bring North Indian raga closer to all who approach with open ears. Combines direct input from dozens of leading Hindustani artists with in-depth insights from music history, global theory, performance practice, cognitive science, and much more! [out 2023]

Megalist (365+ ragas)
Search: Find your new favourite •
Tags: Classifying the ragascape •
Glossary: Raga jargon demystified
Ragatable: Analytical connections •
Thaat: Bhatkhande’s base scales •
Murchanas: Swara-set rotations •
Quotes: Musings from raga artists •
Tanpuras: Divine overtonal drones •
Talas: Hindustani rhythm cycles •
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Feedback / Contact •

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Homepage for more, and hit me up for Lessons!

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