• Ma (Madhyam) •


The fourth step of the sapta swara, offering both shuddha (natural) and tivra (raised) options. While these are somewhat equivalent to the Western ♮4 and #4 (=500 and 600 cents), the Hindustani Ma may also be set to a microtone between these points (plus, swaras are far more than just ‘notes’). Madhyam (meaning ‘medium’ or ‘central’: i.e. the 4th of 7 swaras) is traditionally associated with moonlight, as well as the call of the heron. It also underpins the sonic geometry of several instruments: e.g. the sitar’s main playing string is tuned to ma (meaning Sa lies on the 7th fret), and ‘Sa-ma’ is the second most common tanpura tuning (as ma-Sa-Sa-Sa).

Sa | Re | Ga | Ma | Pa | Dha | Ni

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• Ma Categories •
Shuddha ma: present
Shuddha ma: only
Shuddha ma: varjit
Shuddha ma: imperfect
Shuddha ma: detached
Tivra Ma: present
Tivra Ma: only
Tivra Ma: varjit
Tivra Ma: imperfect
Tivra Ma: detached
Generic Ma: present
Generic Ma: varjit
Double Ma: present
‘Komal Pa’ (mM & no Pa)
Mirror: m–N | mM–nS | M—S

Quirks: tivra Ma exactly bisects the octave from Sa (see ‘palindromicity‘) • shuddha ma cannot be ‘imperfect‘ or ‘detached‘ (as all ragas must contain their own Sa) • shuddha ma is popular as an ‘open baaj tar‘ tone (e.g. on sitar)

Tanpura tuning: ma-Sa-Sa-Sa



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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 2023-24]

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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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