In part-1 and part-2, I covered some very basic techniques for “anchoring time in the body”. In this part, I illustrate a technique for practice that I call “role inversion” with a pallavi as an example.
Pallavis tend to have rhythmic structures that make it interesting and challenging to perform them at different speeds and nadais. A programmable metronome such as Tala Keeper can be used for pallavi practice to great effect.
A metronome can serve as an aid to pallavi practice in two different ways - by playing just the tala along with you-the-student singing or playing your instrument along with it, or by playing the rhythmic pattern of the pallavi so you can play the tala and/or sing along. Both these modes of practice are useful and since the role played by you and the metronome are being switched, I call this approach “role inversion”.
The pallavi - Kanasabesan
First, I introduce the example pallavi I’ll be using to illustrate such role inversion. The pallavi is “Kanakasabēśan dariśanam kaṇḍen, kaṇḍu ānandam koṇḍen tillai”, in Śaṅkarābharaṇam rāgam, miśra cápu tālam. Below is the prescriptive notation for the pallavi, in 3 speeds - the normal speed, 2x slower than normal and 4x slower than normal. As is usual, the slower speeds feature long pauses that challenge students. I urge you to try this pallavi without aids first to get a feel for it and the difficulties with it.
Even if it “just flows” for you, you may still benefit from what follows, so do read on.
tala pattern = || ,, ,, ,, | ,, ,, | ,, ,, || aksharas per line = 14 stretch = 0.7 _ _ G m , P , m , G , , G , _ _ ka na _ ka _ sa _ bē _ _ śan _ , R , , S , , S , S , , N , _ da _ _ ri _ _ śa _ nam _ _ kaṇ _ S , , , , , R , , , G , m , ḍen _ _ _ _ _ kaṇ _ _ _ ḍu _ ā _ , , P , , , P , m , , D P m _ _ nan _ _ _ dam _ koṇ _ _ ḍen _ til aksharas per line = 2 G R _ lai
2x slower speed
tala pattern = || ,, ,, ,, | ,, ,, | ,, ,, || aksharas per line = 14 stretch = 0.7 _ _ G , m , , , P , , , m , _ _ ka _ na _ _ _ ka _ _ _ sa _ , , G , , , , , G , , , , , _ _ bē _ _ _ _ _ śan _ _ _ _ _ R , , , , , S , , , , , S , da _ _ _ _ _ ri _ _ _ _ _ śa _ , , S , , , , , N , , , S , _ _ nam _ _ _ _ _ kaṇ _ _ _ ḍen _ , , , , , , , , , , R , , , _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ kaṇ _ _ _ , , , , G , , , m , , , , , _ _ _ _ ḍu _ _ _ ā _ _ _ _ _ , , P , , , , , , , P , , , _ _ nan _ _ _ _ _ _ _ dam _ _ _ m , , , , , D , P , m , G , koṇ _ _ _ _ _ ḍen _ _ _ til _ _ _ aksharas per line = 2 R , lai _
4x slower speed
tala pattern = || ,, ,, ,, | ,, ,, | ,, ,, || aksharas per line = 14 stretch = 0.7 _ _ G , , , m , , , , , , , _ _ ka _ _ _ na _ _ _ _ _ _ _ P , , , , , , , m , , , , , ka _ _ _ _ _ _ _ sa _ _ _ _ _ , , G , , , , , , , , , , , _ _ be _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ G , , , , , , , , , , , R , śan _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ da _ , , , , , , , , , , S , , , _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ri _ _ _ , , , , , , , , S , , , , , _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ śa _ _ _ _ _ , , S , , , , , , , , , , , _ _ nam _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ N , , , , , , , S , , , , , kaṇ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ḍen _ _ _ _ _ , , , , , , , , , , , , , , _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , , , , R , , , , , , , , , _ _ _ _ kaṇ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , , , , , , G , , , , , , , _ _ _ _ _ _ ḍu _ _ _ _ _ _ _ m , , , , , , , , , , , , , ā _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , , P , , , , , , , , , , , _ _ nan _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , , , , P , , , , , , , m , _ _ _ _ dam _ _ _ _ _ _ _ koṇ _ , , , , , , , , , , D , , , _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ḍen _ _ _ P , , , m , , , G , , , R , _ _ _ _ til _ _ _ _ _ _ _ lai _ aksharas per line = 2 , , _ _
Playing the “misra capu” talam
For this pallavi, we’ll take the misra capu talam to be rendered as the sequence of hand gestures “wave-wave-pause-clap-pause-clap-pause”, at a tempo of 140 aksharas per minute. This is a straight forward mapping to Tala Keeper, which you can use the practice the pallavi in the normal mode.
If you need some additional help with Tala Keeper articulating the “pause” gestures as well, you can just use the pulse controls in the app, or click here.
When practicing with Tala Keeper, you’ll notice that you might be counting pulses (“karvais”) either explicitly or internally. While this is useful for practice, you gain greater control over the time if you can internalize the vast spaces between notes in the lower speeds. “Role inversion” for this pallavi will help you achieve that.
Playing the pallavi’s rhythm
“Role inversion” between you and Tala Keeper means you use Tala Keeper to play the pallavi’s rhythm while you follow. In this setup, two exercises are possible - either you play the talam, or you practice the pallavi along with Tala Keeper.
Before we get to that though, here is one exercise that will help greatly towards getting a feel for the karvais involved in the normal speed – program the pallavi’s rhythm into Tala Keeper! For this exercise, you’ll need the app, since the online interface is unsuitable for this purpose and therefore doesn’t support programming arbitrary patterns.
Since the normal speed is defined using 2 notes per akshara, you’ll need to set a tempo of 280bpm in Tala Keeper first. Then use either the left or the right pad to represent the syllable times and the middle pulse pad for the pulses. Go ahead and try it! It is a challenge in itself because you’ll be able to do it only if you are already somewhat confident about the number of karvais for each syllable. Programming the pattern by tapping the pads is a great tactile way to manifest the karvais which will contribute to mastering the pallavi, and the design around this is one of the ways Tala Keeper helps a student internalize musical time. Furthermore, you can choose to either articulate the pulses or keep them hidden depending on your practice need.
If you don’t have the app, here is one possible rendition.
Practicing two lower speeds of the pallavi
The two lower speeds pose a modest challenge to students. Using the Tala Keeper app, it is easy to program the 2x slower speed, starting from the original normal speed version – you just need to set its “kalai” to 2x.
Programming 2x slower speed
To get the 2x slower speed version when you have the normal speed version loaded, do the following -
- Tap the “×÷” button,
- Tap the middle pulse button twice,
- Tap “×” to set the kalai to 2x.
Note that if you have your pattern set such that the pulses are being articulated, you’ll now get an extra pulse being performed for each of the former pulses.
If you want a strictly slower speed without articulating pulses at 280bpm, you’ll need to set the kalai pattern slightly differently -
- Tap the “×÷” button,
- Tap the middle pulse button once,
- Tap the blank area above the bounce floor once,
- Tap “×” to set the kalai to “pulse-silent”.
i.e. during kalai/nadai programming, you can tap the blank area instead of the pulse button to indicate that you want that particular intermediate pulse to not be rendered even when pulse articulation is enabled.
For those without the app, here is the 2x slower speed pattern
Programming the 4x slower speed
To get the 4x slower speed from the 2x version on the Tala Keeper, you’ll need to double the “kalai” relative to the 2x pattern. Here is how you do that -
- Make sure you’re playing the 2x slower pattern now,
- Tap the “×÷” button,
- Tap “REL” and make sure it is glowing white (this indicates relative kalai),
- Tap the middle pulse button once and then the gap above the bounce floor,
- Finally tap “×” to double the kalai.
For those without the app, here is the 4x slower speed pattern.
Try to sing along with the rhythm indicated by Tala Keeper. If you’re using the app, you can use the pulse options to either turn on hints for counting aksharas or to keep the silent so that you can work on feeling the actual time between the pallavi’s syllables in the various speeds. If you’re working on improvisation, doing the latter can give you a good idea of what kind of “filler material” you can add when rendering the slower speed pallavis using higher speed improvised “niraval” phrases.
Combining the three speeds
So far, I’ve avoided discussing a small problem in the interest of simplicity - the pallavi starts one akshara into the tala! This makes it difficult to practice playing the tala along with Tala Keeper, since it is starting the pallavi from the first syllable.
One way to work around that is to pretend that the pallavi starts with the final syllable. However, you’ll not be able to derive the correct 2x and 4x slower speeds because in those speeds too the pallavi starts one akshara into the cycle.
A good way to deal with this is to make a 1-akshara pattern separately, and concatenate the various speeds after this 1-akshara pattern. In detail -
- Tap the left pad once followed by the pulse pad, and wait a couple of seconds to create a one akshara pattern.
- Store this pattern in memory 1 (using the memory pads).
- Store the normal speed pattern in memory 2.
- Store the 2x slower speed pattern in memory 3.
- Store the 4x slower speed pattern in memory 4.
- Recall memory 1. (the “lead”)
- Tap “+”.
- Recall memory 2. (lead + normal speed)
- Tap “+”.
- Recall memory 3. (lead + normal speed + 2x)
- Tap “+”.
- Recall memory 4. (lead + normal + 2x + 4x)
- Tap “+”.
- Recall memory 3. (lead + normal + 2x + 4x + 2x)
- Tap “+”.
- Recall memory 2. (lead + normal + 2x + 4x + 2x + normal)
At the end of this, you’ll have one full performance cycle of the three speeds. With this combination, it is also possible to practice playing the talam with Tala Keeper playing the pallavi’s pattern.
For those without Tala Keeper app, here is the full sequence.
Happy practice! Watch this space for more such tips on rhythm training.
Postscript: A historical note