How to play ragas in Guitar or Keyboard

Getting started with Indian classical ragas

For those of you who are new to the world of Indian classical music, here’s a couple of things to get you started on your journey into indian classical music.

Listen to some songs!

Duh! I know you wouldn’t be here without having done that, but for those of you who might’ve just stumbled upon this post and wondering what this is all about, pick something up from the widget below and hear some sample music, courtesy amazon

For those of you looking for more, here’s a nice post that I stumbled across sometime back which covers some popular hindustani ragas. There are no sound clips, but you do have quite a few youtube clips sprinkled around. And here’s a giant post that covers lots of carnatic ragas and lists quite a few songs and music clips.

Get to know some history

In a nutshell, there are two major styles of indian classical music which branched out sometime during the medieval period – carnatic which is commonly associated with south india and hindustani which is commonly associated with north india. The geographical distinctions don’t matter any more in this digital age, but its the feel and nuances of these styles that would make you fall head over heels for either of them. Here’s what wikipedia says about the two major styles in indian classical music – Hindustani and Carnatic, hopefully that gives you some context on what you are dealing with.

Learn to read the music

Learning to read the carnatic and hindustani notations will open up your world into the transcriptions available online and more importantly 😉 will let you use our app to explore ragas. The systems are based on the eight note swara structure (S, R, G, M, P, D, N, S’) and the variations for each one of them. Here’s a link from musicianself that explains the notation systems in a bit more detail. If you want a more practical way to figure out what the notations mean, just hit our app and try out a few ragas. In the app, you get to see the swara notation, the equivalent western notes and the corresponding intervals side by side. You might want to pick up ragas like Dheerashankarabharanam (which is equivalent to the major scale) or Kalyani (which is equivalent to the lydian mode) so that you start with scale structures that you are familiar with.

Popular ragas in Carnatic and Hindustani

These are a few common ragas that you can use to begin your exploration. I stumbled upon most of these when hunting for ragas to include in Raga App, so all of them are available in it. You can pick the ones you like and use our app to learn the notes and how to play them in guitar or keyboard.


  • Bageshri
  • Bhairavi
  • Bhimpalasi
  • Bhupali
  • Chandrakauns
  • Darbari
  • Durga
  • Kafi
  • Kirwani
  • Lalit
  • Malkauns
  • Pahadi
  • Piloo/Pilu
  • Todi
  • Yaman


  • Abhogi
  • Anandabhairavi
  • Chakravakam
  • Charukesi
  • Dheerasankarabharanam
  • Hamsadhvani
  • Hindolam
  • Kalyani
  • Kamboji
  • Kharaharapriya
  • Madhyamavati
  • Malahari
  • Mayamalavagowla
  • Mohanam
  • Nattai
  • Pantuvarali (Kamavardhini)
  • Reethigowla
  • Sahana
  • Todi
  • Vasantha

Hope that helps!

Getting started with Indian classical ragas Read More »

The RagaApp Cookbook (Part II) – The Tools

This is part II of the tutorial series that explain the various learning tools that are present in the Raga App. If you are looking for a crash course on the basics of Raga App, you can start here. Note: Although this article was written explaining the features from the point of view of Carnatic ragas, we now support Hindustani also, so you can use these tools the exact same way for both Carnatic as well as Indian/Hindustani ragas!

We started off RagaApp as a simple swara mapping tool. It has evolved since then, and now contain various tools that will help you explore the world of carnatic (edit: now Hindustani also!) music and understand the nuances in the structures and sounds of the various ragas. In a nutshell, we have three different display modes to help you visualize ragas better, we have the swara and note filters to help you explore the relationships between ragas and we have the scale and chord comparison modes to help you find connections between western and carnatic/hindustani music. I will explain each of them in detail through the sections below.

Display modes

The fundamental advantage of the raga app is that you get an immediate visual clue on the raga structure. This is in contrast to the typical case where you are just looking at the notes that have been written down and then trying to play them on an instrument. However, we didn’t want to stop just there! We started thinking about other aspects of the raga that would be help of when you are trying to learn them. We came to the conclusion that any raga can be visualized in three ways and hence added the three distinct display options that are available in the app now.

Display mode selection buttons

These options appear as a button set on top of the instrument view. If you notice the text in them, you would see the exact sequences present in the raga (including the vakra structure).

Tip: You can use the Arohana/Avarohana buttons shown on the bottom left of the instrument view to toggle between the ascending or descending progressions of the raga. If the ascending and descending structures of the raga are the same, these buttons would appear disabled and faded out.

1) Note display

Raga notes displayed on keyboard

This is the view of the raga in the regular western notation and hence connects the raga structure to the equivalent western notes. Since most of us are familiar with the western notes associated to each fret or key on our instrument (if not, you should be!), this is the most natural way to look at and understand ragas.

2) Swara display

Raga swaras displayed on Guitar

This is the sa, ri, ga, ma notation that most of you must be familiar with. if not, you can read up this article from Wikipedia. The usefulness of seeing the swaras directly on the fretboard is that you can use the same when trying to play songs that have been transcribed in the carnatic/hindustani notation. For eg, if you are looking at the transcription of the famous song Vathapi Ganapathim, you can select the swara display for Raga Hamsadhwani and start playing verses right away.

3) Interval display

Raga intervals displayed on Guitar

This is the view where each note in the raga is displayed as the corresponding interval from the western system. This view lets you think of the raga in terms of the distance between notes rather than their absolute positions. Understanding the interval structure of the raga will also help you figure out the chords to be used while harmonizing songs based on it.


These three views also play an important part in helping you explore raga families using our swara and interval filters (explained later in the post)



The Scale comparison tool

Are you curious about how the notes of any raga compare against the western scales that you are familiar with? For eg, did you know that the notes of Raga Mohanam is the same as those of Pentatonic Major or that you get the notes of Raga Kalyani if you alter just the 4th note of a Major scale? If you didn’t, start finding out now! Our western scale overlay is the perfect tool to compare the notes of a raga against all of the standard scales in western music.

To use the overlay, you first select the raga that you want to explore. Then select any of the available scales from the overlay section (present as a button set just above the raga list buttons). Once you have done that, you would notice that the instrument view is displaying the notes of both the raga and the scale. To distinguish between them, we use the following color code (see the diagram below for a more visual description)
a) Regular blue or red notes – These are the notes that are common to both the raga and the scale
b) Faded blue or red notes – These are the notes that are present in the raga, but not in the scale
c) Faded grey notes – These are the notes that are present in the scale, but not in the raga
d) Notes with red border – In addition to the above, we mark all the faded notes (both b & c) with a red border so that you can distinguish them even better

Scale comparison – Guitar
Scale comparison - Keyboard
Scale comparison – Keyboard

If you mouse over the faded grey notes, you can make just the scale notes stand out, and similarly, if you mouse over the faded red or blue notes, you can get just the raga notes to stand out. In short, with this overlay, you can quickly visualize and understand ragas in the context of the western scales that you are already familiar with. Don’t forget to try out the western overlay in conjunction with the swara and interval views as well, you might be surprised at the insights you get after analyzing ragas this way!

While you select a western scale, you would also notice a legend that appears below the instrument view. That will give you a quick summary of how similar the raga and the chord notes are. You would see messages like “All the notes of the Scale and Raga match!” or ones like “Common Notes (2) Notes not present in Raga (5) Extra Notes in the Raga (5)”. You would be able to mouse over the links to highlight the corresponding notes. For eg, hovering over the first link would highlight all the notes that are present in the scale, but not in the raga, whereas hovering over the second link would highlight all the (extra) notes in the raga that are not present in the scale.


The Chord comparison tool

The quintessential question in everyone’s mind – will this chord fit well if I play it against this raga? While we would have loved to build a tool that would magically figure out all the perfect chords for you to play, we decided to stop a bit short and let your imaginations fill in the rest…he he. Anyways, the first step to tackle this question is to understand how a given chord stacks up against the raga notes and what differs between them. If they match, well, you have a plain old good-fit-chord. If not, that might be even better! Do the differences compliment the harmony or do they disrupt it? You never know what note additions are going to bring out that fusion groove that you always dreamed about.

The chord overlay option in our app lets you select some of the standard chord families and fingerings and super impose them on any given raga. The list of available chords/patterns are present in the chord menu to the left of the instrument view. Once you select a chord, both the chord and the raga patterns are displayed together on the instrument view and you get a quick glimpse of the notes that are similar to either.

Moreover, our app lets you drag and drop both raga as well as the chord patterns, so that you can experiment with the various playing positions and fingerings that are available. Check out the small pin that appears on the top left of any chord pattern. You can drag and drop the pin onto available slots, just like your root notes. In addition to that, you would also see a label next to the pin that shows the currently selected chord and a small icon that you can click to close the chord view. Once you start dragging the pin, we highlight the possible locations that you can drop it. Note that the chord display and labels change in real time (while you are dragging the pin) so that it’s easier for you to try out different chord positions and select an appropriate root note for the chord.

We use the following color codes to help you distinguish between the chord and raga structures (See the diagram below for a more visual description)

a) Regular blue or red notes – These are the notes that are common to both the raga and the chord
b) Faded blue or red notes – These are the notes that are present in the raga, but not in the chord
c) Faded grey notes – These are the notes that are present in the chord, but not in the raga
d) Notes with an orange border – In addition to the above, we mark all the chord notes with an orange border so that you can easily distinguish the chord pattern at a glance

Chord comparison - Keyboard
Chord comparison – Keyboard
Chord comparison - Guitar
Chord comparison – Guitar

Similar to the western scale overlay, you get to see the chord or raga patterns individually when you mouse over the faded notes. And you would also see a similar legend appearing below the instrument view that lets you know how well the chord notes match against the raga notes.

using filters

The Swara and Interval filters

Have you ever wanted to find all the ragas that have a Suddha Madhyamam (M1) or to get a list of all ragas that have, say, a major third at the Ga note position and a minor 7th at the Ni note position? If you keep having similar questions in your mind, our note and interval filters are the

perfect solution!. The filter tool appears just below the raga lists and the search box and show a list of buttons that let you select swara/interval groups for different positions in the raga.

Follow the steps below to get started on the filters
1) Select a raga list that you are interested in.
2) Make sure you have the right type of filter selected (The swara/interval toggle button is the small icon with double arrows that appear to the left of the button set) If you want to explore ragas based on the notes they contain, select the swara filter view (this shows the buttons with Carnatic swaras like S1, G1 etc or Hindustani swaras like g, M etc marked on them ) or if you want to explore ragas based on the intervals they contain, select the interval filter view (this shows the buttons with western interval names like maj 2nd, min 7th etc marked on them)
3) Start selecting the swara or interval combinations that you expect to be present in raga. Once you start selecting the buttons, you would notice the contents of the raga list changing accordingly. When you select a particular swara/interval, you are essentially saying that you want to see only ragas that have that swara/interval in that particular slot.

Swara and Interval filters explained

Each button group represents a slot in the eight note raga notation (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni Sa) ie, the first group (only one swara) is the root or Sa. The second group represents the three possible variations of Ma (or their equivalent intervals), the fourth group represents the two possible variations of Pa etc. For eg, if you select R1, you get to see all ragas that have an R1 in them. Or if you select M3 from the third set, you get to see all ragas that have a Major 3rd in their Ma position

Note: Some of the combinations you select may not yield any results – for eg, if you select R3 from Ri set and G1 from the Ga set, you won’t find any ragas! This is because the R3 note represents a minor 3rd interval and the G1 note represents a Major 2nd interval. So you are essentially asking for ragas that contain the third note which is a step backwards from the 2nd note, which obviously can’t happen!


So there goes the Raga App features in a nutshell. Hope this post helped you understand the cool new features that we have included in the app and we are looking forward our app spicing up your journey into the realm of Indian classical ragas. Any questions still lingering on your mind, feel free to write to us!

The RagaApp Cookbook (Part II) – The Tools Read More »

The RagaApp Cookbook (Part I) – All that you were afraid to ask about the app, and more…

This is part I of the tutorial series that explain all the features present in that Raga App, the tool that lets you explore and learn both Carnatic as well as Indian Classical (Hindustani) Ragas. If you are looking to get details of the advanced tools present in the app, check out part II of this series

Once we started sending out invites for the preview of RagaApp 2.1, we started getting questions from many users regarding some of the more complex tools that we had added. There were also some questions regarding some of the basic functionalities of the app, that we had assumed to be obvious to the users! Anyways, I always wanted to write a post about the thinking process that goes behind the features we create. So here is a two part post about the basic app as well as the various tools it provides

One app to map them all

Each app has to start somewhere, so the basic question was – given a raga, can you show the user where the notes appear on their guitar or on their keyboard instruments like piano, harmonium etc? So we started off the app with its lists of ragas and the fretboard and the keyboard view. To figure out the notes of the raga and how to play them, all you need to do is to select your instrument type and pick up a raga from the list. We started off with Carnatic and added a small list of popular ragas, then the 72 melakartas and finally a full fledged list of over 870 janyas upon launching the pro version. (Edit: And then we moved on to cover Hindustani ragas as well! We have added a similar set with 15 popular ragas, 10 Thaats and a full set of over 70 ragas). So we essentially give you data on all the Carnatic and Hindustani ragas you ever need, at a single place!

Raga mapping – In Steps

There are three aspects to playing a raga – pick the raga you need, decide the root note to use and then find which locations on the fretboard/keyboard that corresponds to the raga notes. Lets see how you can do these steps using our app

1) Choosing a raga

You can do it in two ways – You can select a raga list and then pick a raga from it. There are many lists to choose from – list of popular ragas for beginners, the complete melakarta/thaat set and bigger lists that contain most carnatic/hindustani ragas that you will ever encounter. Or you can search for a raga. Once you start typing in the raga search box, you would get a drop down containing the matches. Pick any one to proceed.

2) Choosing the root note

If you look at a typical music app on the web, you see a bunch of drop-downs or select boxes that let you decide the root note, fret etc etc. When we thought about it, we felt that the easiest way to manipulate and visualize notes is to move them around the same place that you play them. So, in our app, you can just drag and drop the root notes to where you want them to be! This lets you select the root note in the keyboard view or the root note and the playing position in the guitar view. (Tip: The root notes of a raga are always marked red whereas the rest of the notes are marked in blue color).

You will notice a draggable hand cursor appear as you mouse over the root notes and once you start dragging the note, you would see drop areas that appear as you move between frets/keys. You can drop the note in any of those locations and the root of the scale will be changed appropriately. If you drop the root note anywhere in between by mistake, it automatically reverts back to where it was.

3) Choosing a pattern

The pattern selection buttons on the bottom-right of the fretboard/keyboard view allows you to adjust how the note structures are displayed.

The raga pattern (for the guitar app)

If you think about playing western scales on a guitar, its simple. You master the CAGED patterns and you are pretty much set to cover most of what a typical guitarist plays. But things get tricky when you get into the realm of ragas. The plethora of ragas with their non-uniform interval structures make it difficult to stick to a generic pattern plan for all of them. Since we couldn’t create and hard code all the possible raga patterns, we began to think of a way to automatically generate them.

Whenever we play any scale on the guitar fretboard, we are subconsciously trying one of these – we move horizontally without moving our wrist much, in the typical CAGED mode, or we go up or down the fretboard trying to reach a new position to start off the next line. This is exactly what we wanted to replicate in the automatic pattern generation.

Fretboard Patterms
Different fretboard patterns – i) walkdown ii) box iii) walkup iv) all notes

So, you have the three pattern modes
1. Box – playing horizontally without moving your wrist position much
2. Walk up – playing notes and trying to move up the fretboard
3. Walk down – playing notes and trying to move down the fretboard
4. All Notes – We added this view so that you can get a quick glance of all the note positions in one shot

Note: some of the root/pattern combinations you choose may not produce a complete pattern on the guitar fretboard. This is usually due to lack of space on the above/below frets or starting from too high a string. When this happens, you would see a message that appears above the display that lets you know that the pattern you see is partial. When this happens, you can move the root note to an appropriate position so that there is enough space to render the pattern you need.

The raga pattern (for the keyboard app)

All notes on keyboard
All notes displayed on Keyboard

This is straightforward. The keyboard being a linear instrument, you can choose to see
1. Octave – One octave of the raga displayed starting on the note you selected
2. All Notes – You get to see around two octaves, which is the maximum that we could manage to fit on to the keyboard diagram

Well, that’s it! Three steps, and you are looking at your raga and its notes displayed on the instrument of your choice.

Now that the basic app was ready, the question was what else can we do?. So off we started on the various visual and exploration tools that are now part of the Raga App. I will get on to that in the next post. And as usual, do let us know if you have any troubles using the app.

The RagaApp Cookbook (Part I) – All that you were afraid to ask about the app, and more… Read More »