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!

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