Awesome tools in the Raga App

Comparison of Carnatic or Indian Classical Ragas to Western scales

Comparing the notes of a given Carnatic or Hindustani (Indian classical) raga to a western scale, (something that you are most likely familiar with), is always a good way to understand their structures better. For eg, comparing Dheera sankarabharanam to the Major (Ionian) scale will show you that they are completely equivalent in terms of the notes involved! Keep in mind that, this does not imply the way they sound will be exactly the same. The various slides, gamakas, bends etc that go into the playing of a raga will definitely give it a whole different texture. Still, the usefulness of this approach arises due to the fact that, just making that relation lets you connect the raga to known interval structures, chord possibilities, familiar comping patterns, voicings and a lot more!

To help you make this comparison and connection easily, the raga-app comes with a built-in tool that lets you compare the notes of a selected raga with a given western scale. In addition to the ubiquitous Major, Minor and pentatonic scales, it also features the complete set of modes so that you can identify scales that are related to almost all of the ragas! In addition to exact matches, the tool also shows you which notes differ – ie, what notes are additional in the raga or what notes are additional in the scale. This aspect is also important since the addition or omission of particular intervals are a strong indicator of potential chord matches or the possibility altered notes while comping on a fusion theme.


kalyani-comparison-keyboardkalyani-comparison-guitar-2 kalyani-comparison-keyboard-2

Just to get you started, why don’t you try finding matching scales for the following ragas (hint: you can search the ragas by name from within the app) – Kalyani, Mohanam, Bilawal, Kafi and Or you could try to find the simple differences that some of the ragas like Kamboji and Khamaj have from the western scales. Once you get your hands dirty exploring the ragas using the app, then you can dive right in to the topic with more detailed analysis like this. Either ways, I am sure this will take you down an exciting path of building a better understanding of the Indian ragas.

And as always, feel free to drop me a note if you have any suggestions or feedback about the app or this site!

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Carnatic or Indian classical guitar : Alternate tunings

Have you been curious about how the raga patterns will change if you tune your guitar to something other than the standard tuning? Then there is good news! Now, the pro version of the raga-app features alternate tunings that you can use to explore Carnatic or Hindustani raga structures from a different perspective. Apart from the standard tuning (E A D G B E), the app now lets you try out two other tunings (C G C G C G & D A D G A D) which spreads out the notes in a whole different fashion. If you are interested in seeing any other tunings that you have found useful while playing carnatic or hindustani music, do drop me a note and I will try to get them added to the app as well!

These new tunings can be accessed by clicking on the open string notes displayed to the left of the fretboard. This opens up a dialog that shows the available tunings and you can select the one you want from the list (See the screen shot below). Also, note that the chord functionality is available only when using the standard tuning.




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Find ragas that have similar notes using the enhanced search functionality

The note/interval filters have been given a make over to so that they are simpler and more intuitive to use.  They now work across all the raga’s present in the app and you can utilize the new descriptive drop down list to pick the results. There are options available to view the note filter in both carnatic as well as Hindustani mode, so that picking the notes becomes more natural. I have also added options to limit results to a single raga family or do exact/loose matches so that you can zero in on specific relationships between ragas much faster. Check out the help text (Click the “?” icon that appears to the right on selecting the third tab) for an inline explanation of the same.

How to find the Hindustani equivalent of a Carnatic raga or the Carnatic equivalent of a Hindustani Raga

The Pro version of Raga App now comes with a “similar ragas” link (next to the Raga name that is displayed above the instrument view) that helps you look for equivalent ragas easily. Clicking the link loads the note-filter, pre-loaded with the notes of the current raga. The drop down you get will show you any other raga that share the same notes. For eg, selecting a carnatic raga and loading the search filter with an option to see hindustani ragas with an exact match will directly give you the equivalent Hindustani raga (if any).

Keep in mind that there is no one-to-one correlation between the raga families and there may not be a exact raga that fits your search. But given the option to do a loose match by including ragas that also contain some additional notes, you will be able to figure out at least some ragas that contain the basic structure or feel of the given raga to some extent. You can then go a step further and fine tune your search by modifying particular notes/intervals to further isolate ragas that capture just a given gamaka sequence or some interesting chord possibilities.

Note: There has also been a bit of a UI rejig that I did today – I have moved all the different exploration options (lists, search by name & search by notes) under a common tabbed section. This felt more natural rather than leaving the sections scattered all around. If something seems amiss or confusing feel free to ping me

And thanks to Hassan (from astrotrends) for his queries/suggestions, which kind of nudged me in the direction of these changes.

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Listen to how Carnatic and Hindustani Ragas sound – Introducing MIDI support in Raga App

In case it didn’t catch your attention, lookout for the small audio icon that has cropped up next to the raga title in our app. Clicking that will now play the notes of the displayed raga via MIDI, making it even more easy to explore carnatic or hindustani ragas and get familiar with their sound. Now you can start with ragas that you know, find others that are similar to them (hint: use the note/interval filter) and then start listening to how they sound, all without even picking up your instrument!

Its just an acoustic grand piano sound for now (even for guitar), turns out I am a bit lazy when it comes to hunting down a good sound font file for guitar and then getting it converted to a midi.js compatible format and then using it. If you stumble across something available on the web, please drop me a note and I will get it added to the guitar app.

The idea to add sound to the raga app came up when I stumbled upon the awesome MIDI.js. This nifty JS plugin lets you manipulate anything from simple midi notes to complex tracks and even supports plugged-in visualizations. Check out mudcube’s page for a more psychedelic experience of midi. And talking about midi in the world of indian classical music, I also came across ragam roll, which uses MIDI.js and lets you generate and play back midi files starting from carnatic notation!

So why not dive right into the midi-fied raga app and start listening to the sound of ragas that you were too lazy to try out with your instrument!

Edit: As an after thought, I went ahead and added MIDI playback for chords also (just click the speaker icon to the left of the note dragging pin). Seems like a neat idea to play the raga notes and also superimpose the chord sound on it. Makes it simpler to experiment instead of shuttling between the mouse and your instrument. Thinking in that direction, I also modified the raga notes to keep playing in a loop. So just let the notes play while you try out chords over it either via MIDI or using your instrument

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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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