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.