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Interested to know how modern performers harmonize Hindustani classical music. Like, I heard a beautiful piano performance in Raga Shuddh Sarang. Was wondering what would be the left hand playing - what kind of chords, or arpeggios, notes etc? Is there any contrapuntal concept?

Any practitioner's perspective with some easy examples, in ragas like Bhairavi, Yaman, etc?

  • Are you more interested in style or in the actual harmony/theory used to generate the accompaniment? – Carl Witthoft Sep 6 '18 at 12:25
  • Interested in the fundamentals. Didn't understand the meaning of "style". – Subir Nag Sep 6 '18 at 12:32
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A lot of my answer will be gross simplification and please take it with a grain of salt. There are notable counterexamples here.

So the closest thing to harmonization in a raga is a concept called melharmony. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melharmony

An extremely simple example of melharmony (and this is a really special case), you could just play thirds from a given note (much like how you harmonize a major scale, Shankarabaranam in carnatic and the bilawal thaat in hindustani) while you play the melody.

The important thing to understand about melharmony is that unlike most of western harmony (where harmony dictates a framework on which melodies are played like say bebop improvisation), melharmony inverts the role (the melody is the driving force and the harmonization is an enrichment, similar to how chord melodies are constructed in jazz).

While counterpoint is possible, its was not the original intent of melharmony and was later added in by Western Composers (notably Robert Morris).

Its important to note that melharmony is avant garde music. In the more classical traditional sense, harmony (at least harmonic motion) is non existent in both forms of Indian classical music.

There are more adhoc treatments of harmony. For instance if you play on a raga from the Bilawal thaat (aka the major scale) or the Asavari thaat (aka the minor scale) all the theory of functional harmony should be accessible.

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The following can be said to be the typical left hand patterns:

To generate the chikari effect in alap, jod and jhala, and even in the later sections. Watch here how the left hand is harmonizing the reference notes

Use in melodic sections by completing the melody with both hands. Even if one distant note comes from the left hand, it can bring some relief to the right hand, especially if the right hand wants to move in the opposite direction. Watch here how both hands are participating in the melodic patterns

For speedy completion of long taans spanning multiple octaves.

To double up the sound by playing exactly the same notes that the right hand plays. Watch here how notes are doubled up

Left hand is being used quite commonly on the organ accompaniment in Natya Sangeet. Watch here how

  • A notation sample may be helpful. At least for other site visitors - like myself - who are not familiar with the specifics like chikari, taan, etc. – Michael Curtis Oct 30 '18 at 19:24
  • .. will add pointers into youtube links to visually see some of these at work. Hope that will do. Otherwise to explain in detail and to add scores or notations, it will require a much longer article. – dry leaf Oct 31 '18 at 7:17
  • Neither chikari nor taans are examples of western harmonies. A chikari say on a standard sitar would be tuned to either D or C# major (or some tonic in between with its third and fifth) and only that chord. There is no harmonic motion. A taan is a virtuosotic melodic style of playing sections of a performance of a raga (in the sense its still melodic and does not represent harmonic motion). Plus this answer is centered on specific instruments like Sitar or Sarod, and theory is decoupled from instruments (i.e it independently exists outside of instrumental context). – Khalian Jun 30 at 2:05
  • Khalian, didn't get you. Did you see those links which are about piano not sitar. There are common instrumental techniques which can be adapted into one another. In vocal concerts, a harmonizing instrument (harmonium!, sarangi, violin etc) is used mainly to track what the vocalist sings and improvises. In instrumental solo classical music, you hardly have any harmonizing accompaniment (except for "duets"). So the harmony comes from some of these instrumental techniques. – dry leaf Jul 1 at 6:06

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