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My Indian classical music teacher asks me to practice alankaars on a harmonium.

1) Will practicing on a harmonium somehow bias my voice towards the western fixed tempered scale on which the harmonium is based? Or will I be able to learn the true Indian natural harmonic scale later without any difficulty?

2) Does practicing alankaars (like Sa Pa Sa etc.) improve voice and voice tuning?

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  1. Reason for practicing with harmonium as a beginner is to make you familiar with notes. For example, if I played sa and asked you to sing ma, you'll not be able to do it without singing the whole sargam. Eventually, he will ask you to stop using harmonium once you develop a rough idea of how the notes sound. Even then, you may not be able to sing a note perfectly but you will intuitively know if you haven't sung it properly, which wouldn't be possible if you never practiced with a harmonium in the first place.

  2. Yes, singing alankars is very important for the same reason mentioned above, to get you familiar with notes. It will help you sing notes independent of other notes, ie, you'll be able to sing non consecutive notes in any order. Not only that, it will also help you sing ragas as they are made of many alankars with added beautification.

  • But still my memory will be that of notes on the fixed tempered scale than the original Indian classical scale, right? – Aksh Aug 16 at 6:07
  • I had this confusion as well when I started. But that's not how it works. Your brain will identify the "distance" between the notes rather than notes themselves. To overcome this, you can practice sargam in different scales, therefore you wont have a fixed scale memorised. Very few people have the ability to remember absolute sound which is called perfect pitch/absolute pitch. – Yeetesh Pulstya Aug 16 at 6:36
  • @Aksh, No, you won't remember the frequencies that accurately. Humans simply aren't good enough at that, not even with decades of what you might call mis-training. – Camille Goudeseune Sep 17 at 16:36
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If your teacher asked you to do it, then the benefit of this practising outweighs any risk of acclimatizing to equal temperament, especially if you also do some practice away from equal temperament.

Even within the European tradition, unaccompanied choirs and string quartets have no difficulty producing chords and melodies untampered by equal temperament, despite their performers spending many hours with keyboard instruments or, for that matter, absorbing popular music in restaurants and shopping malls.

  • This is correct. I play can play piano the whole day long and when I play with the brass band I have to adjust the fine tuning relating to the key, the other members and the function of the leading tones and to the will of the conductor. .and singers of western culture will have the same problem with the relative doremi. But the question is interesting: how far do singers and musicians with non- tempered instruments adapt the temperatur. – Albrecht Hügli Aug 15 at 20:44
  • The thing is, my teacher does not know of the differences between the frequency values of Indian notes to that of the tempered ones. So I become suspicious of its efficacy. – Aksh Sep 17 at 16:28

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