University Studies of the University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



University of Nebraska Studies, New Series no. 24. : January 1961.


Published by the University at Lincoln.


ART IS ALL ENDURING and limitless, and defies positive, unvariable classification. No attempt is being made in this book to compare artistic, subjective or emotional factors. Only the objective elements, techniques and procedures of music that are tangible and definite are being compared and classified. Western music, having reached a plateau under the present harmonic system, is projecting into new channels for textural inspiration. Composers have exploited the present system, using existing intervals in every conceivable manner under existing tonal and atonal theories. Devices such as smaller intervals (example: tempered quarter tones), electronic combinations, aleatonic principles, etc. are being dealt with experimentally. It is conjectural if there will be universal acceptance of any of the present experimental devices.

The Western world, until recent communications and transportation advances expanded the geographic scope, gave little attention to the cultures of remote places. Leading musicologists have differed in their explanations of the musical systems of these areas. India and China have cultures far older than any of the Western world. Their theoretical musical systems are the most significant of Asia and Africa and have influenced the theoretical systems of most of the rest of Asia.

In the study of the Hindu Classical music system the confusion due to apparent discrepancies of explanations among Western writers on the Hindu system was at first doubly augmented by the differences in terminology between the many regions in India; in general, between the North (Hindustani) and South (Karnatic). The confusion resulting from the varying terminology and modes of explanation was brought into focus when the language problem between localities was clarified. The differences in explanation by top Hindu authorities ultimately proved only to be of degree and not of kind; and when the terminology was categorized, the over-all greatness and basic uniformity of the physical aspect of the musical system was apparent and understandable. The basic elements as described by ancient Sanskrit writers prevail, but the names and treatment in different regions vary. To Western composers thinking in terms of smaller intervals, the microtonic elements of Hindu Classical music, known as svara and sruti, are an existing example which might shed some clues. Any attempt at transfer of some of the ideas of irregular sized and smaller intervals to Western music to enhance the beauty and potential texture must be approached with a complete knowledge of the factors and problems inherent in the contrasting systems of just and tempered intonations.

Contemporary Hindu scholars contend that the basic theoretical principles of Hindu Classical music are found in Bharata's Natya Sastra (c. 200 B. c.). Several Hindu musicians commented that the concepts as explained by Bharata (in chapters 28-33) were divinely inspired. Some also stated that the folk music was a derivation of the Classical music. The music has been mainly taught by rote and traditionally carried down in memory. Script notation is more practical under this system than staff notation because of the close correlation and interdependence between music, religion and dance. There have been some attempts to develop a notation along Western lines in recent times but with doubtful success. Definite classification of the ragas (modes or scales) goes back only to the 17th century.

The technical concept of the Hindu Classical music system must be approached in an entirely different manner from that of the Western music with its arbitrary, tempered intervals capable of producing massive harmonic sounds. Their intervals are a product of "just" intonation and the minute subdivisions which produce such exquisite melodies cannot effectively be accompanied vertically. The subtle, developing, accompanying tala, or rhythmic element, offers a fine contrapuntal adjunct and ample support and completeness which in the Western world is derived from a harmonic background. Indian music is modal, closer to the Greek modes than the Ecclesiastical; and because of the varying and minute sizes of the intervals, it does not lend itself to harmonic or pitched contrapuntal treatment. Like all modal music the relationship of each tone to its tonic and drone is important. The accompanying pitched drone with its implied overtones suggests the tones which are selected for each particular raga to give it its peculiar, characteristic flavor. The usage of numbers in philosophical discussions in ancient Sanskrit treatises formed the basis for the number of tones used in the ascending and descending scales, along with the scale degree to be stressed or de-emphasized. The Indian musician is performer, composer and interpreter all at the same time. He is trained in the complete knowledge of artistic exploitation of the ragas. This includes elaborate improvisations necessary to develop the musical idea inherent in the raga. The Indian claims his system is never stagnant but always expanding.

Contents / 1. Prelude / 2. Tones and Intervals / 3. Comparative Chart of Intervals / 4. A Physical Analysis of Basic Tones and Intervals from the Comparative Chart / 5. Enlargement of the Basic Sruti into Common Compound Intervals / 6. General Observations and Deductions / Glossary