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Notation for Indian and Western Music - Similarities and Differences

Updated on October 8, 2013
Music adds colorful joys to life
Music adds colorful joys to life

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Music is not bound by any language. Throughout the world the same seven notes rule the heart of music lovers. Each language might have its own way of representing these notes, and sometimes the differences and similarities can be very interesting. We'll take the Indian and Western style of notations and check out the interesting similarities and differences.

The seven natural notes are Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La and Ti. They are often expressed also as C, D, E, F, G, A and B. In India, the same notes are called "Shudh Swar" which literally means pure sounds - indicating the natural notes. They are expressed as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni.

So we can establish a one to one correspondence between -

Do, C and Sa

Re, D and Re

Mi, E and Ga

Fa, F and Ma

So, G and Pa

La, A and Dha

Ti*, B and Ni

* We would only use C, D etc. now onwards for western style of notation for the sake of compactness.

Next comes the five notes which are called accidental notes, unnatural notes or sharp notes. All these sharp notes are just one note higher than related natural note. Some people suggest that it is fine to say and a higher note from note 'X' can be termed as X sharp note, and lower note than 'X' can be termed as X flat note.These are represented as X#, Xb respectively.

So the Sharp Notes are - C#, D#, F#, G# and A#.

However, in Indian notation Sa (C), and Pa (G) are always "Shudh" or pure notes - No sharp or flat notes for these. There are four "Komal Swar", literally meaning soft notes, which can correspond to the flat notes - they are one note lower than the natural note. They are Komal Re, Komal Ga, Komal Dha and Komal Ni. They are represented with a dash below them, as Re, Ga, Dha, Ni.

There is one Teevra Swar (Literally Meaning Hyper Note indicating the Sharp Note) - Teewra Ma. It is represented with a vertical line at the top.

So, Five not natural Notes in Indian Notation are, Re, Ma|, Ga, Dha, Ni
(There seem to be a bug which is not letting me save above notes with underlines.)

Now let's have a look at the twelve notes in the Western and Indian Notation.

Western Notation: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B

Indian Notation: Sa, Re, Re, Ga, Ga, Ma, Ma|, Pa, Dha, Dha, Ni, Ni
(Note: The vertical line is not at the side top as shown here but right at the top of the note, couldn't display it here in text. Check the image, the green symbol is teewra ma in devnagri script)

Notice that how amongst the pure/natural 7 notes, there is one to one correspondence, although the in between notes are quite different. Indian style of notation is strict in a sense that the notes will be represented as is. In Western Notation however, A# may sometimes be seen represented as Bb.

There are many other interesting correlations and differences in playing styles also, which will be discussed in another hub. If you've also learnt both the notations of representing Music, or may be another representation, please share your experience in the comments section.


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    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      2 years ago from Delhi, India

      That's a very good question. And you are right, when I go to my singing class, my mentor often shifts the scale on his harmonium so that it's comfortable for all to practice. But that I think is doable for a Piano also. Although I'm not sure how often will the music teachers in the west would do it.

      More than the tunings, its the singing, or playing style which is different. I've often observed, and got this confirmed from a piano teacher too, that generally Indian songs would include a lot of shifting of fingers in the same area - a lot of ups and downs in surs or notes. And in western songs this shift tends to be from one note to another note far away.

      For example, for an Indian Song, it's common to see notation like this:

      Do Re Do Re Mi Do Re Do Re

      at a very fast speed.

      While In western music we'll see more of this:

      Do So Do Ti

      Just an example, I'm not saying that vice versa wont exist at all :)

    • profile image

      david 

      2 years ago

      But what about the different tunings? I thought there were different tuning systems, and the western tempered scale is not the same as the indian scale(s).

      Any thoughts on this? I remember a youtube video with the Korg Triton tuned specifically for indian. So I thought I'd ask the question.

      Thanks.

    • profile image

      kalindi 

      2 years ago

      very good description.

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      4 years ago from Delhi, India

      Hi Harshal, I'm glad you found this useful. Android apps for conversion, I can't help you with that, but incidentally I'm an iOS developer, so may be I'll develop an app sometime :) and an Android port might follow too. Stay tuned.

      I'm on FB, and you're welcome to follow my posts there, or on Google+. You can find my profile ids/G+ page from my profile page - http://hubpages.com/@anusha15

    • profile image

      harshal 

      4 years ago

      Really nice job anusha......its truly helpful..for me bcaz I learnt playing guitar in our classical style so wanted to learn western notes.....so I was looking forward to get a conversion of western musical notes to our Indian classical notes.....plz help me out if any other android apps could do conversion for me....hope my message wasn't stupid one...by the way r u on Fb????

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      4 years ago from Delhi, India

      It's not a stupid question, in fact it's an interesting variation.

      On Harmonium, we have names of keys - kali 1, kali 5 etc. But western notation - say, a piano, the notes are names of keys.

      Although we don't have to play "Sa" from Kali-6, but that is where we generally start Sargam from. Our conventional "Sa" (from The Madhya Saptak) is the note C#. And thus, Ni (from the Mand Saptak) becomes C. And these names are fixed, not just a convention when it comes to western Music. Actually this would have probably been more clear with a pictorial representation, but I hope you find this answer understandable :)

    • profile image

      Vijay 

      4 years ago

      Hi Anusha, I do play a bit of harmonium. Let me put my question this way. Does 'C' mean 'white 1' of harmonium because As 'Sa' can be anything from where the position of 'Re' will be relatively decided. Hope my question is not stupid.

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      4 years ago from Delhi, India

      It seems you know how to play Harmonium. I would explain accordingly. We start with the "C" note, which is analogous to "Sa". The next note in western Music is C#, while in Indian Notation, we will refer to it as Komal Re. Next would be D and Re in Western and Indian Notation respectively. If you read the article carefully, I've answered your question already, for that matter the previous question you asked also has been answered in the hub itself :)

      Wishing you a musical Evening.

      Have a good day.

    • profile image

      Vijay 

      4 years ago

      Hi Anusha,tks for information. While deciding scale,in Indian classical music we refer to 'white 1' 'Black 5' etc in relation to reeds on harmonium. How is it referred in Western style? If by 'c' 'd' etc then is it in the reference to 1st note on harmonium as 'c',second 'd'? Hope I haveut my question correctly.

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      4 years ago from Delhi, India

      @Vijay: I'm glad you found the info useful. "Komal Swar" or "Flat Notes" basically refer to the note just before the "Shudh Swar" or natural note. Where as "Teevra Swar" or Sharp notes refer to the note just after the Natural note. The flat notes in western notation are represented with b in superscript. (Shown above in article) And sharp notes are represented with a hash symbol in super script after the natural note. (Again, shown above)

    • profile image

      Vijay 

      4 years ago

      Hi Anusha, tks for the wonderful information. How are the 'Komal' notes of Indian style are represented in Western style and what are the frequencies of all Indian notes as also all Western notes?

    • profile image

      sri 

      4 years ago

      Hi Anusha, good explanation here. Thank u so much for the presentation. I've a lil doubt, that shudh swar or natural notes Sa & Pa dont have any flat or sharp notes. Cld u provide sm clarification pls?? Thanks

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      4 years ago from Delhi, India

      Hi Gurjit, sure please go ahead and share what's your project is about :) Although, I'm not sure how would you see my reply... notifications don't happen for guest users, so may be when you check the hub next time, hoping you do, you'll have the answer sitting here :)

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      4 years ago from Delhi, India

      Thanks so much Kalpesh, I'm glad the information was so useful :)

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      4 years ago from Delhi, India

      Hi Gurjit, sure please go ahead and share what's your project is about :) Although, I'm not sure how would you see my reply... notifications don't happen for guest users, so may be when you check the hub next time, hoping you do, you'll have the answer sitting here :)

    • profile image

      gurjit singh 

      4 years ago

      Hi anusha....really good work keep it up....i have a music regarding project if u r interested i can share it with u...looking forward to ur reply..!!

    • profile image

      Kalpesh Javhare 

      5 years ago

      Thanks Anusha for your brief and elaborated information on western and Indian notations. You can't imagine how important this information is for me.

      I play flute and I wanted to play some western tunes so this is really going to help me. Thanks a lot..!

      God bless you..! :)

    • anusha15 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anusha Jain 

      6 years ago from Delhi, India

      Thanks so much Neelesh, I was also intrigued when I realized the subtle similarities and difference the first time. :) your comment is very encouraging, I appreciate your stopping by and your generous remark.

      Hey Giselle, thanks so much. I was thinking about the idea since a long time, since I first started learning Guitar from a teacher who gave me the notations in western format :). A common origin, or may be universal adaptation - can't say for sure, but definitely it's really interesting.

      The differences in playing styles are even more fascinating, and so is the one to correspondence between Ragas and scales. :) But I'm not presently very well equipped with enough knowledge to create that series of hubs, am trying to be :) I hope you will enjoy those hubs too.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      6 years ago

      A fascinating hub on a unique topic. I learned so much from this hub. Although Indian music and Western music have differences, do you think that their strong similarities might indicate a common origin?

      I'm thrilled to hear that you are planning another hub about the playing styles. I would love to learn more about Indian classical music.

    • neeleshkulkarni profile image

      neeleshkulkarni 

      6 years ago from new delhi

      anusha have been listening to Indian classical music for a long time but have never looked at the common points with western music.this is really really amazing.please keep up the good work.

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