A publication of the Batish Institute of Indian Music and Fine Arts

North India Sargam Notation System

by Ashwin Batish / S. D. Batish

Before you delve into the various articles in these issues, and in future issues, it is important that you learn music notation. We will try to have audio sound files of our musical compositions to make it more understandable. But, this will not always be available, and besides, it is good :-) musical training to put yourself through...so don't shy away from it. It can be a bit tedious in the begining but as your understanding grows so will you tollerence.

In all our published works - books, articles, videos, etc., we have made simultaneous use of Sargam and Western staff notations. The reason is that by having access to both, we hope it will teach the ways of one to the other.

The Sargam notation system listed here, is the one used in North India. I will deal with the Carnatic system in another article.

North Indian Sargam Notation

What the West calls an octave is called "Ashtak" in Indian music. (Asht meaning eight). But in music circles, we like to call the Indian "octave" by the term "Saptak" (Sapt meaning seven) for the seven non-repeated notes (in the octave system the tonic is repeated and hence forms the eight note of the octave). So keep this point in mind when learning ragas.

In the North Indian music system, we recognize 12 musically usable notes called swara. These are as follows

Memorize this set. All North Indian ragas are derived from these notes. N.I. music recognizes 7 shudha swara (shudha means pure or natural), four komal swara (flat notes) and one Tivar swara (sharp note)

The symbols are actually derived from the first letter of the ancient sanskrit note names which are

Sanskrit	Sung 	Written
Note Names	as	as
Shadaja		Sa	S
Rishabha	Re	R
Gandhar		Ga	G
Madhyam		Ma	M
Pancham		Pa	P
Dhaivata	Dha	D
Nishadha	Ni	N

Here are some key symbols used

| - a vertical bar seperates the rhythmic vibhags (measures) of a composition. This is analgous to the Western "Bar" for instance in a six beat cycle of Dadra Taal, there are two vibhags. The music is written as follows

- (hyphen): This is used to denote a rest in the composition.

In instrumental music this hyphen can even denote a continuation of the previous note. If lyrics were to be written underneath this rest, the symbol "S" is used to denote this rest or continuation of the previous note. Here is an example of the use of both these types of rests.

Some composer will opt to just using the hyphen instead of the "S" perhaps to avoid confusion. In most of our works we have followed the hypen rule.

(P) - Brackets around a note denotes a special trill. Trill is analgous to the term "Gamak" in Indian music. It means ornamentation. In this example, the progression is D P M P. The point to note here is that to qualify as a grace note this movement should be played very quickly. In medium tempo, for instance, all four notes should be played in one or half a matra (beat).
RS - A superscript letter is used to denote "Kan Swara" or grace notes. In this example R is the grace note and S in the note that receives it. Here is an audio example of this. Kan swara are also a form of Gamak.


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