Recently I received an email from a gentleman studying music in London. Here is his query.
I write to you in the hope you can help me in my research. I am doing an essay on indian teaching methods and how they have changed through these modern times as part of my degree at Goldsmiths' College in London . It seems that you have keept up with current movements in Indian teaching. What I am most most interested in is the change from Guru-student relationship of teaching to more modern ways of teaching. I just wondered what you think of current teaching practice including the use of the internet and teaching videos and if you think that this sort of teaching is somehow damaging to the culture?
:-) I had to smile when I read this. This is a great topic of discussion! If I might add to your statement above - it is called the "Guru-Shishya parampara".
This practice is still very much the norm. This "parampara" can also be defined in different ways. I certainly consider the modern methods an extension of this very tradition. Indian music has certain elements that have to be learned through interactive means. And I do believe that a "one on one" situation is the best way to study any art form. But this mode of study can also hinder one from acquiring all the skills necessary. And this has always been the case, even in the past. There are two issues at stake when a person takes the first step towards learning any art form, the theoretical and the practical.
In a "practical" and an "active" art form as music, playing takes precedence. But if the theory behind the practice is not fully understood or explained, it leaves the student with a void and forever wondering how a guru can keep coming out with such beautiful compositions and improvisations and he, on the other hand, feels limited in his expression.
The modern ways of books, cassettes, films and videos has been slowly creeping up on our society as a whole, not just in Indian music but also in the rest of the world. The birth of Institutes of higher education is but a reflection of how the necessity to cater to a mass student population has been met. But at the same time such wide access has also helped bring to focus a coherent theory of practice.
For years such knowledge was hidden from the masses. Even in the highly popular "Gharana" traditions meaning "musical households" or "families", this knowledge was given away only to their closest family members or a very very good disciple. That is why we have so few really accomplished artists representing each Gharana. Also, in the old days, fewer people would seek specialized levels of education not for any other reason but because of the smaller population densities. Hence the burden of study was shared in the same proportions.
Today, with a surge in world population, we find the "modern" process has made it possible for more people to gain an education. And as more schools, colleges, universities cater to this demand the "one on one" G/S relationships have diminished somewhat. But again I add that it will never really be replaced or outmoded. This is live interaction and will go on till there are people. Teachers in classrooms are the modern gurus.
Good teachers are always introducing their students to varying influences to broaden the learning experience. This has also been true of the classical tradition in India. Our ragas are a testament to this very fact. Many of these are named after the people that introduced them. Raga Bhoopali is from the Bhoopal region, Raga Todi was from the Toda people. Pahadi means of the mountains. The classical traditions have always shown a healthy acceptance of growth. Without this it would have gotten stale and died a long time ago.
Our family takes the "teach however you can" approach. The goal being that knowledge should be available in plenty. If the student does not get it... that's for them to work out and improve. We make our presense and our services available whenever and however a student feels comfortable. As teachers, this we consider our sacred duty.
Our Institute provides private and group lessons in three cities. We do lecture demos where ever and when ever we are invited. I am also on the adjunct faculty of San Jose State University. I try and do a class every fall on application of Indian music to western instruments. My students are music majors who'll probably never head into Indian music as a profession but the lure of knowledge and enhancement of their skills draws them to the class.
Then we have the magazine "RagaNet" on the Internet where we can discuss the latest in Indian music. I and my father try our best to publish educational articles on music of Indian and other world cultures. The lessons form an extra curricular activity for all our students worldwide. Our web site also gives free access to history and theory of music. The newer interactive ways the web has grown makes it possible to publish articles that can include audio, video, and midi clips to explain better what we are trying to teach. This can not be considered "damaging" the culture but instead should be looked upon as "enhancing" it. It would be more damaging to keep this hidden from view and in the hands of a few. We would be adding to the deliquency of the art form if we didn't adopt such new means and hence newer methods of teaching. I personally would consider it a crime on any culture to not be involved at this level.
You see, learning music is not just taking lessons from a teacher. That is just the begining. Your education is complete only when you add to the practical, the theoretical. This is where other forms of helpful aids become important. Reading books, writing compositions in whatever notations you are familiar with, seeing live concerts, analyzing musical works, etc. cannot be ignored from the total learning experience. A good teacher will provide these options to their students.
My father's education in music was from his guru Shri Chandan Ram Charan of Patiala. This dates around 1932. But he was also very gifted to begin with. He would learn songs from his guruji at the rate of 1 a session. And he was the first one out of class. There were other students that would try and try and still had a problem singing the songs properly.
The point I'm trying to make is that a nautral gift has a lot to do with successful study of any art. The expression is inborn. A guru is a giver of direction. His duty is to place the world before you. Some students are quicker then other to grasp at the knowledge others never get it no matter what.
Then again, everyone thinks about the student, how about the teacher? It must sometimes be really frustrating for them to have to constantly ram an idea into a students head only to find they are not getting anywhere with it. This can psycologically be bad for both. And in many instances the guru abandons the student (to put it mildly). Now we have an un-caring guru and a dismayed student. Many a times this sort of interaction has impacted so negatively on a student that they give up their studies completely.
Now to the issue of teaching through videos. This in my mind comes closest to a live teacher being present. The missing part is the interaction. Whereas a teacher would stop the student if he notices a problem in hand positioning or a wrong rendition of a trill etc., in learning through a video, the tape just rolls on and a students bad habits might go unchecked.
But where the videos have an advantage is their power of repitition. It simply needs to be rewound and replayed again and again until the point is understood. In our case, we are always accessible to our students via, email, fax, or phone. Any questions we cannot answer, we ask them to make a video tape and send it to us. I am very proud of the fact that we have students in Australia, USA, England, Figi, Malaysia, Monaco South Africa, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Finland......... who are learning in this manner. Now we don't have any way of auditing their progress as teachers but, If their emails and faxes are any indication, they are extremely happy and learning successfully. Our tabla tutors for instance give one of the largest two, three, and four beat (bol) combinations of any published work. These are demonstrated with a close-up camera angle. One would easily have to go back to the tabla teacher for many lessons to gain access to this technique. A book falls short miserably. But then again what a book can do is give a vast reservoir of additional pieces, through tabla notations, that a student can work on after they've learnt how to play the sounds correctly.
Our tabla groove tapes, an original idea of my father, have made it possible for students to have access to quality drum rhythms to practice to. Can you imagine what a chaos it is for a student to try and get a hold of a tabla player to practice with? If they can find one at that! Invariably there is dis-agreement and argument. If experience is lacking in either player, the beat goes all over the place and the practice becomes a waste of time. With the tabla tapes, one can now practice and get good and then take on the drummer. Boy do they have a fun time. So again, such works can only "enhance" and not "damage".
Our tanpura tapes give access to a "well tuned" tanpura that a student plays and practices along with. Again I have seen so many students struggle with this and the end result is that their practice suffers.
MD: I really like what you are doing on the internet and I shall look out for your recordings. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
ABThank you. I am very happy you contacted us with your research questions. My best wishes to you in your endeavors.