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


Gamak - Ornamentation
by Ashwin Batish

Music without ornamentation is like a skeleton without meat. Ahem, a flower with it's aromatic smell might sound better :) Indian music is so ornate that to hear it otherwise would infer that the performer is immature. But let's put this harsh statement aside for a while and understand what makes any art appealing.

Artistic expression is ultimately a personal statement. One can choose from many forms of creative outlets - be it painting, dance, sculpture or music etc., each is unique and can require various degrees and levels of understanding and skill acquisition. The ultimate ability to express ourselves comes from a knowledge base that can span years of serious study. From raw instincts to learning from teachers whose lineage spans multiple generations of knowledge and traditions. Whatever the scenario, one thing is for sure, there is no end to variations. It is an infinite ocean of creativity.

Wow, that is some serious space to contemplate your art. You have the freedom to do it your way. So why do people spend years learning an art before practicing it professionally and finally teaching it. I'm sure you have heard of the saying "practice makes perfect" well a lot of practice makes it even better.

An art that is practiced with great frequency gives rise to a blossoming of expression that only comes with a heightened sense of awareness gained from such practice. Repitition and frequency play a vital role. In general. our minds are not at par with our physical abilities. Factors such as muscle strength, control and accuracy are not a given. We have to work at these. Repitition and regular practice brings magical changes within our body's ability to do what the brain is requesting. Timing, speed, and accuracy all improve markedly as the such practice whips the body to do the unbelievable and the impossible. This is the miracle we put in the "achievement" category. In music, we believe that, in their lifetimes, every musician must attempt three, three month periods of intense practice where apart from the necessities of food and sleep, the rest of the time we sit and practice anything and everything. It is said that you can attempt this at any time in your life. Each, when finished, make you reach the next plateu in your art!

To understand the Indian musical expression, one has to keep what I have said in mind. It is a highly evolved art form yet it retains its rawness. It has elaborate musical structures while giving one complete freedom to improvise. But all this takes a little learning and yes some serious amount of practice.

There is saying, "music is 99% perspiration and 1% genius" and another that says "it takes 3 lifetimes to master Indian music." Indian musicians have been known to practice on the threshold of pain. The learning curve is high but the rewards are just as great.

There are many forms of ornamentation. But to learn them well, one must study the art of singing!

Let us look at some of the freuently used gamaks in indian music. It is important to note that instrumental music follows the singer's lead.

  1. Taan
  2. Meend
  3. Zamzama
  4. Khatka
  5. Kan Swar
  6. Krantan
  7. Gitakari
  8. Ghaseet
  9. Murki
Let's look at how these are produced.

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