December 19, 2009

November 25, 2009

Warmth For the 2009 Winter - Tukhari Compilation

My favorites
Tukhari (Jhaptal) - Ghol Ghumai Laalna - Principle Baldev Singh
Saavan Saras Manaa - Prof. Shamshad Ali
Ghol Ghumai Lalna - Bhai Sarbjit Singh Rangila

Tukhari Compilation
Gur Ke Charan Jee Ka Nistaara - Live from Darbar Sahib, Nov 2009
Tukhari - Ghol Ghumaai Laalna Parkash Singh
Tukhari - Ghol ghumai Lalna - Bhai Kanwarpal Singh
Tukhari - Antar Piri Pyaar - Dilbagh Singh/Gulbagh Singh
Tukhari - Antar Piri Pyaar - Devinder Singh/Gulbagh Singh
Tukhari - Ghol Ghumai Lalna - Bhai Gurmej Singh
Madho Jal Kee Pyaas Na Jaye - Live from Darbar Sahib, Nov 2009
Tukhari - Ghol Ghumai Lalna - Bhai Sarbjit Singh Rangila
Tukhari - Saajan Des Videsariye - Bhai Surjit Singh
Tukhari - Saavan Saras Manaa - Dr. Gurnam Singh
Tukhari - Nirgun Raakh Liya - Bhai Avtar Singh

On Taus:
Tukhari on Taus - Bhai Sandeep Singh

More on Tukhari:
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November 11, 2009

Adding to repertoire

I always find raag-ful Shabad Kirtan enchanting; however, oftentimes the recording quality available on the web is disappointing. And I know you can empathize with these sentiments.

Which is why I point the effort at Present here are probably some of the better available live recordings on the internet. Try listening to some of those recordings on a headphone or a superior amplifier system. As you can hear, these recordings are definitely a treasure for us and future generations. And, thankfully for me, and the rest of kirtan premis, a treasure that seems to be growing gradually.

The recordings involve usage of large diaphragm microphones, which are a lot more sensitive in picking up nuances. And nuances are so important to classical music. Recently the recordings are done in a multi-track format, which can be later mixed.

While we enjoy the outcome of these, all this this takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. So we are thankful to Ajit Singh ji who does the recordings and manages the website. I will continue to write about these recordings as more are available.

Since it is the winter season, several new Raag Tukhari recordings can be found in the most recent posting at the site. Usage of shudha ma and komal ni differentiate Tukhari from Madhuvanti. My favorite Tukhari in this program is by Bhai Devinder Singh/Gulbagh Singh:

Tukhari - Antar Piree Piaar - Devinder-Gulbagh Singh

The rest of the recordings from this program can be found here:
Malton Oct 4

And before I bid happy thanksgiving, I want to point out that yesterday, started its new audio offering: This looks very interesting and adds a 'social' theme to the listening of Gurbani and adds some really innovative features. Two that stood out in my first drive: when you click on one shabad, you can get renditions of the same shabad by other artists; the media player includes a rolling translation of the shabad. Kudos Gurmustuk!!!
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November 2, 2009

Kal Taaran Guru Nanak Aaya - Bageshree

"Guru Nanak" in Raag Bageshri:

Happy Gurpurab folks!!! I have been singing Bhai Gurdas' Vaar Kal Taaran Guru Nanak Aaya in Bageshree since the mid-90s. This weekend I made a recording of this shabad mixing in a country ballad style. Following is a copy of yesterday's recording. Feel free to listen, download, and pass along to friends and family.

Feb 16, 2011 Update
Here is my interpretation of this Vaar:

How fortunate am I
The supreme giver
has infinite mercy upon me
and sent for me none other
than my dear Guru Nanak
to be my guide

My Guru travels far
and learns from the learned
He is the wisest I've know
still he meets everyone
with a peculiar humility
strange to our world
How fortunate am I

And he teaches me
the way to learn by example
He travels many million miles.
And when his feet are washed
Particles of his noble ways
make sweet ambrosial nectar
a drop of which I get to drink
How fortunate am I

With that luminious drop
all fog starts to disappear
Himself my dear Guru shows me
there is no difference betwee
one who knows everything
and the mysterious one
that no one can fully fathom
How fortunate am I

This world of ours has
those of different religions
those of disparate social strata
some rich live the lives of king
others, paupers, just survive
they have all, in one drop.,
through his blessed vision
become ONE for me
How fortunate am I

At times when
everything looks dark
he lights my path
with the torch of the
mantra of truth, Satnam!
My dear Guru Nanank
has removed my darkness
How fortunate am I
How fortunate am I

Nov 25 Update:
Based on a request in the comments area, following is the notation for one of the guitar parts -- the actual notation is tough to read and play -- but this is a simplified version that works as well. Every two bars is one line of the shabad as follows:

Kal taaran Guru Nanak aayaa - 4
Suni Pukaar Dataar Prabh - 2
Guru Nanak Jag Mahe Pathayaa - 2
Charan Dhoye Rehraas Kar - 2
Charanaamrit Sikhaan Pilayaa - 2
(Rest of the verses repeats similarly)

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October 19, 2009

Importance of Diwali and Refrains in Sikhism

On several previous occasions I have heard US presidents, including Presidents Bush and Clinton, give warm greetings on the birthday of Guru Nanak. This year, President Obama message on Diwali included a mention of Guru Hargobind Sahib and Bandi Chhorh Diwas:

Then we have the age old discussion whether Diwali is for Sikhs or not. Although most of the discussion around this topic is not worth spending time on, in my opinion, I did find an interesting article on of which at least one idea I wholeheartedly empathize with, and that is the first line of a shabad should not, in most circumstances be used as a refrain and sung repeatedly because it tends to change the central purpose of the shabad.

The author in the article gives us an example "ON DIWALI DAY Programmes at the Gurdwara I have often heard Raagis singing this shabad from Bhai gurdass Ji di Vaar -Diwali kee raat deeweh ballian ..." For more see

For this reason, I think it is incumbent upon us, those who sing Gurbani, and even more so for composers who have the privilege of arranging music to support Gurbani, to keep the central meaning of the shabad in mind while choosing refrains and doing the whole composition.

Popular compositions for beautiful shabads like Jo Maange Thakur, Paati Torai Maalini, Bhoolai Maarag Jineh Bataaya, and Lakh Khushian Patshaiyan use the wrong refrain -- the first line of the shabad. Incorrect repitition provides incorrect emphasis and tends to make us forget key words from the rahao which are closer to the central meaning of these shabads: Har jan raakhai, Bhooli Maalini, Simar manaa raam naam, and Ekas syon chit laye, respectively.

In the past few years this has been one of the leading guiding principles for Gurbani music composition (even ahead of nirdharit raag compositions). I have myself sung all these shabads using the wrong refrain; and now I have started singing all these shabads using refrains prescribed in the Guru Granth Sahib. And I have learned that the beauty of these shabads is far beyond than what I have been able to enjoy.
For this reason, even though the following rendition of Simar Manaa is not in Bilawal, I prefer the following composition over the next one by Bhai Harjinder Singh (Srinagar wale):

Simar Manaa:

Lakh Khushiyan:

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April 12, 2009

New Trend in WebKirtan - Live Videos

I was surfing this morning and found that Sikhnet was broadcasting a live video of the Baisakhi program at LA. I remember having attended this program several years ago. It is fantastic to be able to see this event from miles away, and also to imagine that, in the future, we will have multiple live video streams to watch. Also, pretty nice to see chatters converse while the kirtan is going on. If you get this blogpost in time (if you are subscribed), you can visit this site and see the programs live now:

And I found another one; this is our Gurudwara in Espanola, New Mexico. If you tune in now you can hear kirtan done using tanti saaz.

Waheguru!!! Wonderful!
Time of Post: 11 AM, April 12 (Pacific Standard Time).
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March 11, 2009

Raag Basant Compilation (2014)

As we enter this beautiful season of colors and smells, I am updating our list of Basant renditions. Please add any that I may have left out through the comments. Also, please suggest if you have additional or corrective information. Enjoy!- Shiv

My favorites:
Too Kahe Garbe Bavalee - Bhai Sarabjit Singh
Raja Ram Moh Leo - Dr. Gurnam Singh
Is Man Ko Basant Ki - Bhai Devender Singh

Raag Basant - Rashid Khan

Gurmeet Singh Shaant sings a beautiful Guldasta and Partaal in Raag Basant, Hindol, and Bahar. The following is a recording of the same from earlier this year from Thailand:

Shudha Basant (Also called Bhinna Shadaj)
Re Man Aiso Kar Sanyasa
Saahuraree Wath Sabh Kichh Sanjhee - Bhai Avtar Singh
Tis agai hai jodhri - Bhai Gurmit Singh Shaant
Dheero dekh tumhare ranga
Is Ghar Main - Bhai Sarabjit Singh
Aagaman Pehal Basante - Bhai Sarabjit Singh
Holi Keeni Sant Sev - Bhai Nirmal Singh
Raam Raam Bol - Bhai Avtar Singh
Raja Ram Mauliya Anik Bhaye -
Nanak Tina Basant Hai - Bhai Balbir Singh
Is man ko basant ki laggai na soe - Bhai Sawinder Singh

Basant (Purvi)
Dekh Phool Phool Phoole - Bhai Devender Singh
To Kahe Garbe Bavalee - Bhai Sarabjeet Singh
Pehel Basante Aagman - Bhai Sarabjeet Singh
Sabade Sadaa Basant Hai - Bhai Lakhwinder Singh
Mohan ghar aavoh karo jodadiya
Eh Jag Dhuye Ka Pahaar - Bhai Devender Singh
Hoe Iktara Milau Mere Bhai - Bhai Avtar Singh
Anand Sahib
Rut Aile Saras Basant Mahe
Dekh Phool Phool Phooolai
Basant Hamre Ram Rang
Kat jaiye re ghar lago rang
Basant Chadiya Phooli Ban Raye
Dekh Phool Phoolai - Bhai Baljit Singh
Dekh Phool Phoolai - Dr. Gurnam Singh
Kat jaiye re ghar lago rang - Bhai Samund Singh
Mouli dharti mouliya akash - Bhai Samund Singh
Holi Kini Sant Sev - Bhai Gurpreet Singh
Basant Ki Vaar - Bhai Gurpreet Singh
Is Man Ko Basant Ki - Bhai Balbir Singh
Mauli Dharti Mauliya Akash - Bhai Balbir Singh (Partaal)
Kat Jaiye Re Ghar Lago Rang - Bhai Inderjeet Singh
Basant Chadiya Phoolee Banraye - Bhai Devender/Mohinder Partap Singh
Is Man Ko Basant Ki - Bhai Randhir Singh
Basant Chadiya Phoolee Banraye - Bhai Randhir Singh
Aaj Hamarey Greh Basant - Bhai Randhir Singh
Greh Taan Ke Basant Banee - Bhai Randhir Singh
Nanak Tina Greh Basant - Bhai Nirmal Singh
Pehel Basant Aagaman - Bhai Nirmal Singh
Shabade Sada Basant Hai - Bhai Lakhwinder Singh
Tera dasan dasaa kaho rae - Bhai Sawinder Singh
Tin basant jo har gun gaye - Bhai Sawinder Singh

Budha Basant
Holi Kini Sant Sev
Kat Jaiye Re Ghar Lago Rang

Basant (Marwa Ang)
Man kahan bisaryo ram nam

Basant (Hindol)
rwm nwmu rqn koTVI gV mMdir eyk lukwnIsbid rqI sohwgxI - Bhai Devender Singh
Bhuj bal deejai - Bhai Samund Singh
Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Wahejiyo - Bhai Samund
Maha Maham Mumarkhi
Lobh Lahar At Nijar Baje
Teriyan Bhagtan Ko Baliharaan
Tu kahe garbe bawali - Bhai Sawinder Singh
Pita parbrahm prabh dhani - Bhai Gupal Singh

Swami pandita tum deho mati - Bhai Amritpal Singh
Basant (Bahar/Basant Bahaar)
Asi Bhavra Baas Lay
Moli Dharti Mohlia Akas
Aaj hamare mangal char
Tu kae garbay bavalee

Basant (Mukhari)
Ab Hum Chalee Thakur Pai Haar
Ik Bhori Na Vichod
Greh Taakey Basant Banee - Bhai Avtar Singh

Other renditions

Rashid Khan:

Pandit Jasraj:

Sanjeev Abhyankar

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

A playful Pt. Yashpal:

Original posting: Jan 2008
Updated: Feb 2009

Updated in 2011
Is Man Ko Basant Ki - Bhai Devender Singh
Eh Jag Dhuye Ka Pahaar - Bhai Devender Singh
Saahuraree Wath Sabh Kichh Sanjhee - Bhai Avtar Singh
Greh Taakey Basant Banee - Bhai Avtar Singh
Hoe Iktara Milau Mere Bhai - Bhai Avtar Singh
Raam Raam Bol - Bhai Avtar Singh
Guru Nanak Jag Mahe - Bhai Shamsher Singh Zakhmi
Read more ...

February 3, 2009

Your Own 'Sa' and Vocal Range

Recently I received a request from Gurpreet Singh, a reader of this blog, to help with a question:

I wanted to know which key should be chosen as "Sa". The person who teaches me raaga ... is teaching "Sa" as the 4th black key. The [person] who teaches me shabads doesnt know any raagas but is using "Sa" two black keys even further.

Just some terminology before I start discussing this. One octave (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni) is called a Saptak in Hindustani classical music. Interestingly, Octave comes from 8, and Saptak comes from 7. Maybe this has to do with the better understanding and discovery of Zero. Notwithstanding that smart-alec digression, I come back to terminology: The normal saptak that one sings or plays an instrument in, is called the Madhya (middle) saptak. The higher saptak, includes 7 shudha notes above Ni, is called that Taar (high) saptak, and the lower saptak (7 shudha notes below Sa) comprise the Mandra (low) saptak. Another digression: the three saptak system was first introduced by Sharangdeva in the 13th century in his discussion of music of his time in Sangit Ratnakar.

Often not enough attention is paid on this critical question. The answer to this question can be fateful to one's learning curve, and one's fluency as an Indian classical singer. So the earlier this question is answered, the better. Here is the 'general' answer: "Sa" should be chosen based on where you can best express the beauty of a given composition. As you can imagine, the discovery of the more specific answer to Gurpreet's question takes a combination of discovery of one's own vocal range, and a discovery of composition.

"I don't have Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's range." Right?

Discovery of one's vocal range is a simpler task than composition discovery. Still, I think it can have a profound impact on your learning speed. But remember, in Gurbani Sangeet, having a wide range is not as important as hitting the right shrutis.

Nevertheless, let's say you are ambitious and want to potentially have the range that Pandit Bhimsen Joshi has. First the task may seem daunting, especially if you read critics more than you listen to Pandit ji sing. Several 'expert' reviewers talk about Pandit ji's range: "His unbelievably flexible voice enabled him to traverse at terrific speed, the great range of 3 octaves (; and "[Pandit ji] is said to be blessed with a vocal range of all three octaves. " ( If you need more demoralization, listen to Yma Sumac, a Soprano singer from Peruvian singer is known to sing very high notes:

And when you start with your harmonium or piano, you think there is no way you can reach three octaves -- or those high notes that Yma sings. Bhimsen Joshi and Yma Sumac obviously have the ultimate gift from God: a phenomenal vocal range. Right?

Wrong! You Likely Have A Very Similar Range.
These critic statements originate from two widespread, yet false beliefs. The first belief is that his greatness stems from his range. The second one is that these adept vocalists have an unusually wide vocal range ("it's a God gift").

You can listen to several recordings from Pandit ji on the internet. Let me use a 2-minute mian ki malhar performance by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi as an example: ( Wah janab, Wah! He uses the second black (D#) as his Sa. Pandit Joshi uses one and a half octaves (total range) in this drut composition. And the taar Ma is not sung with sustenance -- it is sung in passing in fast taans. This is not true of just this composition; most classical compositions range one and a half octave. Longer khayals maybe an exception, but in Gurbani Sangeet we can pretty much ignore those.

Its not just Pandit Joshi ji! The one-and-a-half octave unsaid 'rule' is widely adhered to. One-and-a-half range could be mandra saptak Pa or Dha to taar saptak Ga or Ma. The critics just write three octaves to create idols out of musicians; which would be fine if practice was appreciated more than inherent abilities. I use the same one-and-a-half octave rule to decide my normal range. The clarity of notes in taans, meends and murkis is what is striking and makes Pandit Bhimsen Joshi a great vocalist.

The second false belief is the range is gift from God. From my experience I believe it takes practice to increase range (and we will talk about that below), and that the patience of practice is the real God-gift, not the range you are born with.

But then you ask - what about Yma? She seemed to have and use this amazing range! doesn't she possess a 'special' God gifted vocal chords? No! She is using falsetto in that recording. Yma's true range, especially the one that she started with before practicing, may not have been very different from many of us. Even I can reach 5 octaves with falsettos, but cant really adorn notes with murkis, taans or smooth meends in that timbre; nor have I heard anyone else do it. Falsettos can be used sparingly in indian classical music (that's a whole different topic of discussion).

So the good news is that you might have a range comparable to some of the great singers of our time. Now all you have to do is find your range, and develop it.

Discover Your High End, Which Can't Change Much
There is very little latitude you have on the high end of your range. The high-end of your vocal range generally does not change beyond your teens. Practice for several years may gain you only a few notes above the highest note you started out with before practice. Think of the high-end of your vocal range as a restriction that God has blessed you with.

So try to discover, what it the highest note you can sing both in a sustained way (try a ~5 second alankaar without cracking) and in passing. For example you might be able to sing the high 2nd black (D#) in a sustained way, and the high 3rd black (F#) in passing. Your high-end note will be affected somewhat by the time of the day you choose (I can likely sing half to one notes higher in the evening, than in the morning) and whether you have throat or nasal inflammation (both will constrict your high-end).

Your normal 1.5 octave range from your high-end will then start at your highest sustained note Then count 20 half notes -- thats your one-and-a-half octave range.

Lower Range Can Be Expanded With Riyaz
Unlike the high-end of your range, you can significantly expand your lower range with riyaz. The lowest note you can sing in a sustained manner even after just 2 months of correct riyaz can be several notes lower than what you started with before riyaz. "Kharaj ka riyaz" or "Mandra Saptak ka riyaz" is therefore the key to expanding your range as an Indian classical vocalist. I spent a few days doing Mandra saptak ka riyaz with Bhai Gulbagh Singh recently on his last trip to the Fremont Gurudwara (2008).

Choosing Sa For riyaz ...
One way to practice is to do riyaz completely in the mandra saptak (Sa through Ni) – this is tougher and should not be overdone, because your chords can get damaged (Blood in cough, as I realized when I first started doing this, is a bad sign). The second way, much easier is to practice your compositions 1-3 whole notes below your Sa. I have found it useful to sing most of my practices 1-3 whole notes lower than my normal Sa, and once in a while in my normal range. Try to notice that in the Indian show “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa,” the practice runs are done around 1 whole note below the final runs.

Forgo the Harmonium
Harmonium and Indian Classical Vocal Harmonium is actually quite a disastrous instrument to aid in learning. The excellence of an Indian vocalist often depends on the clarity of pitching and grace notes or slides, in various forms, between the pitches. And for that you need to train yourself to listen to the Sa and its harmonies with other notes while you are singing. That is very difficult when you are playing the harmonium. Moreover, slides cannot be produced on the Harmonium and many harmoniums can have mistuned notes. So I highly recommend practicing with a tanpura or an electric tanpura. You can also have your harmonium just play 'Sa' while you practice.

Modulate Or Build Your Composition
If you are a beginning student of vocal music, you will likely choose compositions from an external source. For more experienced musicians, you may build your composition. Either way, you need to modulate the composition to a note where you can utilize your highest sustained note. So lets say your highest sustained note is the second black on the harmonium. And the composition's highest sustained note is "Sa" from the taar saptak. You can use either first or second black as your "Sa." If, instead, you are singing Asa, and there is a significant use of tar saptak "Ga" in the composition, then you should use the 5th black as your "Sa." (See Example 2 below).

Feel free to leave comments, questions and links that maybe useful to others reading this topic.

- Shiv

Addendum: Some Examples
Although this is not true for all singers, I have seen several classical indian females choose the 4th black as their "Sa." Many male indian classical singers use 1st black as their "Sa." So some people call the two scales, male and female scales. There are several 'good' exceptions: Lata Mangeshkar sings at a higher range than most singers and Jagjit Singh sings at a lower range. I myself singer at the lower ranges than most males.

1. Mahesh Kale
I recently was invited to a concert by Mahesh Kali, an indian classical vocalist based in California. I had not heard of him, so I went to his website ( I am very glad I did. For anyone learning classical Indian music, I think he is a very good listen for many reasons. He seems to be a perfectionist, and attempts to stay quite true to the notes. He seems to have spent many long hours practices.

This is a very good demonstration to how use your Sa. His performance Sa seems either the first black (C#). For the more classical pieces, that use most of his range, he uses 1st black as his range. For a piece with lesser range, the beauty of higher notes is exploited -- hear his Dadra which is 4-5 notes higher than his Sa.

'Surat Piya Ki' is both a guldasta (various raags used: basant hindol, malkauns, and more) and a partaal (various taals used teen taal, ek taal, and a really beautifully drut jhap taal); really well sung -- a lot of work likely went into this one. My other favorite is his charukeshi based natyageet, He Suranno.

Raga Dhani - Vilambit Khayal (2nd white, D)
Dadra - Laga Sawan (5th white, G)
Natyageet - Surat Piya ki (1st black, C#)
Natyageet - He Suranno Chandra Vha (1st black, C#)
Natyageet - Muralidhar Sham (1st black, C#)

Example 2: Yours truly
Here is a composition that I did last year in Raag Asa. I have sung the chhant in my normal Sa (4th black: G#). I try singing it 1.5 notes above my normal Sa (7th white: B). Plus I sing the same composition in 4th white (F) and 2nd black (D#, one octave lower than from where many sing). To me G# sounds the best because there is the least stretching on the higher notes (taar Ga in this case), and the most comfort with the lower note (mandra Dha in this case).

My Sa: Bhinni alaap feb09 Gs.mp3
Higher: Bhinni alaap feb09 B.mp3
Lower: Bhinni alaap feb09 F.mp3
Even Lower: Bhinni alaap feb09 Ds.mp3
Read more ...