Music and the Scope for Psychological Probes
about music in India inevitably tends to center on the šāstra of it. By
of saṅgīta (here understood as referring to gayana
singing and vandana playing instruments rather than the third component
nartana dancing), we mean here the clear enunciation and formalization
of the traditional forms of musical technique.
We might almost have spoken of the grammar of the specific
tradition in music-in the present case, the Indian classical tradition
with its two modern sub-traditions.
Hindustanī and Karnāṭak. We
might but perhaps we shouldn’t because the analogy with language implied
in the word grammar can be as misleading as it can be helpful. Let us take note of the helpful as well as
the misleading aspects of the analogy between music an language before
The musical culture of a society is part of its aesthetic culture
and thus ultimately of its culture.
Culture is simply the totality of customs and all those less
well-defined norms with reference to which members of that society
(be it savage, barbaric, or civilized) live from day to day, adjust
to the environment, maintain their dialogue with reality, and pass
on the insights from one generation to the next (thus ensuring the
continuance of that society). When the body of musical customs and norms in a given society happens
to be at all elaborated and complex, we need to distinguish between
more than one segment-the boundaries of course are not expected to
be sharp. Beginning with the
two essential rôles-the listener of music and the maker of music-we
have to recognize at least two such segments-the norms of musical
taste and the norms of making music that will satisfy the musical
taste. To these essentials
we need to add two more. The first of these is musical ideology-the norms governing the cognitive
activity of musical judgement as exercised as exercised by the artist
and the music lover. Finally,
we have to look for an answer to a very simple question-who makes
what kind of music for whom on what occasions.
In other words, we identify the norms that govern the incidence
of musical activity and its fit (or the lack of it) with the rest
of culture. To illustrate, the norms of musical activity of India élite
society clearly separate the rôles-the artist and the listener and
further separate accomplished, trained, and untrained artists and
listeners. The very paradigm of musical activity is the
musical session (mehfil, jalsa, kacheri) at which a small number
of accomplished artists sing and/or play (singing has priority) for
a fairly large number of trained listeners-especially for the accomplished
among them. One of the artists (rarely two or three) is
usually singled out as the lead.
The separation between the composing artist and the performing
artist is there but not so clear as in the Western classical musical
tradition. In Hindustani music, for example, the performing
artist may perform a pre-composed piece (the bandīš of
a ciz or a gat, for example) or compose as he performs.
In either case he elaborates and interprets rather than merely
present and execute. The fit with the rest of culture is an uneasy
one-for example, Hindus exalt music but until recently looked down
upon musicians unless the latter had a feudal or saintly status. Islam has little or no use for music (with
the possible exception of the qavvāte and the Sufī tradition).
To recapitulate, musical culture consists of norms of:
Musical taste (receptivity), } also structure and
and rendering), } pattern
Musical ideology, } also
Musical activity. }
Not all musical cultures in different societies are equally
formalized. Even within the
same musical culture not all its segments are equally formalized. For example, the verbal activity of passing
critical judgements about specific compositions and performances and
discussing the grounds for such judgements-that is musical criticism. Again, we find the same the sort of variability
if we compare musical culture with other segments of aesthetic culture.
Thus, music-making tends to be far more formalized than film-making,
picture-making, or even poem-making. It is this insistent formalization of musical
technique to which we here give the name the šāstra of saṅgīta -as distinct
from musical criticism and musical aesthetics. (Important as šāstra is, it cannot take the place of the latter two).
The nearest analogue that one can think of is metrics of prosody-the
body of norms that define what an acceptable piece of verse is like.
Typically, the norms do not prescribe what word goes after
what, but rather prescribe general constraints in conformity to which
the poet makes acceptable verse and achieves something like verse
If grammar is conceived as a set of combinatory constraints
that govern the construction of acceptable sequences (read: linguistic
texts, verse pieces, musical texts) out of a relatively much more
restricted stock of recurring constituents (read: linguistic forms,
syllable types, musical beats or notes and phrases) then it is a helpful
analogy. But then if this leads us to expect a dictionary counterpart-the
set of recurring constituents along with the paired interpretations,
then, while this works with linguistic forms, it doesn’t really help
with metrical phrases and musical phrases.
(Say, drum phrases or sequences of notes) an interpretations
(say, mood types such as elation or sound-pictures such as a storm
or a gallop). Even when some such interpretations can be
assigned to the whole musical piece, it can hardly be figured out
as the sum or product of the respective interpretations of the musical
Before we take leave of the analogy between music and language,
we have to note that an aesthetically valid musical piece may include
some ‘ungrammatical’ or deviant sequences as well as the more common
grammatical ones. Indeed the
šāstra itself up to a point
leaves room for deviations. A
deviation, in other words, is some-times a conventional deviation. But there may be unconventional or innovative
deviations too when the artist gets away with them, he has probably
modified the sensibility and possibly, the subsequent course of the
šāstra as well.
Indian thinking about music does go beyond a consideration of (1)
the problem of formulating the šāstra
and the related problem of reformulating it in the light of changing
practice. The two additional problems it has gone into
are the following: (2) Whether a ‘modern’ restatement of rāsa
in music is possible; (3) How one can rationalize the relationship
between ‘classical’ music, ‘folk’ music, and ‘popular’ music.
To take up problem (1) first, though a simple one-to-one correspondence
between musical phrases and pieces on the one hand and musical moods
and representations cannot be established, obviously there is some
relationship. Which are the
two things, in the first place, between which any such relationship
has to be discovered? On the
musical side, is it a note, a sequence of notes, a whole musical piece,
or (as is commonly thought) a rāga?
And what about a tala? Can we can associate moods (say, a martial
mood) or representations (say, heartbeat) with a tāla? Does the musical term (whichever of these it
is) express the mood or induce it in the listener? What is the relationship between the dominant rasa of piece
and he passing moods in the course of its performance? Is it relevant to ask-whose mood? If the rasa theory is to be extended
from poetry to music-as the ancients obviously intended to but probably
never quite got around to doing it can we do so whole cloth or with
drastic modifications? What
are the sangita analogues to the dramatis personae?
The nāyaka and nāyika, for example,
in relation to the šṛingāra
rasa? The answer is obvious
enough in representational dance (or, more precisely, in the abhinaya
component of nartana, the sex of dancer being irrelevant),
but not at all obvious either with non-representational dance (or,
more precisely, the nṛitya
component of nartana, which may combine with abhinaya in a given piece).* Or with vādana (playing instrument),
and non-verbal gāyana (like tarānā or
* Cf. B. C. Deva, Raga and Rasa,
in Psychoacoustics of Music and Speech, 1967.
the sargam). Even with
verbal gayana (like ṭhumri, khayāl,
dhrupad) the answer is not all that obvious.
Then there is the traditional association between ragas that
emphasize the upper half of the octave with certain hours of the
day and between rāgas that emphasize the lower half of the
octave with certain other hours of the day.*
Finally, what is the rôle of the sāmājika
(member of the audience) in the rasa process.
A related problem is the relation between rāgas and
sound-pictures (the rāga Malhar and rain, for instance).
now to problem (2), namely, the relationship between classical, folk
and popular, Indian thinking is not altogether obvious to the social
and cultural setting of the musical activity.
The traditional classification of rāgas into desī (folk, literally,
regional) and mārgī (great tradition, literally, from
the highway) indicates awareness that not all rāgas got
described in the classical treaties.
But this awareness was heightened, once the educated élite brought itself to take
serious note, sub-specie romantic and patriotic, of the ‘folk’ heritage
in the arts and also faced uneasily the yawing gap between ‘mass’
aesthetic culture emanating from the modern urban setting and its
own aesthetics preferences-indeed the gap in also to be seen between
its own aesthetic and special aesthetics.
How to find a place in the musical sun for lāvaṇī
music, Balgandharva, and Lata Mangeshkar?
How to make sense of the span of classical music itself form
the more accessible (sugama) to the less accessible.
Consider the relative accessibility of pairs such as the following-dhruped/khayāl,
khayāl/thumari, difficult rāgas/common rāgas,
anvatam, vilambit/drut pieces, vocal/instrumental, ālāp/čiz
(or ālāp/gat), manipulating sitār frets/plucking
the strings jhālā fashion, tablā as lead/tablā
as accompaniment, total percussions/atonal percussions, and so on. (The first member in each pair is usually deemed
to be relatively more of an acquired taste. Empirical testing is called for).
In grappling with all these sets of problems—šāstra, rasa, and musical
culture—the Indian thinker naturally sought the help of modern science-not
only physics but also psychology.
The possibility of showing that modern experimental evidence
bears out what our ancient wisdom intuitively grasped was certainly
an attractive one. Unfortunately it wasn’t realized (and even
now is realized imperfectly), that a sound conceptual analysis has
to precede, accompany, and follow a sound experiment study. (A sound body needs a sound mind!) and a sound conceptual analysis
will naturally flourish only if there is a body of sustained musical
criticism to analyze, if this lack of musical criticism is to be made
good and if the ground for a sophisticated psychological study of
music is to be prepared, we must leave
behind our naďve folk-musicology our horizon has to be widened
beyond the three problems we have attended to so far.
Indeed we should stop being students of Indian music and become
Indian students of music. Our
musical appreciation must graduate into musical criticism; our musical
chronicles must graduate into critical history.
In this wider canvas,
four areas can be distinguished for convenience sake (obviously they
are closed to each other) X--
(1) Understanding the musical artist and his activity-whether composing
or performing, whether untrained, trained or accomplished, whether
facing an audience or with the faceless audience in a recording or
broadcasting studio or making music for his own benefit, whether acting
in a formal setting (mehfil or riyāz for example) or informally.
(2) Understanding the listener and his activity-whether untrained, trained
or accomplished, whether
facing the artist or overhearing him or listening to recorded or broadcast
music and his contribution. (The
rasa problem or the
sound-picture problem are only two of the problems falling here.
The listener’s response may be concurrent with the performance
or Re-collective; the concurrent response may be a passing phase or
(3) Understanding the formation and re-formation
of musical sensibility a and a musical tradition which together make
the artist’s and the listener’s activity possible. (The classical/popular/folk problem is only
one of the problems falling here).
(4) Last and also first, understanding
the musical work in all its aspects. (The šāstra
is concerned with only of the dimensions of a musical work. The
relation of music to its para-musical accompaniments, such as the
performer’s posture, gesture, and facial expression especially in
adākārī is a case in point. Another is the use of music in the theatre,
dance, film and song).
An attack on all these fronts is called for if e are to be saved
from merely tinkering with problems or selecting some problems just
because they happen to be the familiar ones.
what way can the psychologist contribute to an understanding of music
under each of these four headings?
Not all these problems will equally lend themselves to experimental
analysis at least not in the initial stages of investigation.
The Psychologist will probably have to begin with limited,
rather elementary problems subject to direct confirmation and not
to take up the larger issues till such time when musical criticism
and aesthetics develop and succeed in posing the problems in rigorous
and specific terms. Broadly speaking, problems connected with musical
technique and the šāstra
categories of technique will be the most amenable to experimental
probing, while problems connected with the social psychology of musical
taste, ideology, and activity will yield to questionnaire and interview
methods. Problems connected with musical creativity
and with the changes in musical taste are likely to prove the most
recalcitrant. While work done in the West of Western music
will certainly be of here, we must be wary of forcing the phenomena
into categories established in a different tradition. After these preliminary observations, we can take up musical creativity,
musical receptivity, musical sensibility and tradition, and musical
structure and pattern in order and suggest problems for psychologist
to take up.
We have already alluded to the complex relationship between
composing and performing in Hindustani music.
This can be composed with the corresponding relationship in
Karnataka music, Western classical music, and Jazz music. The resemblance and the profound differences-especially between
Hindustani and Jazz music-will bear investigation.
receptivity: Apart from
the rasa problem and the related time of the day problem, one can
look at the judgements of aesthetic quality such as sublime, somber,
rugged, vivacious, soothing, pretty, beautiful, and the like.
These can be correlated with observable qualities of the music
and a factor analysis attempted on the lines of psychology Charles
E. Osgood and his associates. The aesthetic judgements, of course, will be
couched in the Indian idiom (ṭhumrī
ṭhumaktī hai; mulāyam āvāzī). (Cf.
Kelkar 1969:219-20 which proposes a general hypothesis that the ‘factors’
underlying aesthetic qualities are perceptions of unity/disunity,
infinitude/finitude, plentitude/sparseness, and perfection/imperfection).
As this point, one may refer to two problems that relate equally
well to creativity and receptivity namely, those of musical capacity
and of stylistic preference. Let
us take up musical capacity first.
Is ‘having an ear for music’ quite different from ‘having an
ear for Hindustani/Karnatak music’?
Listeners from the border areas (like Karnatak) exposed to
both, those from focal areas (Varnasi, Tanjavur for example) exposed
to one alone, and those from other areas (like the Eastern border)
exposed to neither could be differently tested.
What is the role of the genetic and cultural inheritance and
of physical and human environment? Can musical capacity fluctuate depending on
maturation and old age, physical and mental health, motivation (what
is loss and regain of ‘form’ in an artist,?
It is significant that while one speaking of musical families,
one does not speak of poetic families.
Is there a specific inherited capacity or incapacity (hostility
or unresponsiveness)? Or are there a group of related capacities
or incapacities and how are these related to general capacities such
as intelligence? Is there
a ‘need’ for music? What about
the sensitivity to man-made music and animal song on the part of animals,
plants, and inanimate?
How does correlate stylistic preferences on the part of artists
and listeners with their personalities? Unfortunately, where is the critical analysis and comparison of
musical styles that could serve as a point of departure for such an
analysis? To be sure, each
localized gharana, baz, or vani has been duly chronicled. But there is no aesthetic theory proposing a set of musical parameters
for characterizing these styles.
Still less do we possess a critical account of personal styles
that distinguish a Kumar Gandharva from a Bhimsen Joshi. Do woman vocalists shares something more than female voices? And is there any musical substance in the popular
observation that there is something that is common and peculiar to
Muslim vocalists of either sex?
sensibility and tradition: What
is involved in ‘learning’ to listen to and make music?
How is musical education related to general education in the
case of the artist and of the listener?
What factors control musical loyalty?
Social provenance? State
of mental and physical health? Cultural exposure? Prestige? The social
psychology of leadership, stereotyping, prejudice, and the like as
these relate to music needs to be looked into.
structure and pattern: What
are the localized properties (say, high pitch) and contextual properties
(say, dip in the pitch) of the musical sequence that correlate with
the perception of a šruti, a raga, the khālī,
the same, and the like? Which
of these are distinctive properties and which are dependent on the
distinctive properties? Thus,
practical experience in making music and listening to it tells us
that practitioners persistently associate certain differences in the
‘same’ note in the aroha and avaroha scales of various rāgas,
text books not withstanding. Again, text books not withstanding, a raga
is identified by a singer and the listener not so much by identifying
the vadi and other recognized diacritics (lakṣaṇas)
as by identifying the musical phrase or phrases (pakaṛ) characteristic of a raga. How so? Just what are the distinctive feature
of khaṇḍas or khānas
opening with an āghāta or tala as against a kāla
or khālī? And
those of khaṇḍas that open with
the sam in a tāla cycle as against those that don’t? The whole nation of jagah (felicitions locus)
and that of ornamentation (gamaka) need to be looked into since they
remain un-formalized in the šāstra. Indeed, in the long run, the psychologist will
have to understand the rôle of conscious artistry in musical form
and the mutual influence of šāstra
and musical practice. The
simpler scales, melodies, and rhythms of folk and popular music should
certainly be studied as well-apart from their intrinsic interest they
may provide valuable clues to their more elaborated counterparts in
In the above discussion, we have mentioned observable properties
of musical sequences. These
refer to the production (whether vocal or instrumental), the transmission,
and the auditory judgment as made available through a verbal response. Thus, one can offer and test psychological
and acoustic definitions of voice qualities such as ḍhālā,
(Cf. Kelkar 1974: 224, 225 which among other things proposes
a hypothesis that voice quality proper can be identified with two
parameters—acute/grave (energy concentration in higher/lower overtones,
and lightly/highly damped). One
can also compare the perception of ‘syllables’ in vocal music and
wind instruments and ‘strokes’ in strings and percussions; and then
go on to assess their contribution to the total aesthetic effect.
The aesthetic effect of a well-executed parhant oftabla or
pakhavaj bols or dance steps (natavari bols) is comparable to that
of playing the drum itself and of the auditory effect of the Kathak
dancer’s footwork. This comparison should provide us with a good
point of entry into the complex and rich system of rhythm in Indian
classical music. (Cf. Kelkar
One may begin by testing
the following analysis of some tabla bols and the corresponding strokes:
dhik with check,
without check ās
dhin with check, with ā s
dhā without check, with ās
A similar analysis can
be made of the tarānā and nomtoṅ
Finally, the following
scheme should be helpful in comparing the resources at the disposal
of different systems of music:
1. tone and quality
tone and a scale
1.2.1 source quality
2.1 volume control
2.2.2 defined by
2.2.3 defined by
bars and cycles (khaṇḍas and āvatanas)
2.3.1 texture as
defined by bols (syllables/strokes)
of a piece as governed by a genre
structure of a musical
Some of these are obviously
exploited more fully in Hindustani music (for example 1.1.1) while
others hardly at all (for example 2.1).
UNDERSTANDING MUSIC AND THE SCOPE FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL
is high time that the study of Indian
music is rescued form renecdotage
and antiquarianism, amateurship and impressionism, so that it can
match up to its worthy subject.
Kelkar, Ashok R. 1969. On aesthesis, Humanist review. no. 2 (April-June). 211-28
…………………………1974. Sound quality in human speech; A Conceptual
framework. Indian Linguistics,
is a thoroughly revised version of a paper read at the Seminar on
the Psychology of Indian Music at Pune on 12-15 January under the auspices of the Sangit
Natak Akademi, New Delhi and the Department of Psychology, University
The paper was published earlier in the Journal of the Indian
Musicological Society 8:4 December 1977.
In the present version the author has taken the opportunity
of correcting misprints and imprints and improving the wording in
a few places. This revised version also appeared in Journal of the Indian Musicological
Society 11:12: 9-17, June 1980 (published November 1980).
A Marathi version /’Sanītātī
bhāṣā āṇi manovyāpār’,
Anuṣṭubh 3:3: 27-28,