Shertallay Column

Understand music to listen to music

Music is such a powerful language which conveys wonderful concepts of integrity, uniqueness, without any caste or creed barrier. Even a layman, who may be an illiterate, can listen to music and enjoy it. It will not be an exaggeration to state that a human being who does not enjoy good music is not normal.

A person from the rural areas will have some kind of local music that is an integral part of their customs. Folk music has got international status as it belongs to the entertainment concepts of illiterate rural people who sing and dance in the evenings after a tiring day’s work. Folk music is also considered a source for the evolution of worldwide systems of classical music.

The rules and regulations of classical music differ from nation to nation. Indian classical music system is one of the systems worth mentioning among the world’s classical music. It is the greatness of Indian classical music that it has got a respectful and dignified rank in the numerous systems of world music.

As far as classical music of India is concerned, Carnatic music occupies an important part. The other branch of Indian classical music is Hindustani music which has been established in major parts of the country. Carnatic music has spread over the south Indian states i.e. Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

The reason behind the name ‘Carnatic’ are various. One is that the word ‘Carnatic’, must have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Karnaadakam.’ The word ‘Karna’ means ear and ‘Aadakam’ – soothing - i.e. something very pleasing to the ears. Another version is that as the Karnataka state belongs to south India, a system belonging to south India might have been called by the people of the north as ‘Carnatic’.

Understanding the basic rules of a classical music system is a definite need. Basic knowledge of the regulations of the system will help a person enjoy music concerts in a better and effective way. Unless we feel the nuances of the nature of music, it would be difficult to enjoy it in a full-fledged manner.

There is a natural question that, as ‘music’ belongs to an entertainment area, what is the need for an education to listen to it? Is there a science behind such a fine art?

As an instructor of Carnatic music at the postgraduate-level, I wish to strongly suggest that just as a student of music has to work hard through tough practice for many years, which is musically known as ‘sadhakam’, to become a good performer, in the same way, if one wants to become a good listener of Carnatic music, or wants to enjoy a music concert with full involvement, at least a basic knowledge of the science of our music is necessary. Otherwise, it will become like the statement in Malayalam, ‘Kadhayariyate Attam Kaanal’ which means, ‘watching Kadhakali, (one of the established classical dance forms of Kerala) without knowing the story’.

There is a lot of difference in ‘hearing music’ and ‘listening to music’. The basic education of the art, upgrades the listener from one who ‘hears’ to one who ‘listens’.

Another thing to be noticed is how classical music keeps its identity from other systems like folk music, tribal music and modern film music, etc., what are the differentiating factors between these categories and classical music?

When any system like art or literature is being cultured and systematised with certain rules and regulations aiming at a standardised form, it is evaluated as ‘classical’. It naturally leads to the necessity of ‘understanding’ the principles of the classical art or literature to enjoy it in the proper way. ‘Classics’ are necessary as they are the symbol of the culture of the nation. Also, it reveals the cultural identity of the citizen who belongs to the nation.

Another important characteristic feature of ‘classical art’ is that it is a wonderful phenomenon which conveys an everlasting aesthetic beauty without the mood of monotony or mechanical reproduction.


Dr Shertallay K.N. Renganatha Sharma,
Associate Professor in Music,
SSSV College of Music,
Madurai Kamaraj University,



Sep 19, 2010
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