Posted by: ajmithra21 | September 17, 2010

Music ‘n Academics

“Sing unto the Lord a new song” says the Bible

“Music is the shortest route to seek God” says Saint Thiagaraja, one of the musical trinity.

“Music is THAPAS” says the Hindu scriptures, which means music is meditation.

Music is a part of our day to day life. Our life starts and ends with music. From a lullaby to mourning songs, Nelambari to Muhari. Just as there are seven days in a week and twelve months in a year, music has 12 tones including the 7 whole tones in an octave. The rhythmic movements of vehicles and machinery and the melodic structure of mobile phones and motors spell out the character of music.

In India music is religion. One cannot imagine a day without music. Just name the occasion and you have a song exclusively for that, be it birth or death, work or play, marriage or festivals, music is heard everywhere.

Now machines have replaced men. Gone are the days, when man used to sing at work. If you sing at work now, it could cost you your job! But men who carry heavy loads still sing and shout to rhythm. Their singing eases the strain and makes work enjoyable. There are still some remote areas, where people sing while working in their fields. Sailors sing while rowing their boats, fishermen sing while fishing. May be that was why there was more unity among the people of yesteryears.

Let’s go on a journey into the world of academics where the influence of music is predominant and inevitable. The more the music in school, the more versatile the child is.

Music starts from speaking LANGUAGE As man started to communicate his emotions and feelings through language, he would have started to sing as well. That could be the reason why we all start to learn a language through rhymes in the kindergarten. After all music is in itself a universal language. It was the music and not the lyrics of eminent singers like Micheael Jackson, Ilayaraja and A. R. Rahman which created an impact all over the world. This proves that music is a universal language, with the least number of alphabets yet having a maximum impact on the human race. Music can either give restful sleep or sleepless nights. It can soothe your soul or break your heart sometimes. It paints a smile and brings immense joy to both the performer and the listener.

Music makes a language more expressive. Language comprehension results in better understanding of subjects. Songs and music was fun in Kindergarten but was not continued in other classes. Shall we say that the young minds of the student community has been deprived of the joy of learning through music? It is a pity that the value of music in the field of education is seldom understood by society.

Greek word ‘logos’ means not only word but also sound. The Bible says” “In the beginning was the word,. And the word was with God and the Word was God. (I mean God’s voice).

Hindu mythology also says “Natham-Brahmam”.

Natham means sound, Brahmam means God. It is for this reason, that man used musical sounds to punctuate sound (language).

Music and Mathematics are interconnected. Infact Mathematics is a branch of music though it may sound absurd. A deeper study will conclude that music is the Mother of Mathematics.

Epics of 4th century B.C. Ilangovadigal’s Silapathigaram and Bharatha’s Natya satra gives a detailed description of Mathematics in music. While dealing with the 22 microtones of Indian music. Even King David’s Psalm 119 of the Bible has 22 subdivisions with 8 verses in each. In Indian music an octave consists of 22 microtones which are divided among the seven whole tones in the octave, the seven whole tones being Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni. That is 22/7 = Pi

In Mathematics Pi relates to a circle. Music is also a circle, as the cycle of whole tones are separated in different frequencies. The formula used in Indian music to find the frequency of a given note or a microtone is derived from the formula which uses fractions.


Poona     X    Pram ana    X    Newna    X    Pram ana

256/245  X   81/80       X    26/25      X      81/80

This formula is being used since 4th century B.C. in the world of music, while Mathematics started using fractions invented by a Swiss mathematician only from 13 AD. When Pythagoras travelled in India, he happened to hear a raga raga (scale) called Devakanthari. This raga Devakanthari inspired Pythagoras to write the famous Pythagoras theorem using the frequency of the notes used by this raga.

The frequency of the Pythagorean scale (Raga) is as follows:

Sa      Ir       G a       Ma   Pa     Dha         Ni

1      9/8       81/65   4/3   3/2     27/16    243/128

This proves that Mathematics in a branch of music.

The famous ‘Srichakra’ a geometrical figure of triangles and semicircles, displayed in orthodox Hindu homes for prosperity, is still being drawn without the aid of mathematical tools but by free hand method. 102

slokas  set to the tune of 98 different ragas (4 ragas are repeated) is sung while drawing this ‘Srichakra’. Attracted by this method of drawing ‘Srichakra’, two French scientists fed the Shrichakra into the computer and tried to copy it, but without success. But, after thorough research they fed the tunes of those 102 slokas into the computer. To their great surprise, they found that the computer was able to draw the ‘Srichakra’. It may sound Quixotic yet it’s true!

This again proves that mathematics is a branch of music. Is it any wonder that the great teachers, Aristotle and Socrates, decided to teach music first before the students were taught the other subjects? How about following those great teachers for a change and make Maths more musical?

Even while learning Physics one cannot escape without learning ‘MUSICAL SOUND’. Physics deals with the three or four characteristics of musical sound – Loudness, Pitch, Quality and Timbre. It also deals with the transverse vibration of strings of all stringed instruments, and also the vibration of air columns in pipes and its overtones. In organ pipes, which are closed at one end, the different notes played have their frequencies in Physics the ratio of 1:3:5 ….. It also deals with the nodes and antinodes of open pipes like nadaswaram which has both ends open and how it plays different notes with frequency in the ratio of 1:2:3.

The Diatonic musical scale of western classical music has 8 keys and 7 intervals. In Physics the relative frequency of the diatonic musical scale is derived as follows

Sa          Ri      Ga     Ma      Pa       Dha          Ni            Sa

Relative        24         27     30       32      36       40          45             48


Intervals      27 = 9 30 =10 32 = 16 36 = 9 40 = 10 45 = 9 48 = 16

24    8    27   9    30    15  32    8  36     9    40    8  45    15

Major      Minor    Semi      Major    Minor     Major     Semi

tone       tone      tone      tone      tone       tone       tone

Noble Laureate Sir. C.V. Raman, a noted physicist made scientific discoveries through mirudangam – a percussion instrument, which has a place of pride in any Carnatic classical concert. A concert is incomplete without the mirudangam solo. Though Sir C. V. Raman had proved that according to the laws of Physics, the structure of the instrument should not produce musical tones. He was fascinated by the instrument and went onto make more such discoveries through the mirudangam.

Before moving further it would be better to know the structure of the mirudangam which is quite interesting. A mirudangam is made using a single block of wood either jackwood or redwood. In some cases the core of the coconut or palm trees are also used.

The right head which is smaller than the left is made of three concentric layers of skin. The innermost layer is not visible, the outer is called the “Meettu Thol” and the inner is called the “Chappu Thol”. The inner ring is made of sheep skin and the outer of calf skin. The centre of the right head has a permanent spot of black paste.

This black spot called the ‘Soru’ is a mixture of boiled rice, manganese and iron filings. From this black spot comes the special tone of the “mirudangam”, which is tuned to the tonic.

The left head called “thoppi” is made of two layers, the inner one is made of sheep skin and the outer one is made of buffalo skin. These two heads are stretched with the help of a leather cord which runs over the sides of the wooden body. Before playing, a thick paste of wheat and water is applied to the center of this head. This is done to lower or raise the pitch to produce a bass sound in the left head.

For one of his discoveries on this instrument Sir. C.V. Raman invited the great master Palghat Mani Iyer to the Raman Institute of Sciences, Bangalore. Sir. C.V. Raman conducted the experiment in a specially designed camera-fitted lab with perfect accoustics. While the mirudangam was played, the scientist studied the waves made on the surface of the water kept in a bowl near the instrument. This led the physicist to conclude that though the mirudangam should not produce musical sounds according to laws of physics, it has the unique feature of the harmonics produced while the instrument was played. The mystery of the mirudangam still shrouds the instrument.

In one of the temples of Tamil Nadu, is a pillar with a hole drilled though it. When blown from one end of the hole, the sound of a conch is produced and blown from the other end it produces the sound of a horn.

According to the laws of Physics two different tones of Quality and Timbre cannot be produced when blown from different ends of the same hole.

In short there is more to Physics in music than to music in Physics.

Science of elements and their laws of combination and change is defined as Chemistry. When two or more metals are fused together it gives an alloy. Likewise in music, when two or more notes are played together simultaneously it gives a chord (which means harmony), the essence of Western Music.

Music can generate heat as well as produce rain. Tansen a great musician was asked by King Akbar to serve him as a court musician. Soon Tansen’s fame spread far and wide. People who were jealous of him plotted against him and suggested to the Emperor that he should command Tansen to sing Deepak raga.

Deepak raga was one of the most difficult ragas to sing. When this raga is perfectly rendered it would generate much heat that not only lamps would be set to light but the singer himself would also burn to ashes.

Though Tansen pleaded that he would be set ablaze if he sung Deepak Raga, the emperor was not willing to listen. He asked Tansen to prove that he is the greatest singer of the land.

Though Tansen knew that singing Deepak raga was dangerous, he also knew that Megh Raga can bring down rain to save him from the fire. As he thought of how he could sing both the ragas simultaneously, he got an idea. “Why don’t I ask Rupa (a disciple  of Tansen’s master-Haridoss) to sing Megh raga for me?”, he thought.

So, with the permission of his master Tansen trained Rupa for 15 days as that was the time duration given by Akbar for preparation. Rupa perfected Megh Raga at the end of those 15 days.

On the day of his performance, Tansen began to sing Deepak Raga in front of a packed court room filled with people from far and near. As he sang, the atmosphere got warmer and warmer, leaves and flowers started to dry, birds flew away as they could not bear the heat, the lamps in the court lit up. As people started to flee from the court in fear, the rose which Akbar used to carry often in his hand dropped dead. Tansen was so absorbed in his singing, that he was not able to feel the heat in his body. His body was hot and feverish. As soon as Rupa saw Tansen in that condition, she was unable to start singing Megh Raga. Though she fumbled initially, she slowly started to sing Megh Raga. As she started to sing with confidence, the sky became darker with black clouds and rain began to pour. Soon everything returned to normal

The emperor though pleased was shocked at the thought of loosing a genius to the fire created by the singer’s own song.

This instance is one of many such instances which proves that music cancreate chemical mystery.

This mystery not only surrounds Chemistry but also Biology.

The biological pendulum oscillates to a specific rhythm, which may differ from species to species-whether it be  plants, birds or animals.

Every species from insects to elephants have their own musical scale of two or more notes. For example, the hum of a mosquito which has a unique scale of three notes in the chromatic order ( B C C#) invariably set to Rupaka Thala which is the ¾ time signature of western music. Even  though the croaking of a frog does not have a melody but its rhythmic structure is predominant.

Matanga (9th -10th Century AD) the earliest Indian writer to define raga says that, “Raga is that kind of sound composition consisting of melodic movements which has the effect of colouring the hearts of men.”

The neurons in our brain are hardwired for music-from the cradle to the grave, the more we use ‘em, the less we lose ‘em. –Robert Zatorre.

Without music, millions of brain nerves would become inactive, malnourished and underdeveloped. Music acts as a specialized fuel to fire millions of brain nerves. As the brain burns the musical fuel, it creates a sense of deep inner satisfaction and inner joy.

Recent studies of choir singers show higher level of this reaction immediately after their performance.

The normal pulse rate of a man is about 72 beats. When man listens to  music which has a pulse rate well above his normal pulse rate, research has proved that the listener’s pulse rate also shoots up or comes down according to the pulse rate of the music listened to.

Music has a profound influence on blood circulation through its pitch, intensity and timbre. It can also raise the pressure of blood which reaches the medulla oblongata and is relayed to the auditory nerve.

Music can increase metabolism, thus influencing muscular energy. Example:

songs sung while carrying heavy loads. Music also accelerates respiration. The volume also can have an influence on pulse and blood pressure.

Once while travelling in a cab, our driver was enjoying the soft melodious music and whistling the tune while driving. After a while I could feel our car mounting in speed. I wondered as to how the mood of the driver shifted. It was then that I realized that a fast paced number was played on the car radio. This shows how music can bring a biological change in emotion, pulse and pressure.

Research done at Annamalai University has proved that cows give more milk when they hear music constantly and plants yield more fruits when music is played regularly.

Ms. Ruth Bright, author of “Music in Genetic Care” writes that our earliest memories of music consciously or unconsciously are often a lullaby and our memories of responses to rhythmical stimuli may well be traced to prenatal life, where the whole existence of the foetus is dominated by the mother’s heart beat.

People of the past have used music considerably to heal the sick, as they were aware of the biological changes which happen in the human body in response to music.

In the Bible I Samuel 16:32 says “whenever the evil spirit was upon Saul, David took a harp and played with his hand, so Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him”

Arabs say that shepherds’ music thrives their flock of sheep.

Pythagoras used music to help his disciples to sleep and awake. He even calmed a drunken man through music.

Pluto thought that music was important for psychotherapy and education. Aristotle thought that music functions on emotional senses.

Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used music to cure human diseases.

In Egypt music was used to ease the pain of women in labour. The same is followed currently in a few French hospitals. Ibn Sing, a famous Arabic writer has written in detail on this subject.

Dr. Brunell has mentioned a manuscript named ‘Raga Chikistsa’ which deals with various ragas that can be used for the cure of various ailments.

Music is basically a sound which generates a particular vibration which moves through the medium of ether present in the atmosphere and effects the biological system of the human body. Sound can effect a cure, emotionally, physically, socially and intellectually too. So let music fill the air and let every single cell in our body vibrate to the tune of music.

Music is as old as History itself. It dates back to the beginning of the earth. The earliest musician as recorded in Genesis the first book of the Bible chapter 4 verse 21 “…he was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the lute and flute”.

Music has seen empires rise and fall. Historians even used the standard of music as a bench mark to determine the standard of civilization.

Music is civilization. It has developed through the weather of time and has become more complex and scientific.

Indian Music has its origin in the ‘Vedas’, which is considered the most sacred book, consisting of about thousand hymns. Though all the four Vedas- Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Adharvana Veda were passed down by oral tradition, it is amazing to note that both the ritual and the text remain unchanged since its inception, which dates back between 5,000 to 1,000 BC till today.

Vocal recitations during sacrifices are mentioned in the Yajur Veda which is mainly of sacrificial formulae. During this time the chants had evolved to two main tones with two accents forming the first concept of the “Tetra Chord”, using four notes.

Notation of a Tetra Chord of a chant

The foundation of Indian Music was laid down by ‘Sama Veda’, The origin of Indian classical music has its roots in this Veda. It was during this time that the other three notes of the first full scale of seven notes was added to the original tetra chord.

The Western classical music has its origin from the Gregorian Chants and developed further into full scales after the understanding of the importance of consonants. The sharp notes were then added to the original seven whole notes of the full scale, after finding the consonants. This was during the 13th century.

The 16th Century AD saw the musical genius in Beethoven, Mozart and Bach was built the nuances of Western classical music, as did Saint Thiagarya,

Muthuswami Dekshidhar and Shyama Sastri on Indian classical music and Thirunavukarasar, Appar, Thirugnana Sambandhar on Ancient Tamil Music.

As years passed, different styles of music evolved from the original classical music. But each style has retained its own colour and complexities according to the taste and civilization of that particular period. These different styles of music can help us identify the periods of its inception and usage.

Geography has been classified into five different regions in the Tamil epics. They are Kurinji (regions of mountains) Mullai – (Forests) Marudham- (fields) Neithal – (Sea) and Paalai – (desert) and its surroundings. This is a universal fact.

Each of the above said region has its own unique vegetation, This is reflected in its musical instruments and its music. The instruments used in a particular region is made from material easily available in that particular region. It may be wood, weeds, skin or metal. An in-depth study into the same has proven this.

KURINJI- the region of mountains and its surroundings has a thick vegetation of bamboo, pine trees and willows. That may be the reason for flutes being used more commonly in these regions. The shrill high musical notes produced by the flute gives a pleasing effect which suggests the topography of the region with lots of greenery, twittering of birds, gushing of  streams and the gentle wind.

China, a mountainous country, uses the flute quite often in its music. The notes F G A C D is predominant in its music. The Mohana Raga of South Indian Classical Music (raga means scale) uses the same intervals of notes used by its Chinese counter part.

Mullai – the region of forest and its surroundings has dense forests and wild animals. Thus the musical instruments used here has a ‘noisy’ timbre. Percussion instruments play a dominant role and the singing is in raspy or rough timbres, unlike in other regions.

Initially percussion was used to scare away wild animals from the area where people lived, slowly the percussion instruments took centre stage in the music of these regions.

The remarkable aspect of African music is its rhythm’ and its polyrhythmic complexities. Pitch polyphony also exists in the form of parallel intervals generally of thirds, fourths and fifths, overlapping choral and solo-choral response with occasional simultaneous independent melodies.

The same kind of or may be more complex rhythmic structures can be seen among the tribes who live in the thick hilly forests of Tamilnadu. The Baduga, Thoduva and Thodas use compound time signatures such as the 7/8 and the 5/8 in its music. Even without musical grounding , these tribes still handle these complex rhythm with ease.

Marudham is the area which consists of fields and its surroundings. Here the music is part of the day to day life of the people. These people use music for every occasion from birth to death.

This is the mainland of musical study and expertise as people from all walks of life from the king to the pauper live here. People here have developed the habit of living with music. So the air is filled with music no matter what the season. They sing songs for each and every type of work they do, from ploughing, sowing and harvesting to carrying heavy loads and teasing their counter parts or even while playing games as told in Silapadhikaram a 4th century BC musical treatise.

Neithal region is filled with boats and travellers and fishermen. The region comprises mainly of the sea and its adjoining areas.

Vocal music is mostly used with choral response from the others as the leader sings solo melody. The Choral response would be more rhythmic in the syllables Hoi Hoi ya  or Dhaiyarae Dhaiyara Dhaiya as it is sung overlapping the basic melody of the one sung by the leader.

The music of Japan, an island nation, use the tetra tonic scale of Hindholam Raga which uses the intervals as seen in A C D F G A, Here the fourth and the fifth of a melodic minor scale is not used. This scale creates the mood of the sea-side.

Paalai- consist of desert and its surrounding areas. Most of the music in these areas are based on the melodic minor of the western scale Keeravani Raga of the Indian scale. The instruments used here are mostly bowed and plucked string instruments which has a sort of muted tone of Youdh – a lute-like Arabian Instrument, whose strings are plucked with the back of the eagle’s feather. The bowed instrument also gives out a nasal like sound, picturising the solitude of the desert, where man is often alone or in small groups striving hard for survival.

This study shows that each region has developed its own style of music based on the mode created by the particular region. The musical instruments used in

these areas produce unique tone and timbre corresponding to the material used in the making of the instrument.

Even if the Santoor – a 100 stringed box like instrument made out of the pine tree of Kashmir is used in the hills. If the same instrument is played in the desert, it will still give the impression that the listener and the performer is in the hills at the moment of listening. This is the magic of music. This goes on to show that geography and music cannot be separated.

God created mankind to praise and worship Him through music and singing. The Bible also says so in Isaiah 43:21” the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” God loved music so much that He dwells within our praises. He has even taught a song to Moses and asked him to teach that song to the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 31: 19 to 30 – the BIBLE).

Though, initially music was used to reach God’s heart, the attitude of man towards music has now changed considerably. Instead of worshipping the One to be worshipped, people have started to worship the worship. The hymns and worship songs sung in churches are now being used as fund-raisers. The Indian classical concerts are also conducted periodically on the same commercial wave length.

People have started to listen to classical based Spiritual songs the way they listen to film songs and secular albums. Spiritual songs are rendered to help listeners reach God through active participation and not for the sheer pleasure of listening.

Even performers and worship leaders use music to touch the hearts of the people instead of God, the one and only One to be reached through music. Good music comes from the heart. Spiritual music is good, because it helps us reach God. There is a saying’, Tell me your friend I will tell your character,” I would say tell me the music you listen to, I will tell you your character. Good music develops good attitude, a good mind and in turn a good life with clean habits.

Jesus once said, ‘If you don’t call me these stones will call’

For ages, stones have been used to produce musical notes. The seven stone pillars which give the tones of the seven notes of a particular raga is one of the temples of Tamilnadu and the stone pillar which gives the sound of a conch and a horn from either ends of a hole on it and the Nagasuwaram, (a wind instrument) made from one piece of stone are some of the examples of stones calling out to God though the music they produce.

God orchestrates the whole universe, from the solar system to the tiniest of bacteria to a set rhythm. The flapping of the wings of an insect to the, migratory cycle of birds, to the blooming of a wild flower and to the mating of an elephant all these are set to a specific rhythm. The time interval may differ from 1/1000 of a second taken by an insect to flap its wings or a 4 year cycle which a specific species of butterfly follow for migration.

Most of the animals and birds sing to attract its mate. Imagine what would happen if they don’t sing. The whole ecological balance will go in disarray when the rhythm is not in time, because there would be no dating without music.

No dating- No reproduction.

This ecological disharmony may spell doom to the earth and mankind.

Let the whole world sing and play music for the glory of God, because music is from God. Let us use it for God.

Just as music is divine so is knowledge and wisdom. They all come from God. Why don’t we use music to bring back joy to the student community who are being deprived from the joy of learning in the field of academics?

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  1. A GREAT PAGE TO WHAT IS MUSIC?????????????

  2. I do not read blogs at all . But this is one of the best articles I’ve seen in a while . Written with sentiment and intellect .

    And finally comes out as an expansive tribute of Music towards God , through its relation with all that which has seemingly led us away from Him for quite a while.

    Thank you !

  3. Uncle, this post is akin to a research paper, which you shouldn’t be publishing here. Please send it to a good journal.

    I enjoyed reading this one,

    Joy and peace,

  4. I nEvER KnEw ThiS !!! mUsIc n AcAdAmIcs … wiSH ThIS rEaChES aLl :) superb one :)

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