Resonating with Tradition: The Importance of Listening in Indian Classical Music

Listening is at the core of this tradition, as the student closely listens to the guru's demonstrations, improvisations, and explanations of various musical concepts.

Dr. Samidha Vedabala
Dr. Samidha Vedabala 678 Views
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Indian Classical Music transcends the boundaries of a mere musical genre; it embodies a hierarchical structure reminiscent of the social system. It is true that the music world is often dominated by a select few individuals. Initially, I found this hierarchical nature difficult to accept, and I believe many others share this sentiment, questioning the democratic ideals we hold. However, as I immersed myself in the world of music and embarked on my learning journey, I gradually grasped the essence of this hierarchy. The hierarchical structure in Indian Classical Music is a manifestation of the accumulated knowledge passed down through generations. It extends beyond individual expertise and encompasses the wisdom gained from experiences, teachings, and musical lineage. The knowledge possessed by a musician may not solely result from personal learning; rather, it is influenced by their upbringing, the musical environment called maahol, they were born into, and the tutelage they received. 

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In the realm of music, particularly in the context of Taalim (musical training), the significance of listening cannot be overstated. Prior to engaging in practical training, an aspiring musician must understand the profound relevance of listening to music. This notion finds support in the insights shared by Ustad Shahid Pervez Khan during his conversation on Loksabha TV, where he emphasized the crucial role of attentive listening in Indian music. Ustadji’s words shed light on the essence of the gharanedar tradition, where music is ingrained in a child’s upbringing from an early age. Through regular exposure to the sounds of music within their households, children unknowingly absorb the essence of the art form. This process lays a strong foundation within them, shaping their understanding of music even before formal training begins. The act of listening serves as a gateway to the world of music. It allows the learner to absorb and internalize the nuances of melody, rhythm, and expression. By actively engaging with diverse musical compositions and performances, aspiring musicians develop a keen ear, enabling them to discern intricate melodic patterns, rhythmic intricacies, and the emotional depth conveyed through the music. Listening also acts as a source of inspiration and learning. By immersing oneself in the masterful renditions of renowned musicians, learners gain exposure to a myriad of musical styles, improvisations, and interpretations. Through attentive listening, they acquire a sense of the vast repertoire of Indian classical music, enhancing their creative potential.

Moreover, listening fosters a deep sense of appreciation and respect for the art form. As learners immerse themselves in the beauty and intricacies of music, they develop an understanding of the heritage, culture, and tradition embedded within each composition. This reverence for the rich legacy of Indian music fuels their motivation to embark on the journey of Taalim with sincerity and dedication. Listening is of paramount importance in music. It is not only a fundamental skill for musicians but also a crucial aspect for anyone who appreciates and engages with music. 

In his insightful discussion, Ustadji shed light on the profound nature of true listening in the realm of music. He emphasized the importance of actively engaging with music, not merely as passive listeners, but as individuals who seek to understand and draw inspiration from what they hear. This form of deep listening goes beyond surface-level appreciation and opens doors to a transformative musical experience. Ustadji’s perspective on actual listening highlights the significance of delving into the nuances of music. It encourages listeners to move beyond a superficial understanding and embark on a journey of exploration, where each note, rhythm, and melody becomes an opportunity for profound connection and personal growth. By immersing themselves in the intricacies of the music, listeners can unlock its hidden layers and derive inspiration from the masterful expressions of the musicians. True listening requires attentive observation, introspection, and a receptive mindset. It involves not only hearing the sounds but also comprehending the emotions, intentions, and artistic choices embedded within the music. Through this active engagement, listeners can deepen their understanding of the art form and develop a heightened sensitivity to the subtleties and nuances that shape each musical composition. By embracing the practice of actual listening, listeners can derive inspiration from a wide range of sources. They can draw from the technical brilliance of renowned musicians, finding the motivation to refine their skills and strive for excellence. They can also tap into the emotional depth of the music, connecting with its profound expressions and allowing it to stir their own creative sensibilities. In essence, Ustadji’s emphasis on actual listening encourages us to transcend the role of passive spectators and become active participants in the musical experience. It reminds us of the immense value of immersing ourselves in music, seeking understanding, and drawing inspiration from every musical encounter. Through this form of engaged listening, we can embark on a transformative journey of personal and artistic growth, enriching our connection with the art form and nurturing a deeper appreciation for the beauty and power of music.

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By actively listening, one can identify and appreciate the nuances, patterns, and structures within a piece of music. A well-developed sense of musicality is crucial for musicians. By actively listening to a wide range of music, aspiring musicians can absorb different styles, genres, and techniques. This exposure helps in expanding their musical vocabulary, fostering creativity, and inspiring their own compositions or performances. For performers, listening is key to interpreting and expressing a musical piece accurately. By closely listening to a composition, musicians can grasp the intended emotions, dynamics, and phrasing. This understanding allows them to infuse their own interpretation and bring out the essence of the music in their performance. 

Listening is a primary tool for music analysis. Analyzing music involves studying the structure, form, harmonic progressions, and stylistic characteristics. By actively listening, one can analyze and dissect the different components of a composition, gaining insights into the composer’s techniques and intentions. Musicians who actively engage in listening exercises and develop a keen ear can better identify and reproduce musical patterns, improvise, and play by ear. Listening to music is a source of immense pleasure and emotional connection. 

In the end, we can say, listening holds a special significance and plays a crucial role in various aspects of this rich musical tradition. Indian music has a strong oral tradition, and learning typically takes place in a one-on-one setting between a guru (teacher) and shishya (student). Listening is at the core of this tradition, as the student closely listens to the guru’s demonstrations, improvisations, and explanations of various musical concepts. The student’s ability to keenly listen and absorb the guru’s teachings is essential for a comprehensive musical education. Raga, the melodic framework of Indian classical music, is a central concept. Listening plays a vital role in recognizing and understanding different ragas. By listening attentively to performances by skilled musicians, students, and enthusiasts can develop an intuitive sense of the unique melodic characteristics, ornamentation, and mood associated with each raga. Improvisation is a key element in Indian classical music, allowing musicians to explore and express their creativity within the framework of a raga. Listening to accomplished performers is crucial for aspiring musicians to learn and internalize the intricate melodic patterns, rhythmic variations, and emotional nuances that define improvisation in Indian music. Indian music places great emphasis on rhythm, and listening is vital for understanding and internalizing complex rhythmic patterns. 

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ସୀତାରର କଳାକାର, ଅଧ୍ୟାପିକା (ସଙ୍ଗୀତ ବିଭାଗ, ସିକିମ୍ ବିଶ୍ୱବିଦ୍ୟାଳୟ) Samidha Vedabala (Ph.D., Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata), a performer and researcher of Indian Classical Music, Sitar. She has been working as an assistant professor of music in the Department of Music at Sikkim University since 2011. Along with performance in music, she is actively involved in academic research in Indian music. She has published two books and many academic journals. Her professional and academic association with Sitar inspires her to continue writing on the instrument and its various aspects. Her book titled "Sitar Music: The Dynamics of Structure and Its Playing Techniques" is one of them. Her work has been the source of information for one of the documentaries on Sitar in the UK. She has also attended many national and international seminars on sitar music. As a writer, Dr. Samidha has been associated with Samadhwani for over a decade.