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Making of an Alaap

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Making of an Alaap

Prof. Surinder Singh

The purpose of including an alaap in a composition is for the singer to set the scene for the composition itself. In order to tell a story, the storyteller is required to set the scene for the listener, the point being to engage the listener emotionally and mentally to listen to their story. The alaap also serves this purpose; to prepare the listener to receive the emotions and the story from the singer. Suspense is also being built up through the alaap for the listener.

In order to create an Alaap it is essential to distinguish what Raag is to be performed. Every Raag is unique and has its own characteristics. First of all it is crucial to know which notes are allowed to be used:

Aroh – ascending notes

Avroh – descending notes

Next its important to get the five key notes:

Vadi – 1st

Samvadi – 2nd

Niyas – 3rd

Anuvadi – 4th

Vivadi – 5th & note to be aware of

(Listed in-order of precedence)

In all Alaap compositions, SA(Madh Saptak) considered a very important note and therefore must be established reasonably quickly. SA can’t be directly established and has to be approached from either the vadi or samvadi or niyas or anuvadi, provided that it is not past SA and it is also close to SA. Not forgetting precedence is to be given to the more important note but never starting from vivadi. So the note from where the Alaap is to start up to SA, is considered the Initial Range.

The vivadi is also an important note that must be used but too much emphasis on this note will change the Raag. Only the notes in the Initial Range before SA are to be used in an array of combinations and only pausing on the first four important notes (provided they are in the Initial Range). A suspense(s) is to be created and then finally approaching SA. Thus SA has been established again the SA is to be established quite quickly.

The next note to be approached and established is either the vadi, samvadi, niyas & anuvadi depending on which is closest to SA up the Madh Saptak. Now the Alaap is in full blow and the performer can spend as long as the performer likes in creating the suspense, before establishing the note. This way, another important note up the Saptak is established; therefore all four notes are established in the Mandhir Saptak. The same is repeated in the Tar Saptak.

This process of establishing the important notes and thus revealing the Raag step by step is known as a Barat. Finally the Alaap must end on the most important note in all Raags, that is the Madh Saptak SA. Thus the Alaap is complete and the composition in this case a Shabad is then performed.

Raag Gauri Purbi example:

The Indian music scale consists of three octaves: Mandar (low), Madh (middle) and Tar (high) saptak. The notes are divided into three categories: Shuda (normal), komal (flat) and tivra. Raag Gauri Purbi consists of two komal notes (R and D), and tivra and shuddha M. Within this raag, there are four key notes; the first most important is R (Wadi), the second most important is P (Samwadi), the third most important is N (Niyaas) and the fourth most important is S (Anuwadi). There is an additional fifth note known as the viwadhi, which in this case is the D. This note is used in balance within the raag itself. Too much or too little emphasis upon this note can change the entire raag. Therefore, it is vital to be careful about the use of this note.

The scale for Raag Gauri Purbi is below (from low to high scale):


In order to compose an alaap for this raag, it is crucial to initially establish the S. The closest most important note to S in this raag is P (second most important note closest to S, lower octave). Therefore, in order to establish the S, the singer would normally start from P (lower octave) and work their way up to S using a variety of combinations with the notes in between (see diagram box 1).

Once the S has been established, the singer is then required to establish the first, second, third and fourth important notes respectively. For example, in order to establish R, the singer can use all the relevant notes from P (lower octave) to R (middle octave). Similarly, the singer would work their way up the scale using a variety of relevant notes and combinations to establish the rest of the important notes (see diagram boxes 2 – 4).

Once the full alaap has been established, the singer can then proceed to telling the story through the Shabad.

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