"Shruthi Maatha Layam Pitha" is a well-known adage in the world of music. Indeed that is very true! Sound without shruthi or laya cannot be called music. In this post, we'll get introduced to the mother of music. We have already touched the definition of Shruthi in my previous post: http://www.brahminsnet.com/forums/showthread.php/3946-The-basis-of-music-is-quot-nadha-quot. Here we'll look at it in more detail.

Shruthi (
தொடரொலி or "Sur"(Hindustani) or "Scale"(Western)) is simply a sound level forming the basement on which the palace called "sangeetham" is built. In any form of singing, a singer starts to sing only after listening to the Shruthi. This gives the reference point of the first note "Sa", based on which the sound levels of other 6 notes/swaras are ascertained by the singer. In Indian music, shruthi is often the continuous sounding of the Prakruthi Swaras "Sa" and "Pa" as they remain constant for any raga.

There are totally 12 levels of Shruthi or Pitch (
தமிழில் "கட்டை"), each corresponding to a "swarasthana". Notation: They are numbered from 1 to 7 in steps of 0.5. General pitch levels for male voice are 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4 and for female voice - 4.5, 5, 5.5, 6, 6.5, 7. Note that there is no 3.5 kattai in practice. After 3 the next sound level occurs at 4. I'm not sure why it is numbered so. However, a shruthi level of 3.5 is possible by setting between the sound levels of 3 and 4. Even +/- 0.25 shruthi fine tuning is possible between the existing pitches but the sounds will not be much different compared to the closest shruthi for a discerning listener and it is generally not required.

Legendary vocalist D.K.Pattammal used to sing in 4 kattai (as a child I used to think it is a male voice until I came to know about the singer). Some of the currently popular artists including the vocalist duo Ranjani-Gayathri have a normal shruthi of 6 kattai. In male singers, the most prevalent range is 1.5 or 2 kattai. Mainstream Musical Instruments like Veena are normally set to 3 kattai.

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It is important that a singer chooses a shruthi that he/she is comfortable traversing at least 3 octaves, as many krithis and ragas are rendered in thri-sthayi. Another important factor is developing the ability to precisely ascertain the sound levels of the sapta-swaras with reference to the shruthi. So to become a good singer, one must be a good listener in the first place. To cultivate this ability, one must always practice singing alongside listening to the shruthi and under the guidance of a master who can correct the mistakes in the swara levels. With practice and t
hrough lot of listening, we can gauge if one's singing is adhering to shruthi or not, and also identify the pitch from just the singer's voice (without the aid of a shruthi setting instrument).

Tampura and Shruthi box are the widely used instruments for setting shruthi. The most common type of setting is called "Panchama shruthi" where "Panchama-Sadja" combination is considered as the base. There are 2 more types of advanced settings which are used less frequently and while singing specific ragas and types of songs. More about it as we progress to the advanced stage.

To experience and experiment with the different levels of shruthi, you can download a free software called Your Tanpura from the url: http://www.yourtanpura.co.nr/ . There is option for fine tuning upto +/-1 level in this software. Try it out and keep listening to music

Please let me know if you have any questions on this topic.