A teacher’s guide to “Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy”

So let’s take a look inside the book “Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy”: Contents page; the scales used (one scale for each raag in the book – each raag uses a different scale); the introduction; the structure of each raag – so this outlines the different parts of each raag, and roughly what you are doing in them; and then we move to the sheet music in the book. There are six raags, each raag is presented on a double page (so there’s no
page turning) and they are presented essentially in order of difficulty. The
first three raags each have three different versions going from ‘really easy’, ‘easy’ and then ‘quite easy’ or ‘not so easy’. The first page of the ‘really easy’ raags is suitable for near beginners, and then the second page of the ‘really easy’ raags is probably suitable for about the grade one kind of area. So we’ve got “Really Easy Raag Latangi”; a slightly harder version of that called “Easy Raag Latangi”; and then “Quite Easy Raag Latangi” – so this one
has got some ornaments (some grace notes, some acciaccaturas), and it’s got some shorter note values as well. Then comes “2a. Really Easy Raag Madhuvanti”; “2b. Easy Raag Madhuvanti”; “2c. Quite Easy Raag Madhuvanti”‘, then raag 3 – “Really Easy Raag Todi”; “3b. Easy Raag Todi”; and “3c. Not So Easy Raag Todi” – this one gets a little bit harder than
some of the others so far. Then “4. Easy Raag Vachaspati” – this one’s a little bit faster. Five is “Quite Easy Raag Patdeep”, and then again a less easy one – this
is “Slightly Less Easy Raag Desh” – so this one is probably around grade 4 kind of
standard, so you need to have been playing for some little time before you’d be able to get your fingers round that one. The structure of each raag in the
book is a double-page spread. On the left hand side we’ve got the alaap, and on the
right hand side we’ve got the gat. Now the alaap page is free pulse, slow, gentle, the sustain pedal is held down all the way through, and for the ‘really easy’ versions and the ‘easy’
versions it’s never both hands playing at once – it’s always left hand then right
hand, left hand then right hand, left hand then right hand – so there’s no pressure to coordinate the hands in that sense for the ‘really easy’ and the ‘easy’
versions. The right hand page has got a pulse – a fixed pulse – they’re all in four-four in this book, and these are increasingly difficult as
we go through the book. So let’s have a look at how you would actually start using
this with a near-beginner. Teaching these raags will probably require a slightly
different approach to a lot of other things that you may be teaching near-beginners. A lot of teaching obviously you start with the thumbs on C, and have
your hands there, and either learn by reading or possibly by rote; and some teachers will
like to move the hands more frequently early on in playing, a lot of teachers will like to keep the hands fairly static for the first few weeks/months of learning. This is going to take a slightly
different approach. So the first thing we do is we put down the sustain pedal and that’s held down throughout the whole piece. The first gesture is playing all of the key notes – so in this case it’s a C – so you can use that as a bit of a game with younger players –
finding all the Cs. The next gesture are four drone notes – now
these keep on getting repeated – this is what’s being played by the left hand. Now
it does NOT need to be in time – it actively needs not to be in time –
so it should feel quite haphazard. Now if you think, “Well, actually my student is probably going to struggle to find those notes”, you could use a bit of sticky tape, or a bit of post-it notes – it’s fine for them to do this with one finger – and then take that in turns with the right hand – or you might think, “Well, actually I’ll just play that bit for the moment for them.” The next gesture is this descending scale – and they’ll need to play this quite quickly – as fast as they can – and then any high C – so, look, find a C – there or there… and there we go. Then the melody section really begins; and the left and the right hand alternate all the time. So we’ve got the same four drone notes, and then the right hand notes: now in this
case we’re starting with C and D – we’ve got the notes of the scale that’s being used
up here, and so this can be quite a nice way of getting the student to begin to
just find those notes – the first time they look at this just finding those notes. Now if they do this one finger, that’s okay
(for this)! … and they can repeat little bits if they go wrong it’s absolutely fine – they can repeat bits whether they go wrong or not. The next little section… and then keep it going… And all the time that they are doing this, you can guide them through that, you help them with the notes, and because the timing doesn’t
matter in the sense of it mustn’t be in a strict time, you’ve got freedom to find the notes and use them in an exploratory way. So I’m working my way all the way through down to the bottom, and when you have reached the end of
there, you can repeat little bits as many times you want, you can change the order;
but when you get to there and you’ve finished, then we end with this little
descending cascade gesture that we found up here – the really fast [D C B Ab G]… Now your student might like do that with two hands or they might even do that with one finger, but you can encourage them to try and do that as fast as possible. You could have a little race with them maybe, a little game to get that as fast as possible. The gat section (which is the page on the right of each double-page spread): this is in time, it’s got a rigid tempo (unlike the alaap which had a free pulse) – this has got a rigid pulse I’ve given guideline metronome marks/speeds but obviously you can take them whatever speed is suitable, and the left hand part for the ‘really easy’ versions is really easy – it’s a four note pattern that is repeated all the way through. Now you may feel for your student actually it’ll be easier for you the teacher to play that for them initially while they have a go at the right hand part. It depends on the level of your student, obviously – they may be able to have a go at that both hands together more quickly. Once you’ve played through that gat section we get a section here where we’ve just got the left hand part, and the right hand part has got no notes there:
and the suggestion here is that you work your way through the alaap music again, but with that fixed pulse underneath, with this ostinato pattern underneath… …and so on, working your way through that pattern. And that can be quite a fun thing to do, because there’s no risk of going wrong – it doesn’t matter if you go wrong at any point – but we’re just trying to have a go at using those notes in rhythm. The student will come up with their own rhythms, but the notes are given, so they can decide to go through in order bar by bar by bar, or they can decide to mix and match – it doesn’t matter – but it’s a way of exploring and coming up with your own little melody by
using their own rhythms and using those notes, but not necessarily in that order. The raag ends with the ‘Ending gestures’, so we’ve got a short pattern that’s played three times, followed by the descending little cascade that’s marked ‘really fast’, and then any high C and any low C. The pedal’s held down through all of that, and that’s the way that the piece ends.

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