Learn to play Carnatic Indian Classical on Guitar (Acoustic / Electric)

In the above video, watch Indian Classical song Alaipayuthey played on an Acoustic guitar, without any effects or edits, as recorded on a point and shoot camera using the camera mic.

Want to play Carnatic on the guitar but can’t find something easy enough to start with? Don’t know where to start? The finger and hand movements on the Carnatic guitar videos you see are too fast to follow? Need something simple enough to understand? We will be playing Carnatic on a standard tuned guitar – acoustic guitar will do. The basics of playing carnatic on guitar are explained in the song videos, so that you can start with them without having to learn any other basic lessons. 

Hand and finger movements to play Indian classical on the guitar

The video below shows an adaptation of Thillana in Dhanshri on the guitar. Playing this song on the guitar involves a mix of vertical and horizontal movements on the fretboard, little finger usage, hammer ons, pull offs and slides. (See below for the link to buy detailed instruction videos for this Thillana) To play carnatic on the guitar, you want to learn the basic hand and finger movements associated with Carnatic playing. The different kinds of slurs and hammer on pull-offs along with slides give the carnatic sound.

When starting out it is a vertical skill growth, but once your muscles and brain are used to the underlying movements, further carnatic playing on guitar will be more of a horizontal plane repertoire making. Here is some learning material which will help you start and guide you in the right direction helping  you form the right habits?

What is included?

  • Detailed videos – Each consonant and vowel is explained – that is the level of detail we will get into. For example if we are playing a phrase with the word ‘Aananda’, I will show you which finger/string/fret to use for each of the three part of the word, ‘Aa’ ‘Na’ and ‘Nda’.
  • Part by part The videos can be downloaded in pieces, as parts, most often phrase by phrase. In reality, this is how we will be practicing it, even when learning from a teacher face to face: phrase by phrase. You may download all the parts at the same time, but choose to focus and build your skill in manageable phases.
  • While showing you how to play a syllable, word, phrase – wherever needed I have sung the part while playing, so that you can sync the words with what we play on the guitar. No, you don’t need to sing – we just use the words over the guitar playing, so that you know exactly what we are playing, and connect the guitar with the words and melody.
  • We are trying to imitate a vocalist. How the song can be ‘sung on a guitar’. We use slides, hammer ons and pull offs to do this. Each technique used is explained with the string/fret/finger spelled out.
  • How long is the video? As mentioned before, we give attention to detail – each syllable and finger movement is explained to the needed micro level. Length, therefore is just a resultant parameter. The videos are as long as it is needed to explain the details to you.
  • Basic video to start playing slides, hammer ons and pull offs included.
  • Played in time videos Along with the explanation videos, we have the phrase or song played in real time, which shows you how it is meant to sound finally, so that you have a clear final result to practice for – a guide to combining the parts to make the whole.

Beginner to Guitar?

Try out the Beginner Videos towards the bottom of this page, to get you started.

How will these Video tutorials help you learn Indian classical?

The videos show you how to play the song on the guitar, part by part, slowed down, with detailed instruction.

Any carnatic phrase in the videos can be seen as combination of slides, hammer ons and pull offs. These videos can be used by someone new to carnatic playing. The content in this videos will serve as basic lessons on playing carnatic, because each phrase is slowed down and dissected into their component slides, hammer ons and pull offs.

The Alaipayuthe video, for example, starts with simple slides, hammer ons and pull offs. How to play each, is shown clearly including the fingers and technique. This makes the videos good for beginners without having the need to go through any basic lessons on the techniques used to play Carnatic on guitar.

The videos are shown playing the melody on acoustic guitar. You don’t need an electric guitar or effects to play what is taught in the videos. Phrases are split to easy to digest pieces. Each phrase is slowed down. Whenever needed, the moves are explained in terms of string/fret, hammer on, pull off or slides used to produce the characteristic Indian classical sound. You can get each full course for $38 at the moment. 4 hours of class with a good tutor will cost you much more than the price of this bundle. Each video course listed in this page is easily more than 8 hours of class with a very good teacher who is thorough with the path that will lead you to the satisfying experience as a Carnatic Guitar Musician. The videos help you start with playing carnatic on the guitar, and by the end you will actually have a song ready to perform. You can keep coming back to the video and correct your speed and phrasing without depending on a tutor. Best thing is, the course is accessible immediately, for you to start now without any delay.

The playing can be split into basic hammer ons, pull offs and slides, which when stringed together forms the song. Each phrase and move is explained in the video tutorials.

Do I need carnatic training or knowledge to use these videos?

The videos explain clearly which fret or string to play on, dividing the song into small manageable bits of phrase. You may listen and get familiar with the song you wish to play, but you don’t have to know the Carnatic aspects of the song, because the videos show you the practical details on how to make the melody on the guitar. As you practice the videos you may start understanding swaras and the patterns they form on the fretboard.

Basics of playing Carnatic on Guitar?

Any Indian classical phrase is made of Slides, hammer ons and pull offs. As you get better with slides, hammer ons and pull offs, your Indian classical on guitar playing gets better too. You can practice the slides, hammer ons and pull offs. You can practice them as part of a song. So that, you get to practice the basics and by the time you are done, you are playing a song, a complete composition, which serves as a benchmark or assessing tool for your growth in playing, at the same time a final product you can perform for yourself or for an audience. These videos break down the compositions to phrases, phrases to its component notes, fingering, frets – strings, hammer – ons, slides and pull offs. So, yes, you don’t need any other basic instruction to start playing Carnatic. These videos show you the basic most elements and how to execute them. Then, when they are sequenced together, you get the satisfaction of playing a complete song.

Using standard tuning for Indian classical

We will be using the usual standard tuning for the guitar, and won’t be changing the tuning. The same usual guitar tuning will be enough for us to play carnatic. Guitar is used the world over to play widely different kind of music. Extremely long phrases, fast phrases, long interval phrases – all have been played on the guitar – paganini melodies, Malmsteen and other masters… The standard tuning is about how the notes on the strings are arranged on the instrument, for convenience of playing music on the instrument. When vertically moving between the strings, the standard tuning offers a convenient, compact arrangement of notes between the frets. When playing carnatic, or imitating any vocal based music, we hit on a consonant in the given phrase, play the remaining elaboration (aa or ee or oo extension after the consonant) on the same string, without hit, while sustaining the sound by using slides, hammer ons, pull offs. Keeping the Carnatic or classical nature of the music is achieved by playing elaborations between consonants on the same string, starting with a hit on a consonant. You will understand this better when you start working with the videos. Using chords along with playing Carnatic, is possible since we use standard tuning. The vast expertise of western harmony can be applied immediately to Carnatic or Indian classical when we use a standard tuned guitar to play Indian classical or Carnatic.

Video and audio quality

Example instruction video is given for each song. See links below, click on the link to go to the respective song’s section.

These video lessons have been used by many to learn, so it definitely works. But, i would still like to leave the decision to you, respecting your personal choice and needs – the zoom, view of the fingers, strings, frets, etc.

Download and watch the example videos. Try them. Please make sure that you are able to use them for your needs, and only then, buy.

How do we make sure that the learning is not overwhelming?

The videos are cut into small pieces so that you can download just one at a time, practice it from your computer, get a good grip on it and then move on to the rest. The part by part approach leaves you from being overwhelmed by what you have to do and helps you concentrate on what is doable now.

Playing Carnatic on the Guitar – the Bigger Picture

When you are just starting out to play the horizontal movements, slides from say, the first string 7th to the first string 3rd fret, your hand may find it difficult to stop at the right fret. Similarly when doing a slide from the left to the right, you may stop short the first few times, the movement over the frets maybe too obvious or you may overshoot and go to the fret further from where you are supposed to stop. In my experience, there is very obvious muscle movement learning that happens with time. Similar to the ‘whip’ that Bruce Lee used to talk about, the ability to touch a far note and come back and then maybe execute one more short slide to the right. It is fun. The finger tips will hurt in the beginning, but then that is the pain that precedes satisfaction. The videos includes detailed slurs, slides, hammer-on, pull-off combinations that will make you practice the right movements that will help you continue with carnatic playing. You get immediate access to phrase by phrase videos showing each phrase played along with the fret and string numbers spelled out – this helps a lot when starting to play. 

Choose your songs

You can start with any of the following songs. But if you want a suggestion of just one, start with Alaipayuthey, since it is very melodic, made popular by ARRahman, has basic moves explained in detail.
Each of them have clear instructions that will show you how to play them on the guitar fretboard. Additionally, if you need any extra material to help you with the learning process, just write to me and I will be happy to send you the instruction and include it along with the other learning material.

Varaveena – Raga Mohanam Geetham on Guitar

On this site, we have discussed the Mohanam Geetham and the basics of how to start playing it on the guitar by understanding the gamakas involved for each swara and phrase.

Here is a video where I play it on an acoustic guitar with no effects or edit, directly to the camera mic.

The instruction video to play the geetham shows the movements step by step, slow and with narration on which string and frets are used for each part of the geetham.

The geetham is explained using the swaras and also how it is played when the Saahithyam is sung (the saahithyam version needs to include at places, more than one swara in a single hit, played using slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs.).

Buy the detailed instruction video for $6.95:

Alaipayuthe Kanna on Guitar – Complete Video Tutorials

Click on the button below to gain immediate access to downloadable videos with complete step by step instruction on how to play Alaipayuthe Kanna (Raga Kanada) for $38.

Example video: Anandamogana venuganamathil Right click and save as

If you are buying from within India, please write to me using the contact form to proceed with the payment and to get the download links.

(When you click on the button, you are taken to Paypal, a trusted online payment service provider. Your financial information is not shown to me or a third party. It is safe.)

Mahaganapatim Manasa Smarami (Raga Nattai) – Complete Video Tutorial

Example Instruction Video: Download Video (The full video is on this page, or here.)

Click on the button below to gain access to video tutorials explaining to you how to play Mahaganapatim on the guitar, for $38.

If you are buying from within India, please write to me using the contact form to proceed with the payment and to get the download links.

Thillana in Raga Dhanshri (Geethadhu) by Sri Swathi Thirunal – Complete Video Tutorial

Tillana by Swathi Thirunal, Example instruction video: Padumanabha 01(Right click and save as).

Click on the button below to gain access to video tutorials explaining to you how to play Dhanshri Tillana on the guitar, for $38.

If you are buying from within India, please write to me using the contact form to proceed with the payment and to get the download links.


Till date no one has ever asked for a return for these videos, probably because the description and example videos clearly guide the learner/buyer. Maybe that is a better guarantee than offer for return and refund.

Please watch the example provided on this page, which clearly show you what you get in the lesson bundles. Watch them, decide and get the full lesson bundles.

If still for some reason you would like a refund, let me know within 60 days and you will get the refund of the amount you paid minus the Paypal charges. (Refund from Indian paypal accounts are possible only within 24 hours. Anything after that, I will be able to do only a paypal payment to you, for which paypal takes charges).

Write to me

Please write to me using the contact form below, in case you have anything to ask.

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Beginner Videos

The Very Basics

Three videos that can help you start with guitar. These are unedited videos, with important concepts mentioned repeatedly so that the listener is reminded of it.

Raga Guitar Mastery Begins

  1. Raga Guitar Mastery Begins – Starting to connect notes using simple slides, Hammer ons, Pull offs
  2. Raga Guitar Mastery Begins | C major scale to the most basic Carnatic Raga mayamalavagowla

C major scale to Alai

How to start with the C major scale, basic lesson, and practise to easily start playing carnatic slides. Download Video

Start playing Slides

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