To play a Carnatic song on a western instrument or to understand the melody using western concepts, it is useful to know the scale from which the raga is derived. Further, the knowledge of the scale is useful while harmonizing the raga, to find what chords to play over the Indian classical melody. A way to find the parent raga from the specific janya raga of a song, makes it easy for you especially because the number of janya ragas is so huge.

Raga, Tala (meter) and the composer's name are usually found along with the name of the song. Look for the Raga mentioned in the details of the song.

The raga associated with the song could be a janya raga, which is a version or derivative of a Melakarta raga. Melakarta raga will have all the 7 scale notes. It is good to know the melakarta raga of the janya when trying to identify the scale notes, and trying to play the raga or scale on an instrument

Open the wikipedia list of Janya ragas. Search the raga name. If the full word is not found, search a part of the raga name which does not have vowels.

The wikipedia list can have the names written slightly different and has names written using 'ā'.

For example Kanakāmbari:

  1. Open the wikipedia list of janya ragas page
  2. Press Ctrl + F. This is standard short cut to open the search box
  3. Searching 'kanakambari' will not return any result because of the ā. Search for 'mbari' or 'kanak' till you get Kanakambari and its associated swaras.
  4. Now look on top of the raga name to see the Melakarta raga written in bold. In the case of Kanakāmbari, the melakarta raga is Kanakāngi. Kanakāmbari is derived from Kanakāngi. Kanakāmbari does not have all the notes of Kanakāngi when ascending, but has all the notes when descending.

(You could try the following lists to avoid the 'ā' trouble. These pages have a built in search box too. https://www.karnatik.com/janyalist.shtml https://www.karnatik.com/janyalist2.shtml. Thank you Rani, for the help.)

And, here is our own Indian ragas on guitar and keyboard app at ragalicious, which is made to help you find out note positions of Indian ragas on the guitar fretboard or keyboard. 

Example: Scale of Entharo Mahanubhavulu

Search on the internet for Entharo Mahanubhavulu.

You will find that the raga is Shree.

Open the wikipedia list of Janya ragas.

Press ctrl + F to open the search box.

Enter 'shree' into the search box. Hit enter till you get to the name shree. There are other ragas which have 'shree' as part of the name, but what we are looking for is the raga which has the name Shree with no additions to it.

We will find Shree under Kharaharapriya, the 22nd melakarta raga.

Kharaharapriya, Dorian and chords for raga

Why do we want to find the scale of a song? It maybe easier to find chords for a raga if you find the scales.

Raaga Kharaharapriya has the same scale notes as Dorian scale, which has just one note different from the natural minor scale (natabhairavi). Dorian has a major 6th (big Dha) while Natural minor / Aeolian has a minor 6th note (small Dha).

D dorian has the notes D E F G A B C D. No flats, no sharps.

C D E F G A B C is the C major scale, and has the same notes as the D dorian scale. Dorian is in fact the second mode of major scale. We can use the same chords of C major scale on D Dorian. The diatonic chords of the C major scale are 'safe' to use on D Dorian scale since they have the same notes.

This means that C major scale chords can be used on Kharaharapriya starting from the note D (when D is taken as the Sa. Pitch 2). This is a good starting point.

The fifth chord's major and dominant

Since fifth chord of D is A, you may want to try using A major chord (and its seventh chord) also along with the Am chord which is already a diatonic chord of the C major scale. The fifth major or seventh chord moving to D minor chord will give the perfect cadence. This effect won't be achieved by the A minor chord.

Next time you come across a carnatic song, search on the internet, find the raga, and use the above procedure to make life simpler.

Interested in playing Carnatic on the guitar? Here is an easy to follow detailed video guide for you to start with.

Study chords? The chord code

Indian guitar, carnatic, rhythm and chords, finding chords, playing by ear etc(Click to see)
Free resources at musicianself.com/rlo