How to play chords for Indian ragas – Chords from specific scale notes

We will use the second mode of melodic minor as an example exercise in finding chords from the scale notes for two reasons:

  1. The second mode of the melodic minor has a flat nine interval in it, which is present in many of the popular indian sounding ragas: Mayamalavagowla, Kamavardhani, Chakravakam etc.
  2. The melodic minor is a much used scale in modern jazz improvisation, that much authoritative study has been done on the scale for us to use with confidence.

We will look at the different minors to be clear about what notes and intervals they have. Then we look at the second mode and find the chords. Then we see how to apply this knowledge on other ragas and scales to form chords that represent the characteristics of the parent scale.

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Natural harmonic melodic

The three main minor scales we will encounter are the natural minor, harmonic minor and the melodic minor.

Comparing the minors with the major scale

  • C major scale: C D E F G A B C
  • C melodic minor: C D E♭ F G A B C
  • C harmonic minor: C D E♭ F G A♭ B C
  • C natural minor: C D E♭ F G A♭ B♭ C

Starting with the major scale, the three minor scales are got by flattening the appropriate notes:

  1. melodic minor:    flatten the 3rd
  2. harmonic minor: flatten the 3rd and 6th
  3. natural minor:      flatten the 3rd, 6th and 7th

Second mode of the melodic minor scale

The second mode of the melodic minor scale would start from the second note of the melodic minor scale.

C melodic minor: C D E♭ F G A B C

2nd mode will start from D, through the notes of the C melodic minor to the D one octave higher.

2nd mode of the C melodic minor: D E♭ F G A B C

Chords for the second mode


The notes (bottom to top):

  • B♭ note (played in two octaves)
  • C♭ – ♭9 note (minor 2nd interval)
  • E♭ – perfect 4th
  • G – major 6th
  • B♭ – root

These notes form the B♭ sus ♭9 chord.
The sus ♭9 chord comes as part of the second mode of the melodic minor scale.
B sus ♭9 chord is derived from the 2nd more of A melodic minor scale harmony. The second note of A melodic minor is B, from the where the 2nd mode of the scale starts.
The characteristic notes
The 3rd and 7th notes are the most important notes for most chords. But in the case of Sus ♭9 chords, the characteristic notes are the ♭9, 4th and 6th notes.

Playing the Chords for each of the 7 modes of the melodic minor scale and more

Chords for flat nine ragas

sus ♭9 raga

The sus ♭9 chord discussed above can be directly used for any raga or scale with:

  • ♭9 interval: R1 / small Ri
  • perfect 4th: Shuddha madhyamam / M1 / small Ma
  • major 6th: D2/ big Dha
  • any Ga, Ni because those notes are not used in the chord.

Try the chord, then listen to it and decide if the chord suits. Maybe the Ga and Ni of the specific raga you are trying may ask to be included in the chord to represent the characteristic sound of the raga. Try them

Sus♭9 with M2 instead of M1

If you have a raga with Prathimadhymam / sharp fourth/ M2 while all the other note remain the same as sus ♭9chord, then try shifting the perfect 4th note to a sharp fourth, listen to the resulting sound and decide if the chord suits the new raga. The chord will have the following intervals: root (Sa), ♭9(R1), #4(M2), Major6th (D2). The raga can have any Ga or Ni, put decide the final chord based on the sound.

Chord for Mayamalavagowla / Malahari

There are two ways we can apply chords on a raga

  1. exact scale notes only included in the chord
  2. triads and sevenths and other chords approximated to play over the raga.

Here since we are dealing with finding chords from the scale notes, we will talk about finding chords with only the scale notes of Mayamalavagowla.

C Mayamalavagowla: C D♭ E F G A♭ B C

By usual logic of finding obvious chords, we can take the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes: C E G B, which is the Cmajor7th chord.

C major seventh could be the chord for any major scale with a major 7th note, while the ♭9 and ♭6 of Mayamalavagowla gives it a distinct sound different from a major scale or lydian scale.

In order to find a chord for mayamalavagowla that truly represents the sound of the scale, try includiing the ♭9 interval to the chord. Start with the simple triad: C E G

Adding flat ninth

  1. to the major chord (C E G) gives C E G D♭. You can play the ♭9 instead of the root in one of the octaves. (Usually when you play a c major chord on guitar or keyboard instrument, you will double the root. to play the ♭9, just change one of the doubled roots to a note above.)
  2. to the major 7th chord (C E G B) gives C E G B D♭. On the guitar, playing all those notes maybe physically impossible, in which case you can actually omit the root, if there are other instruments playing or once you have sufficiently established the root or pitch of the song.

Try adding the ♭6th instead of the ♭9 to the triad and the major 7th. You may want to omit playing the 5th in this case, decide for yourself.

For a complete easy to grasp resource on understanding and using chords, starting from the basics, see The Chord Code


Take your favourite ragas. Using the process explained above, form basic chords, then try adding more characteristic notes to make the chord represent the sound of the parent raga you want to play it for.

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p.s. The title 'Natural Melodic Harmonic' reminds me of

  1. Tinker Tailor Soldier (spy)
  2. Blue sperm killer (whale)

Posted in Chords for Indian Ragas, compose arrange improvize, Indian Music
One comment on “How to play chords for Indian ragas – Chords from specific scale notes
  1. k rajaganapathy says:

    thank you sir,
    lot and lot of information i needed on chords when prqactising with carnatic songs in keyboard.
    thank you again

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