Mahaganapatim – How to play Indian Classical Carnatic Lead on Guitar – Raga Nattai

The fretboard environment

1. Nattai – C to C – 3rd to 1st string – within 4 frets


2. Raga Nattai – C root – all notes – 1st and 2nd string – open to 11th fret


This 'wide' fretboard of Nattai is important because it lets us include slides and hammer-on / pull-offs necessary to play phrases that cover 4 or 5 notes without syllables, and therefore no striking. (Syllables get the strike. The rest of the phrase is played with hammer ons, pull-offs and slides on the same string.)

Two long phrases

Mahaganapathim Manasa Smarami – a long improvisation


Mahadevasutham (2nd stanza) – long phrase


The tab and notation were made using Tuxguitar – free notation and tab software, screenshot taken and then edited and text added with Photoshop.

Playing the swaras vs Playing the song (lyrics/sahityam)

The swaras of the song can be played using any fret and string that has the particular swaras to be played. Look at the pictures in the beginning to find out the swara positions, play the swaras needed for the phrase.

But when we play the lyrics, we need to make sure that we hit the string only on a consonant and not on vowels or any extensions.

Mahadevasutham as shown above are sung or played using the swaras 'Sa ni pa ma ri sa ga ma pa ni pa ni sa sa'.

When playing mahadevasutham, we need to strike the string only on those swaras which match in place with the the consonants 'Ma', 'ha', 'de', 'va''su',and 'tham'. All the remaining swaras should be played using hammer-on, pull-off and slides. This is an important consideration to be made, which will help us decide the position of the notes on the guitar. 

The notes should be played on the guitar so that we can strike the consonant and be able to play the remaining of the phrase without having to hit the string, till the next consonant.

The tabs shown above have notes arranged on the strings in a way that allows playing sahityam or lyrics properly without having to strike extra notes.

Videos of Mahaganapathim on Guitar

Mahaganapathim 03 (right click and save as)

Mahadevasutham 03 (right click and save as)

The above two links has videos that shows playing an improvisation of Mahaganapatim (same as in the first tab picture) and Mahadevasutham (2nd tab picture). Notice that strikes on the strings are made only where consonants are present on the lyrics, while the remaining parts are played using slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs.

Notes for carnatic songs are available freely on the internet. Try working out fingering possibilities on the guitar that allows sounding the lyrics in a way that only the consonants are played with a strike while the remaining saahityam (lyrics) is played in a flowing motion using slides, hammer ons and pull offs.

Interested in playing Carnatic on the guitar?

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