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.

For the continuity of the phrase, and so that the hits are only on consonants and not any vowel, it is usually needed that we play the whole phrase between two consonants (and hence the next hit), on the same string.

The tuning between the strings does not have any impact when we play a phrase completely on one string, thereby not losing any of the classical character of it. Then, when we want to play a whole song or connect phrases, where to play the next hit for the next consonant, matters. It could be on the same string that we played the previous phrase or we may want to switch strings. Now, the tuning comes into picture. 

Standard tuning keeps same notes between two adjacent strings atleast within 7 frets. We just have to choose which string to play. As long as the carnatic style of the phrases are kept intact, the tuning between the strings is a matter of convenience, choice, on the specific instrument, in this case guitar.

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. Tuning decides how we arrange and connect phrases one after the other, and is a matter of choice on the particular instrument. 

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.

Below is an example of our approach towards learning Carnatic on standard tuning.

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


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