Sapta Swaras – The Seven Musical Notes of Carnatic Music

In this post, I will explore the melodic building blocks of swaras and their varieties in Carnatic music.

What is a Swara?

A swara is a musical note (or tones) in an octave. Think of it as a building with floors. The ground level is our starting point, and that musical note is called the Tonic or the Shadja. A certain distances (or heights) away from this starting point, we have the positions of the remaining notes. Check this post out, if you don’t understand the concept of the tonic. Swaras are like alphabets of a language. Each Swara has its unique sound, and by combining those sounds we get melody. Just as you would get words when you combine letters.


What are the Sapta Swaras?

There are 7 musical notes in Carnatic Music, called the Sapta (seven) Swaras (musical notes). These are the following (The full names of the notes follows the sound with which it is sung) :

  1. Sa – Shadjama (Tonic)
  2. Ri – Rishabha
  3. Ga – Gandhara
  4. Ma – Madhyama
  5. Pa – Panchama (Perfect Fifth)
  6. Da – Dhaivata
  7. Ni – Nishada

The notes Sa (tonic) and Pa (Perfect Fifth) are always fixed once we decide on a Tonic (according to the Shruti). The remaining 5 notes have 2 varieties each. So we have 2 + (5X2) = 12 musical positions of notes. We shall explore in future videos what these 12 positions are.


What are the positions of Swaras?

As for now, it is adequate if one knows that there are 2 positional varieties of the 5 Swaras Ri, Ga, Ma, Da and Ni, i.e. the lower and higher variety. So you can right-away see that, by permutation and combination, we get many varieties of the Sapta Swaras. At a crude level, combinations of musical notes can be called a Raga. Today we shall explore 2 such combinations (Ragas) of seven notes. Lower case letters  refer to lower varieties of Swaras and vice versa.

Mayamalavagowla: 

Traditionally speaking, this is the raga in which the basics of Carnatic music are taught.  It is called the Double harmonic scale in western music theory.  The intervals of these music notes are difficult to grasp for people who don’t listen to the Carnatic form of music often.

Ascending: S r G m P d N Ṡ

Descending: Ṡ N d P m G r S

Shankarabharanam:

This is much easier scale to learn the basics in, and it corresponds to the major scale in western classical music.

Ascending: S R G m P D N Ṡ

Descending: Ṡ N D P m G R S


Learning the basics of Carnatic Music:

Frankly speaking, the basics of Carnatic music can be learnt in any scale with 7 notes. But tradition dictates that it should be taught in Mayamalavagowla. So try to attempt to learn the swaras in this scale (raga). If you aren’t able to locate the positions of swaras in this scale, then move on to Shankarabharanam. It isn’t a big deal at all. Ultimately, learning most musical forms around the world would require that you grasp with ease all the 12 places for notes in an octave. When starting out, you shouldn’t be too caught up with struggling to find positions of notes. That will leave you frustrated. The basics of Carnatic music will also exercise other skills such as perfecting the recognition of the tonic, proper tone production (be it singing or playing an instrument), sense of rhythm (laya),  etc.

13 Responses to “Sapta Swaras – The Seven Musical Notes of Carnatic Music

  • Very good class

  • Rajagopal Govindan
    1 year ago

    I like your demonstration and the explanations

  • Sir excellent demonstration

  • good fantastic

    • what are angaas in Carnatic music?

      • Tejas mallela
        6 months ago

        Anga basically means ‘part’ or ‘section’ in sanskrit. Tala Angas would mean parts of a tala. But just the word anga can’t be defined in carnatic music.

  • what is a ragasancharam in Carnatic music?

    • Sampath Vedantam
      2 months ago

      Raga sancharam is the arohanam and avarohanam pattern that we follow for that specific raga. For example, Saveri sancharam goes like this. S R1 M1 P D1 S in arohana and S N3 D1 P M1 G3 R1 S in avarohana. These sancharam will help us in finding the raga chayas in alapanas. These sancharam will also determine the raga mudras.

  • Cool love the explanation

  • Very clear explanation. Thank you.
    Are you planning to post more videos? Can you explain more about tala?

  • Thanks for explaining saptaswaras…
    I learn Carnatic music and I am learning kritis..
    for my music homework I have to write what is dwadasa swaras and shodasa swaras…
    it will be kind if u could help me.

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