Carnatic Violin

Well Ive been learning vocal carnatic music (South indian music) since 1996 and started violin since 2002. Just love it even though I struggle with it at every level. I know it sounds corny (even for me), but there is a certain bliss when you are sitting down with the violin and start making those noises (carnatic music involves sitting down!).

The person I need to thank most for helping me is my violin teacher, Mr Murali Kumar. My first and foremost guru, he himself learnt the art, unlike me at a very young age, from Violin Vidhwan Kanchi Janardhanan, and later had the great fortune of receiving advanced training from violin maestro, M.S.Gopalakrishnan. Needless to say, for all you MSG fans out there, his style takes a few lifetimes to just understand, let alone master it! Il post out more in the future what Ive learnt (drops) and what I would love to learn (the ocean). If you have any tips for improving MSG style of violin playing please pass them along.  Id be eternally grateful to you.

Right now I am really fortunate to learn from Vidhwan Sri MA Sundareswaran. The man needs no Introduction! All I’l say is that his acceptance of me as his student is a testimony to his generosity!


22 thoughts on “Carnatic Violin

  1. Mate still a long way to go for performances but in the mean time Im playing on the 1st of April (no not kidding) for a temple fund raiser… Wanna get some indian classical? This would be a great one :D..

  2. Hi Soundarya,

    It would be a pleasure. Though I am not sure if I can make it to India this year :(.

    How is your practise going anyway?


  3. How would you compare your experieces in learning violin vs. vocal? I learn vocal (but started ve…..ry late) and I heard (and I believe), that learning instrument is harder, but learning it gives one a much better hold of basics.

    Pl. put up some samples for us to listen.

  4. Arun,

    I think they go hand in hand. And another good news I can offer is, it is never too late. If I can do it, anyone can! True it is scary seeing those kids who started at the truly “tender” ages of 5, and 3 and 6 months, act as if the violin is just an extension of their arm. And to them I say kudos…

    i wouldnt say that learning one art form is harder than the other. There are a lot of factors that come into play. How much you are drawn to the form (I like singing and playing the violin, but I am a lot more shyier if i had to sing!).. even vocal i started pretty late – age 17! and violin age 22.

    All I can say is keep practising and take it at your own pace. Make sure you learn something new in each session.
    Can you tell me more about your experiences with learning CM?


  5. Arun,

    I guess regarding the smaples. I certainly wouldnt mind putting em up, but it will have to be at your own risk 😀 As you know I am still a student. I guess what I could do is put up my practise-journals on youtube… so I can keep track of my own progress… and this will even force me to not be slack with my practises 😀


  6. Hi sri – Compared to me you started very very early :). I started twice the age you started vocal – after of course being an ardent listener for many years (although I started listening late also).

    I am sort of in the beginner-intermediate varnam stage (8 varnams and a handful of simple krithis). Here in the US with 1 class a week, and a family, things move slow – but i have become quite comfortable with this pace. Obviously I am in no hurry! I practice somewhat frequently but nowhere near what it should be if i have to be good.

    Few attempts at public singing were not exactly things I want to talk about 🙂 (even though I didnt sing alone). I find varnams to be quite tough – particularly 2nd speed. Love to sing them in slow speed. But learning cm is challenging and very very enjoyable. I was already a huge fan of the music, and this adds that extra dimension that allows me to understand some of the magic behind the music. I simply love that as it enables me to dive deeper.


    PS: dont ask me about my samples 😉 !

  7. Ah but you see Arun, youl make up for the experience and “patience” factor the young uns lack! And youl appreciate every apaswaram you make, or every thalam you miss (I certainly still do)…

    actually I used to absolutely loath CM… I think i was jealous of my younger bro who is a fantastic singer… i only started because a mate of mine had started (and i only realised a few months later when he quit, that he had started because of a girl!!)… and i still continued to learn… its quite scary to think how I could have spent my whole life not even coming in contact with CM hadnt it been for that incident!!

    well ok i wont ask for samples, but practise journals perhaps?


  8. regarding varnams in second speed… i had the same problem.. until one morning (after another night of “damn my brother is better than me” sulking :D), my grand father suggested i do some akara sadhakam of the alankarams in first and second speed but slowly and then gradually increase the speed…

    i had thought he was just pulling my leg but never realised how much knowledge he actually had… i mean it wasnt like the movies where the next morning the “hero” is transformed into the next BMK, but it certainly made it easier to sing the varnams in a slightly faster speed… hope that helps with your 2nd speed varnams 😀

  9. yes regular methodical practice of swara exercises will work no question – now to do it regularly is the problem ;). But may be since I have one more testament now, I should move my lazy behind!


  10. well its hard initially (for me it was anyway)… but gets easier with practise… just aim for consistent improvement.. even if it is something very tiny thats still gold!

  11. Damn….i started violin at 19 and loved it. Studies and other things took so much time, but I managed to get at least 15 mins of practice everyday.

    One imp thing- guru matters. I had one that was not very good. We just could not understand each other. I am looking for a better one now.

    Also, having someone your age and level matters, because repetitive exercise does get boring at times. Seeing others your age play is always good.

    Keep playing.

    • Mate don’t feel bad. I started playing when I was 22!! But absolutely right though. I am currently living in Sydney so not gettin regular classes can be a total pain. But great thing is people my age who I get to jam with. They are not violinists buy vocalists and a mandolin player. Brilliant and they put me through a really nice work out!

      Who did you learn from? Are you still learning? Where are you based?

      • I am 22 now, and I am based in California bay area. Learning has stopped for sometime now because of studies.

        I started of with western violin, but the music did not appeal to me. May be it is just the background I am from.

        There was a Hindustani violinist staying close to my home, I decided to learn from him. Things did not turn out well. I wanted to practice lessons, basically I wanted some way to mark my progress. My guru’s style did not suit me.

        Right now I am just practicing whatever little I was taught. I do not want to loose touch with what I have studied.

        I have been listening to a lot of carnatic music lately, and I love it. The violin is very expressive and I understand there is a greater degree of emphasis on technicality of playing.

        I find it difficult to keep in rhythm while playing…i think I need some lessons in mridangam/tabla to get a better sense of tala. Tala is very important. Also mridangam sounds just divine.

        Take care

  12. Hi guys…nice to see really alot of valid and supporting suggestions. As a big worshipper and also as a student of sir. MSG I would like to tell u something.

    Its all in the basics, the main difference between violkn and any other stringed instrument, is ur placements on the board is firm and good only when u have practised well and a lot. Its all about basics.

    Basics too there are varieties of playing, its like raaga mohanam. Which is very basic, but scholars can present it in the utmost fine form, which when we would have heard for the 1 st time would have been surprising (that is, if we can understand).

    Well the point is, i started learning from my father at the age of 3,not a regular practise-hard working type guy, though i have been pursuing my studies, engineering and 19 years of violin, the 1st time when went to sir, for learning from him, he told he want to hear me play. He told my fingering is good naadham is nice and he would teach. It has been 4 years now, i take very few classes but its more of listening and practising.

    So, as tips, i will tell u the following. Hear a lot, observe and adapt. There will b a lot of phrases which are wonderful and nice with every guy who plays or sings. So take that phrase, make it like a complete orderly varisai, or set of phrases.
    Practise them in 3 speeds, with plain/flat fingering n gamaga….

    U will not only imrpove ur imagination but also the fingers’ responding levels….anything u hear u will be able to put it as output from ur instrument.

    Well…thats how am doing, give it a try….and by the by..nice to know there are lot of people here who love msg…. Man is a very simple, loving, supporting guy.

    Will always worship him

    • Hey Ranganathan,

      You are making me so jealous mate. You so have to share more of the parur techniques MSG sir is showing you. But your advice is gold. The hardest part is listening (actually it is enjoyable – more the time)… You know I didnt realise your technique about adapting a phrase into a set of exercises till you mentiond. That is gold. Will try that and give it a go.

      Do you play much mate? Where abouts are you based? What made you go to MSG sir in the first place?


    • Hi So Mr Srivatsan is probably your best bet down in the bay area (I’ve only been in the bay area for less than 2 years). Even if he is busy he can point to others. I used to teach before I got to the bay area but I have been getting busy with work these days.

      So how long have you been learning for? How did you get into it?

      Cheers and good luck.

  13. I touched violin for the first time in my life at the age of 42. It’s been two years to this month. I practice at least 2 hours every day. It is difficult. One single thing I have learned till date is that ‘there are no short cuts’ for violin..There are times when I felt smashing it and forgetting; especially during Mel-Stayi Varisai, Janda Varisai, Dattu Varisai. But I didn’t gave up. All credits to my Guru, who has superhuman patience. Now studying 9th varnam; Pantuvarali ragam. I can play varnams in first speed. But second speed is no no… It will be at least four years from now that I hope I will be able to play at least to my satisfaction.



    • Ram. Great to hear that you picked up the violin. Your dedication and passion are proof that age is no barrier. I really hope you stick with it. The violin is definitely hard initially but it gets easier.

      Couple of thing I’d suggest (this is advice from a newbie ofcourse!) to get second speed:

      * Practice the basics. Ie the dhatu varisais, upper sthayis, alankarams and jantais.
      * practice incrementally: instead of practising the above as first and second speed, go first speed them 1.1 speed, then 1.2 speed and so on. Best way of measuring this is if you have a metronome start with a rate of 60 beats per minute and increase it by 4 beats at a time.
      * Take it in small steps. Instead of aiming for the entire line of the pallavi in a higher speed take chunks of it. For example in the mohana varnam just practise first “ga , ga, ri, , ,” like 50 times before picking up the “sa , sa , ri , , ,’ and THEM stich the two.

      You will see the difference soon. I know exactly the frustration you feel. There is a huge difference starting as a kid who can pick up anything but at our age its annoying right? I used to literally cry initially as my fingers could not so the basic things! You are already doing two hours each day (you have no idea how jealous that makes me!) So you are definitely onto a great start.

      One other thing I’d suggest is to keep a log of your practice hours. Ie with number of hours practiced last, in the last week, last month, last year and till date. That is tremendous source of inspiration as you reach towards the 10000 hour mark!!

      Sorry for the long one but I hope you do keep at it for the rest of your life and hope saraswathi amma is always with you!

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