Tip #164 – Understanding the Suryakantam Scale

The Carnatic music of South India has 72 scales (melakartas) comprised of seven different notes in either an ascending (arohana) or descending (avarohana) fashion. These scales are used in a kind of India music called rāga and are extremely beautiful. In addition these scales are grouped into different chakras, based on certain similarities.

Today’s melakarta is the Suryakantam scale (roughly translating to “the sun”), the fifth scale from the third chakra.

Below is a representation of the scale as if it was put into Western notation:

Both the first (SA) and fifth (PA) scale degrees are in a placement normal to most scales found in Western music. However, there is an augmented distance between the second (RI) and third (GA) scale degrees.  In addition, both the sixth (DHA) and seventh scale degree (NI) are raised.  While this may sound dissonant or exotic, this scale gives a great amount of opportunity to play with tension and chromatic passing tones.

Try playing around with the scale, possible harmonies, and progressions!

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