5 Percussion Instruments in Carnatic Music Stories Worth Reading About

Carnatic Music Performance

Carnatic music is majorly performed by singing. There are various instruments in support like melodic instruments, rhythmic instruments, drone instruments, and percussion instruments.

There are some performances in Carnatic music which only includes instruments. Harikatha (story of Lord Hari) is a musical drama performed with singer and musical instruments. In every kind of performance, percussion instruments are vital as they are for many other genres of music worldwide.

Role of Percussion Instruments

In western music, drums, bells, and gongs are prominent percussion Instruments. In India classical music, Pakhawaj, Tabla, and Khanjira are widely used.

Percussion instruments keep the rhythm and beats of the song. We all know that lively beats provide exciting sound and colour to a song.

The most frequently used instruments of the Carnatic music performances are Mridangam, Ghatam, Tabla, Morsing, and Dholak.

Let us know a little more about the most eminent Percussion instruments in Carnatic music –

1. Mridangam

  • The literal meaning of Mridangam is the body of clay. However, now it is made of wood. It is a hollow, barrel shape instrument. Both the heads of its drum are made with a double layer of skin or leather.
  • Its right-sided drum is smaller than the left one. It is done to maintain a variety of high and low pitch.
  • The two faces are fastened tightly together with a leather strap. 
  • Mridangamis the first percussion instrument to be used in Carnatic music. So it is the most ancient one.
  • It is Primary rhythmic accompaniment for controlling the “Tala” (Beat) in Carnatic music.
  • Unlike western percussion instruments, Mridangam is harmonious with wind and string instruments.
  • PalghatmaniIyer and Umayalapuram Shivaraman are legendary mridangam players.

2. Ghatam

  • It is the most ancient percussion instruments of South India. It is secondary to Mridangam in a performance.
  • It is a pot made up of mud mixed with brass, copper and some iron. It has a narrow end which produces a special kind of sound.
  • This narrow end is not closed, and it is open for the tapping. The player sits crossed leg with Ghatam in the lap. The hold on its open end and neck is the key to produce the right beats.
  • Each Ghatam’s pitch varies according to its size. Variations can also be created in its pitch by applying clay mixed with water in the pot’s inner part.
  • Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram and Sukanya Ramgopal are famous Ghatam players.
  • Sukanya is the first-ever women Ghatam player, also known for her unique “Ghata Tarang” concept. It involves playing 6 Ghatam together, each Ghatma producing a different “shruti” (sound).

3. Tabla

  • Tabla is one of an essential instrument of Carnatic music. But it is prevalent in other genres of Indian music as well.
  • One reason for the immense popularity of Tabla is its ability to complement all kinds of rhythms. It creates foot-tapping beats in north Indian and other lighter forms of Indian music.
  • This is a two-piece percussion instrument. The Bass drum is placed at the left side. It is known as Bayan (Left). The treble drum is placed at the right, and it is called Dayan (right). The Dayan is smaller in comparison to Bayan.
  • There is a large black spot in the middle of both Bayan and Dayan. It is on the surface, which is made up of skin. This black spot gives unique overtones when tapped.
  • Zakir Hussain, Pandit Anokhelal Mishra, and Ustad Sukhwinder Singh Namdhari own the badge of being the noted Tabla players globally. Various other artists are delivering innovative performances with Tabla.

4. Morsing

  • Morsing is one of the supporting percussion instruments in Carnatic music. It is played along with Mridangam, Ghatam, and Khanjari.
  • It is made up of two metal forks with one metal tongue in between.
  • The player places the instrument in the front teeth. The movement of the player’s tongue, index finger, and nasal sounds forms its rhythm and pitch.
  • It is played widely in Rajasthani music. It is used in some songs of Sindh and Pakistan as well.
  • L. Bheemachar and his daughter Bhagyalakshmi Murlikrishna are finest morsing artists.

5. Dholak

  • Dholak is a barrel-shaped percussion instrument. It is generally held around the neck with a rope tied on both its ends. It is played with the help of two sticks on both sides.
  • Drums on both the sides are made up of goatskin, tied on the shell with a rope. One side is for the bass, and the other one is used to create treble. It is a typical pattern for most double-headed percussion instruments of Carnatic music.
  • Apart from Carnatic music, Dholak is played in almost all forms of folk music in India.
  • There must be hundreds of unknown genius Dholak players in India. Yet, Girish Vishwa made a name for himself in the field of playing Dholak.

Author Bio: Reema Krishnan is a content creator at Acharyanet, a platform for Carnatic music learners where they can learn music from gurus through 400+ video lessons. Being a music enthusiast and a history buff herself, she is able to provide value for her readers and her content is well-received by musicians, music lovers, and music learners of all ages and at all stages. She loves to volunteer with music therapy groups and bakes up a storm in her free time.

Also read Online Music Classes for Kids: How to Choose?


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