Thinking About Palta Exercises

More of the material from my long-ago interview with my student Brian O’Neill. Here, I discuss the permutational practice routines known as Palta Exercises.

Hindustani musicians already know what I’m talking about. Western musicians will describe them as short phrases transposed up and down a scale: 123, 234, 345, 456, etc.

Paltas can be practiced within ragas, of course, but they are also useful for practicing ear-training and pattern manipulation inside scales.

To clarify the distinction: a palta in Raga Bhimpalasi would accommodate the omission of the second and sixth degrees in ascent, and the inclusion of these notes on the way down. Violating the raga’s rules of motion is off the table. On the other hand, a palta in Kafi Thaat (the Dorian mode, if you will) would not have any such restrictions.

Here’s a useful way to do paltas:

Pick a scale — any scale, preferably one that has 7 notes. Take a single short pattern (let’s call it a “cell”), and transpose it up and down in the scale.

For example:

S N S / R S R / G R G / M G M / P M P / D P D / N D N / S N S
N D N / D P D / P M P / M G M / G R G / R S R / S N S

And once you’ve memorized it, then do another pattern.

S N D / R S N / G R S / M G R / P M G / D P M / N D P / S N D
S R G / N S R / D N S / P D N / M P D / G M P / R G M / S R G…

Again, do that for 10 minutes.

And then alternate the two patterns, one after the other. Do it all from memory.

Then combine the two patterns:

S N S / S N D
R S R / R S N
G R G / G R S
M G M /M G R
P M P / P M G
etc., over as much of a range as you feel comfortable singing or playing.

Then try combining the two in the other order:

S N D / S N S
R S N / R S R
G R S / G R G
M G R / M G M
P M G / P M P

Try doing two iterations of the first “cell” and one of the second:

S N S / S N S / S N D
R S R / R S R / R S N
G R G / G R G / G R S

Begin making up your own combinations of cell sequences, always using your memory to keep the material fresh in your mind’s ear.

Try, instead of alternating cells, alternating successive notes of the two different cells. S N S / S N D thus becomes S S N N S D; S N D / S N S becomes S S N N D S.

Instrumentalists should be singing these patterns as well as playing them. It is also a very good exercise to sing while fingering them on your instrument (without activating it in any other way). This builds a powerful cognitive link between instrument and voice that pays off in future fluency and expressiveness.

15 Sep 2017, 1:33am
by mahua ray

need advance tan paltas and alankar

I guess, the best way of doing Palta practice is finding a Guru and getting the treasures of Palta from him.
Palta is not only a pattern but it has lot of thought behind it. So, these old masters used to construct different paltas for different purposes.
I doubt if we have any book around which covers the topic in so much of details

As far as I know, Manish, nothing substantial has appeared in print.

5 Oct 2012, 4:22am
by Manish

I have not seen any book on Paltas. Can I know any of the book on Paltas? – Manish

I found the last sentence in your post valuable. Its a nice trick. Thank you.

Jeff – thanks … google books has something on line but this book is out of print and really unavailable:
AddAll has:
Sorry, can’t find “Title: Indian music in performance, Author: Neil Sorrell , ” in any searched database

Care to sell your copy?

The best demonstration, presumably, that’s not an actual performance. For incredibly interesting taans which include palta structures, I would suggest the vocal recordings of Krishnarao Shankar Pandit.

The best demonstration ever recorded of how paltas can be turned into taans is on the tape which accompanies the book “Indian Music in Performance” by Neil Sorrell and Pt. Ram Narayan. I recommend it to anyone serious about following this up.


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