Chapter 5 – Transposing Music

You Can’t Limit the Potential of Kharaj to Just One Key!


In this chapter, we’ll be talking about transposing music, but if you haven’t been following the previous chapters, you might as well not be here. It won’t make much sense to you if you’re not following specific guided tours of our HCM Learning Series Chapters.

But if you have been following, you should be a bit more comfortable with the Raag and Thaat concepts, and the concept of Sur should be simpler to grasp.

Principles of Kharaj

This idea might sound challenging at first, but read on anyway and re-read if needed. When we talk about Sa your first Sur in a Saptak; this S is a totally abstract concept. So far, we’ve been using the English key of the middle C to assign to HCM S. But it’s NOT a rule. This was done for those of us who may be a bit familiar with English keys on a piano. The HCM Sur are made up of distance from where EVER you place your S. I’ll explain the same concept using a different term.

Did you know that the English piano keys: C D E F G A B
these are mere “notes” on a piano or even a harmonium.

A Sur is NOT a note. We just call them that sometimes for a quick but incorrect explanation. Calling a Sur a note is not correct or true. We actually do NOT have music notes in HCM. We have Sur! Sur more closely relates to what English speakers refer to as Solfège. Or simply Solfa in layman’s terms. The Solfa keys are what’s known as: Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti. Is that making sense so far?

Try to understand this concept. It’s very important to us, especially because we’re not just learning music; we’re learning HCM. At first, when I learned this, my views were…”Well, Why?” But then someone explained to me that this makes a musician so powerful when working with other musicians who may not be in the same key.

You see, the gurus of HCM realized long ago that the vocal registers of men and women vary, and also among the same gender. So, this concept had to be adopted in order to overcome vocal register problems that I’m sure must have come up when HCM was in its infancy. They adopted a very simple yet powerful technique: transposing music.

What placing the S or Kharaj to ANY key allows the musician to play the same Raag from a key that suits him or her easily. Try hearing a bunch of people sing Happy Birthday together as a group at a kid’s birthday party, and you’ll quickly feel that either none of them have a good voice or there is something else that happens when people sing as a group. Most of the time, everybody simply sings fine but from their own separate vocal registers. And it sounds horrible as a group.

Transposing Music:

We’ll use Thaat Bhairavi for all examples of transposing. First off, transposing is simply a fancy word for moving the position of our Sur. I know you’re familiar with the S on the Key of C. Check out below how placing the S on each of the various keys makes the visual mapping of the Sur look different.

Key Of:

  1. C (clickable)
  2. C# (clickable)
  3. D (clickable)
  4. D# (clickable)
  5. E (clickable)
  6. F (clickable)
  7. F# (clickable)
  8. G (clickable)
  9. A (clickable)
  10. A (clickable)
  11. B (clickable)
  12. B (clickable)

Note: I realize that the method above is not easily understood. But it will make sense if you realize that all the Sur of the Sargam are based on their distance from the Kharaj. For example, r it should come right after (on the right) S. No matter where the Kharaj is placed, Komal Re, will come right after it. And so on with the following Sur. I suggest you take time to get comfortable with this issue right away before going any further.

That said, you don’t have to memorize every Raag in every key (although it would help). But you need to, at some point figure out what key is your own vocal register based on and how to place your Kharaj to that key and go on from there. Also, keep in mind that most HCM vocalists start with the key of C for Men’s voices and many a time A for Women’s voices. These keys again are NOT set in stone since every vocal register is different. Even the same person may sing in a different key at different times of the day. Yes, I know, lots of variables. But that’s what makes it so much fun. 🙂

Transposing music in HCM is not just a good concept to learn. It is required in a very practical sense.

See you next time, stay sharp.