A great music teacher of mine recently introduced me to Rag Charukeshi. This post is a technical note about my “corruption” of Charukeshi.  (The text will probably only make sense to East/West music theory buffs but there’s some audio at the end for anyone curious.)

Charukeshi is the 26th Melakara ragam in the South Indian (Carnatic) system, and has gained popularity in the North Indian (Hindustani) system under the same name. From a Western perspective, Charukeshi can be constructed 1) by splicing the bottom half of a major scale with the top half of a natural minor scale, or 2) by taking the 5th mode of the Jazz Melodic Minor scale (Mixolydian b6). The resulting scale has a lower part that sounds “happy” and an upper part that sounds “sad,” making it a very provocative space to explore.

In my recent practice, I noticed that Charukeshi has an interesting relation to my favorite scale, the Whole Tone scale (WT). You can get from Charukeshi to WT by replacing Shudda Ma and Pa with the note “in between” them: Prati (or Tivra) Ma. In Western terms, you take the 4th and 5th degrees of Mixo b6 and replace them with the intervening chromatic note: #4/b5.

The diagram below illustrates the transformation.  Each row of circles represents the chromatic octave; the large circles are the notes included in a given scale.  The top row is Charukeshi or Mixo b6; the bottom row is WT.


I’ve been experimenting with building phrases that ascend in the Whole Tone scale and descend in Charukeshi. In this case, the reverse transformation happens: the Whole Tone scale’s #4/b5 is “expanded” into its two neighboring tones: natural 4 and 5. As you descend, the “dark” quality of Charukeshi’s top portion seems bright in contrast to the floating quality of WT, established in the ascent. It’s a relief to hear a perfect 5th above the root (where there had been only b5 before). Then as you descend further into Charukeshi’s lower half, minor gives way to major and there’s a second brightening of the mood. The attached clips are my very first explorations of this idea. (Note that I’m not playing characteristic phrases from Charukeshi as the raga would be performed in the Hindustani or Carnatic traditions; I’m just treating it as a collection of notes to be explored.)

I wondered what other scales have a similar relation to WT, where you can go from the scale to WT by collapsing two notes, and you can get back to the scale by expanding one note. I realized that all modes of Jazz Melodic Minor have this relation to WT; in each case the expansion/collapse happens at a different point in the scale.

It seems to me that the transitions between WT and other modes of Melodic Minor aren’t always as pleasing as with Charukeshi<->WT. For example, if you take Melodic Minor itself and try to get to WT via the same process of collapsing two notes, you’d have to collapse 1 and 2 into #1/b2, and you’d lose the root! (If anyone out there is interested in this, I’d be happy to post a more detailed look at all the transitions between Melodic Minor modes and WT, so write to me!)

I’m curious about how the whole tone scale crops up in non-western musical traditions, and I found that it’s represented in the Carnatic system by the rare ragam Gopriya. (Disclaimer: I haven’t checked this with a Carnatic expert yet, it’s just what I’ve been able to find online.) Gopriya is derived from Rishabhapriya (62nd melakarta ragam) which, interestingly enough, is the prati madyamam equivalent of Charukeshi — that’s to say it’s Charukeshi with a high Ma or #4.  Another way to describe Rishabhapriya is WT plus a natural 5.

I’ve started playfully referring to this combination (Charukeshi+Gopriya) as Ragam Charukeshi-Gopriya or Charupriya.

Clip 1: Charupriya ascending/descending phrases (classical guitar)

Clip 2: mostly notes of Mixo b6 with some WT/Gopriya at the end (steel string guitar)

I was recording these clips early morning 12/12/12 when I heard that Ravi Shankar had passed away.

Update 1/21/2013:

Clip 3: Charupriya improv over a quartal chord progression (steel string solo over classical guitar accompaniment)

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