Introduction to Yati

Solkattu

In previous posts I have discussed the classical composer Philip Glass, and a particularly interesting supper I had with him. What some may not know about Philip, though, is his ingenious use of East Indian rhythmic principles as a source for his composing, after having been hired to transcribe the music of Ravi Shankar for a film. One particularly interesting idea I thought I would share with you then, upon reflection on Glass’s amazing North Indian influenced music, is a concept from South Indian drumming that has been a constant source of inspiration to any of us lucky enough to have studied with Sri Trichy Sankaran, a master mridangam drummer.

The study of spoken rhythmic syllables (konnakkol or solkattu) is a significant part of South Indian Karnatak (Eng: Carnatic) music, but it is also extremely useful in helping develop more sophisticated rhythmic elaboration in jazz improvisation. Having first established a strong ability to syncopate and/or play with swing feel, the serious student of jazz can then begin to use solkattu to organize their improvisations around more complicated rhythmic structures that utilize asymmetrical note groupings. This is where the yati concept comes in handy.

Yati are expanding and/or decreasing syllabic patterns that, when written, create a geometric shape. There are many different yati, each with a different structure and written shape. The Gopuccha Yati begins with a set of syllables and gets one syllable smaller with each repetition. If we use notes instead of syllables, the yati would have five notes, then repeat the same notes minus one with every repetition until there is only one note left [CDEFG, CDEF, CDE, CD, C…]. The Srotovaha Yati on the other hand gets progressively longer [C, CD, CDE, CDEF…]. The Damaru Yati starts with a length, gets smaller, and then expands back to the original length [CDEFG, CDEF, CDE, CD, C, CD, CDE, CDEF, CDEFG]. Its counterpart is the Mrdanga Yati, which starts small, gets larger then shrinks back [C, CD, CDE, CDEF, CDEFG, CDEF, CDE, CD, C]. The Visama Yati is the most free-form yati, being random pattern lengths in no particular order. Visama is the most open, thus the hardest to perform well, as the brilliance of the yati is dependant on the skill of the performer alone. Working with yati will help you generate new ideas and directions for your improvising and composing, and I suggest you spend at least 15 minutes a day experimenting with them. Have fun!

Example 1: Gopuccha Yati (“The Cow’s Tail”)

C D E F G

C D E F

C D E

C D

C

Example 2: Srotovaha Yati (“Stream Becomes a River…”)

C

C D

C D E

C D E F

C D E F G 

Example 3: Mrdanga Yati (“The Barrel-Shaped Drum”)

C

C D

C D E

C D E F

C D E F G

C D E F G A

C D E F G

C D E F

C D E

C D

C

Example 4: Damaru Yati (“The Hour-Glass Drum of Lord Shiva”)

 C D E F G

C D E F

 C D E

C D

C

C D

C D E

C D E F

C D E F G

©2013 Daniel Schnee.danielpaulschnee.wordpress.com

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6 thoughts on “Introduction to Yati

  1. This is an amazing simplified explanation of the Yati concept present in Carnatic music. Today was my theory class in Carnatic music wherein explanations on Yati was given. After the class I started to browse online for more information on this subject and your’s was the first page I found and the information was ‘look no further’ kind. I commend you. I like it that you have suggested one spend atleast 15 minutes a day in the practice of Yati and familiarizing oneself in it. Do let me know how we could do this? Just practice swara(s) in the various Yati or is there some other way too? Looking forward to hearing from you.

    1. Well, thank you very much, Asha! I appreciate your kind words.

      Since this was a basic introduction to yati geared towards jazz saxophonists who have never studied Karnatak music, I didn’t get into the finer details. Plus, I am not a master of solkattu and/or konnakkol, so I am not sure if my advice will be useful or not. I also have adapted much of what I was taught (by Sri Kadri Gopalnath and Sri Trichy Sankaran) to jazz… since they encouraged me to do. So remember, I am coming from this perspective.

      What I do is think about the various categories I mentioned, yati that:

      1. Get smaller: gopuccha yati.
      2. Increase: srotovaha yati
      3. Stay the same length: sama yati.
      4. Shrink then increase: damaru yati.
      5. Grow then get smaller: mrdanga yati
      6. Combine randomly: visama yati.

      So I will practice the first five, then spend time improvising different syllables,without changing the shape of the yati. I might say “taka-jonu” or “takida-ta” instead of “taka-dimi, but the yati stays the same.

      Then I will actually change syllables AND the yati shape randomly making it a visama yati. So I do formal study, syllable improvisation, and then visama yati along with syllable improvisation… with my voice. Then I do the same on saxophone or drums. This is my way of approaching yati, and I find it is not only a great way to practice improvisation, it leads to many great ideas for composing: jazz, rock, Western classical music, and so on.

      Also, practicing the yati in the form of the various Nadai (gati) is also important, e.g. singing five sixteenth notes (Khanda Nadai) where one would ordinarily sing four of them, over the space of a single beat in Adi Tala, for example. But first one must be able to sing standard yati for moving to this level. So I would explore both yati and the structure of nadai for perspective.

      Personally I really like the feeling of various yatis on Khanda Chapu Tala, and many of my jazz songs have a Khanda Chapu feeling, even though they don’t sound like Karnatak music. My master Trichy’s daughter (Suba) is a jazz/rock vocalist who does fantastic stuff with her band Autorickshaw and her duo Free Play. Suba knows how to play classical Karnatak properly AND she does great work in other styles. “Kapi-Wallah” is a good example. I hope this helps you! 🙂

      1. Thanks a lot for your elaborate explanation both on suggestive practices and also how you have been using yati sylllables in your practice. I shall try to do as you have suggested in expanding and reducing the yati. I am not very sure about putting swaras in yisama yati yet. Will try though. I heard your teacher Subha’s band sent by you. Really creative use of music especially these patterns I could hear in some of her songs. I seem to have heard the usage of these swaras before but only after coming to know about yati, did I realize they are yati. I would have never known otherwise. I am not very familiar with chapu tala. Tala is my weakness. Never really can do a good job when it comes to fitting the tala to the song. I need more practice in this area. It is amazing how you are able to use these talas in your jazz. I admire your adaptation to various music 🙂 Good luck in your music journey. Wishing you reach great heights. It was great interacting with you. Stay in touch. Cheers! Asha Rao !

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