👏 Solkattu 👏
words bound together) is a musical tradition, originally from south India. Konnakol forces you to embody rhythms by vocalizing them with a set of basic syllabes arranged in increasingly difficult ways - in my experience, it is an excelent way to learn rhythmic vocabulary.
According to the internet, solkattu is a preliminary step to any musical training with instruments, specially in mrdangan percussion (for obvious reasons). It has been progressively adopted by western practicioners.
Other names: konnakol.
Similar concepts: the french counting system, the Kódaly system and Takadimi (a reworking of solkattu for western audiences).
Note: I might be inaccurate or wrong in this post, as it only reflects a very superficial knowledge of solkattu. In fact, I started wtritting this as a note for myself, but it slowly morphed also into a place to point interested people at, mostly for the sake of the resources. Be aware of this.
What does it sound?
The best examples of konnakol in practice I’ve found are:
- You can see a quick intro video (called
Extreme Math Nerd Music (An Intro to Konnakol)) in
David Bruce composer’s channel (full of other really good videos, by the way)
- You might have seen BC Manjunath’s videos - it is mentioned in the previously mentioned one. He is extremely prolific and explores the very limits of the art, often collaborating with people that send him videos and such. His videos inspire passion for the subject, and overall are at equal parts wholesome and impressive.
- Anything Selvaganesh does, but specially his album
Good people in times of evil, specifically his solo in
Leal souvenir(minute 5:30). Oh boy. This album is not in Spotifyl, but last time I checked you can find it in youtube . If you are interested in solkattu I urge you to listen to it now.
Bombay Makossa, with U. Shrinivas, Ranjit Barot and the great bassist Etienne Mbappe, has a couple parts with spoken konnakol.
Why is it great
- It’s portable: no external equipment needed
- Ridiculously cheap - if it weren’t for the ocassional book, one could get half decent in an amateurish way just by watching youtube videos for free.
- It allows for elegant practicing of rhytmic content.
- It is an endless source of inspiration for improvisation when applied to the instrument of choice.
- It’s inherently more musical than normal countin like *one e and a two e and a…" (metric counting)
- Even the most basic rhythms can sound amazing.
The very basics of solkattu, as I understand them
Below I’ve written a quick primer to konnakol summarizing my knowledge so far - both as study notebook and a condensed guide to other people that might be interested.
Important note: I’m by no means an expert. I can barely do some begginner combinations of rhythms - the problem is not understanding, is (implicit) learning and embodiment. I try to check for correctness, specially in terms, but I might be off more than once. If you really enjoy the topic I’ve listed some resources I’ve used over time at the bottom.
Syllabes or gati
Syllabes may vary, but the basic versions I’ve used go like the table below (where numbers are number of syllabes in the unit): there are basic units that explode in complexity as the number of syllabels multiplies. The minimal units (1-4) are then recombined for larger numbers, increasing combinatorial possibilities.
- 3+2 (
- 3+3 (
- 3+4 (
- 4+4, 3+5, 5+3, etc
That (non-exhaustive list) only covers some very basic combinations, and assumes each syllabe has:
- The same lenght
- All syllables are pronounced
Now, the fun can begin.
Clapping, or cycle beats
These syllables themselves aren’t enough to produce interest. The joy of solkattu is that these are fit into a grid that is accompanied by hand clapping and gestures (
kriya) that represents the meter. Musical interest appears when metric modulation or polyrhythms enter the scene, as the beats of clapping and those vocalized aren’t necessarily the same. They combine together in higher structures called
Try, for example, a three-clap cycle: a regular clap, a “clap” that uses the pinky ony, and the same but using the ring finger.
Easy enough, right? Now, keeping the same clapping page, double it into syllables evenly divided (if confused, think each syllable occupies the same time and remember to clap slowly, at about 60 bpm for example).
|ta ki||ta ta||ki ta|
Introducing the next speed and doubling again makes:
|ta ki||ta ta||ki ta|
|ta ki ta ta||ki ta ta ki||ta ta ki ta|
Ideally, these bolded syllables should sound accented. That’s were it gets interesting. You can:
- Use ghost notes (
ta -nguisntead of
- Use other rhythmic units: 12 beats can be 2+3+2+5, for example.
- Enlengthen one of the sylables (
takitaa~) to span an extra subdivision.
- You can make much, much longer cycles of clapping, where the beat barely coincided with the syllables.
- Once you find an interesting rhythmic idea, try to add melody to it.
As you can see, even the most basic exercise can become as profoundly complicated as you want.
Asaf Sirkishas an amazing series of videos in youtube introducing solkattu. I fully recomend you check them out - the exercise here is lifted directly from his second video.
Rafael Reina’s Applying Karnatic Rhythmical Techniques to Western Music is full of context and material, but also a bit harsh as an introduction. It has a time-divided curriculum for improvisers and classical interpreters. It also starts by applying all possible rhythmic cells along a metronome, so in a certain sense it’s can be less fun. Terminology abounds, and it uses western rhythm notation, meaning it assumes you are a trained musician. If you want to get a full inmersion into konnakol or have some notions of classical music, I recommend this book. Otherwise, either of the other
David P. Nelson’s Solkattu Manual is pretty good. The notation is less confusing, and it includes some very welcome exercises at the end (not really necesarry once you learn the cicles, but still good to have).
On top of these, I know
John McLaughlin has a set of pedagogical DVDs with Selvaganesh called
Gateway to rhythm, but I haven’t checked them.