Styles and Playing Techniques

            The playing of the veena is closely linked to the evolution of Carnatic music. Although this music is primarily vocal, over the centuries it has developed many elaborate techniques of ornamentation which were greatly influenced by the manner of plucking, sliding over or pulling the strings of the veena. In fact, the musical form known as the tanam is directly inspired by the veena and its specific use of drone (tala) strings. Therefore the significance of the veena in the origin and development of Carnatic music cannot be emphasized enough.

            Several playing techniques have emerged over the centuries - some try to imitate the flexibility of the human voice whereas others bring out the particular capabilities of a plucked string instrument; lately, some have even been inspired from techniques borrowed from foreign instruments (such as the guitar or the sitar). Nowadays the preference given to a particular technique is one of the ways to characterise regional styles or banis that have left a mark on the musical history of the veena, especially since the nineteenth century.

          Musical notation is very succinct in the Indian tradition. Usually a mnemonic syllabic system is used to remember the main melody of the played pieces, but it can often be insufficient to include all the ornamentations. The veena having “created” or at the least having made these various ornamentations visible, was instrumental in the development of notations and tablatures that were more complex and represented the music more accurately. Hence some rather elaborate systems were tried out to transcribe the melodic complexity created by the ornamentations as accurately as possible. These systems enable a more detailed analysis of musical styles but when the precision is too extreme, they tend to hide the overall structure of the improvisations or compositions. Therefore they are to be used with caution and only for isolated analyses.


(Page translated by Sandhya Krishnakumar)