Gamak (music)

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Gamaka, also known as gamak, refers to ornamentation that is used in the performance of North and South Indian classical music.[1] Gamaka can be understood as embellishment done on a note or between two notes. Present-day Carnatic music uses at least fifteen different kinds of ornamentation. [2] Gamak is any graceful turn, curve or cornering touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which adds emphasis to each raga's individuality.[3] Gamaka can be understood as any movement done on a note or in between two notes. The unique character of each raga is given by its gamaks, making their role essential rather than decorative in Indian music.[4] Nearly all Indian musical treatises have a section dedicated to describing, listing and characterising gamaks.[5]

The term gamak itself means "ornamented note" in Sanskrit.[5] Gamaks involve the variation of pitch of a note, using heavy forceful oscillations between adjacent and distant notes.[6] Each raga has specific rules on the types of gamaks that might be applied to specific notes, and the types that may not.

Various commentators on Indian music have mentioned different numbers of gamaks. For example, Sarangdeva describes fifteen gamaks, Narada in Sangeeta Makaranda describes nineteen gamaks, and Haripala in Sangeet Sudhakar describes seven gamaks.[7]

Types of gamaks in North Indian[edit]

  1. Tirip
  2. Sfhurit
  3. Kampit
  4. Leen
  5. Andolit
  6. Vali
  7. Tribhin
  8. Kurula
  9. Aahat
  10. Ulhasit
  11. Humfit
  12. Mudrit
  13. Namit
  14. Plavit
  15. Mishrit

Carnatic music gamakas[edit]

Carnatic music has several ornamentation classes, which can be divided into major groups as shown in the table below. These and many more gamakas are mentioned in various treatises and compositions including Arohana (ascending patterns), Avarohana (descending patterns), ahatam & pratyahatam[8].

Carnatic ragas can fall under several categories based on their tolerance and dependence on gamakas. For instance, those like Nayaki, Sahana, Devagandhari, Yadukulakambhodhi etc can never exist without key gamakas like kampitam whereas ragas like Keeravani & Shanmukhapriya can sound acceptable with full or partial oscillations. Ragas like Hindolam and Revati can be rendered with minimal oscillations.

Carnatic Ornamentation Category Western music Equivalent Subtypes
Kampitam Deflections/oscillations Kampitam – Probably the defining gamaka in Carnatic, kampitam is oscillation of notes. Most of these oscillations are very unique to Carnatic and distinctive from other shakes seen in world music.Kampitam can be of various types based on speed, amplitude and/or and number of repeats the note is oscillated, based on musical context within a raga. For instance, the Ma in Shankarabharanam/Begada can itself be oscillated in various ways based on the type of phrase rendered and its preceding/succeeding notes or phrase.

Nokku – stress from above on successive (non-repeated) tones, Odukkal – stress from below on successive (non-repeated) tones,

Orikai – momentary flick, at the end of the main tone, to a higher tone

Janta Fingered/vocalised Stresses

Sphuritam – A note repeated twice with upward force from the note immediately below on 2nd time (SS-RR-GG-MM etc),

Ahatam - 2 note phrases in ascending order where the first note is given an upward force from the note immediately below (SR-RG-GM-MP-PD etc)

Pratyahatam – 2 note phrases in descending order where the first note is given an upward force from the note immediately below (SN-ND-DP-PM-MG etc) ,

Khandippu – sharp dynamic accent,

Tripuchcham - A note repeated 3 times with upward force from the note immediately below on 2nd & 3rd times (SSS-RRR-GGG-MMM etc)

Andolam Swings Movements of various notes in a swinging fashion (SRSG,G - SRSM,M - SRSP,P) etc
Daalu/Daatu Skips Daalu - Jumping to various notes from the same note - SG - SM - SP - SD or GD - GN - GS etc.

Daatu - Skipping notes from any note - RM, DS, PR, NPRM, SGPS etc

Jaaru/Ullasita Glides/glissandos Irakka-jaru – descending slide, Etra-jaru – ascending slide
Tribhinnam Polyphony Striking 3 notes at the same time (usually on instruments)

Hindustani music gamaks[edit]

Hindustani music has five gamaks. The gamak is similar to meend and andolan.

Gamakas in music notation[edit]

Notation of gamaks is generally not found in the Indian music system. There can be considerable difficulty in conveying the complex and fluid melodic movement of gamaks in a notation system that uses fixed pitch signs.[9] In Carnatic music in particular, the notation of gamaks is often unnecessary, as performers use notation as a memory aid for compositions they already learned by hearing and imitating.[9]

However, there are some old scripts and books like the Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini, which have specific signs to indicate the gamaks that have to be used for each note. Usage of such symbols makes it easier to understand the notation and to sing the composition.


  1. ^ Kassebaum (2000), p93
  2. ^ Appreciating Carnatic Music by Chitravina N Ravikiran, Pub: Ganesh & Co
  3. ^ Prof. P Sambamoorthy (2005), South Indian Music – Vol I, Chennai, India: The Indian Music Publishing House, p. 18
  4. ^ Viswanathan, T (1977). "The Analysis of Rāga Ālāpana in South Indian Music". Asian Music. 9 (1): 13–71. doi:10.2307/833817.
  5. ^ a b Powers, Harry S. (1958). "Mode and Raga". The Musical Quarterly. 44 (4): 448–460. doi:10.1093/mq/xliv.4.448.
  6. ^ Introduction to Gamak at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy
  7. ^ Menon, Raghava R. (1995). The Penguin Dictionary of Indian Classical Music. Penguin Books (India) Ltd. p. 61. ISBN 0-14-051324-8.
  8. ^ Balasarasa murali - Keeravani krti of Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi
  9. ^ a b Swift, Gordon (1990). "South Indian "Gamak" and the Violin". Asian Music. 21 (2): 71–89. doi:10.2307/834112.


  • Kassebaum, Gayathri Rajapur. "Karnatak raga" (2000). In Arnold, Alison. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. New York & London: Taylor & Francis.

See also[edit]