Applications of Karnatic Rhythm to Western Music

This is a unique two-year programme that can only be studied at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and is intended for:

  • Performers from both classical and improvisation backgrounds
  • Creators from both classical and improvisation backgrounds
  • Musicians with a non-western background who can demonstrate a high command of their instrument
  • Musicians with a pedagogical background or orientation

The material imparted in this programme is suitable for musicians interested in one or more of the following aspects:

A) Exploring rhythm as a tool to

  • Improve accuracy and understanding in the performance of contemporary music, whether composed or improvised.
  • Create new music, regardless of the musician’s aesthetics or background
  • Find new paths in improvisation
  • Learn new approaches to teaching music, whether as a solfege or instrument teacher

B) Exploring ‘transversality’ between different aspects of music (composition, performance, improvisation)

C) Openness to non-western musical cultures

Opening doors to a wide number of professional positions for musicians
This programme would enable musicians to work professionally in fields or positions such as:

  • Member of a contemporary music ensemble (e.g. Ictus Ensemble, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Musikfabrik etc.)
  • Member of already established jazz ensembles that explore complex rhythmical concepts (e.g. Miles Okazaki, Dan Weiss, Aka Moon, Vijay Iyer etc).
  • Develop solo careers, whether as a contemporary specialist, or as a creator, be it in a through-composed or improvised setting.
  • The creation of or functioning in groups or ensembles that explore transversality of genres (e.g. jazz-flamenco, improvisation with classical contemporary aspects).
  • The creation of or functioning in groups that explore non-western influences.
  • Enhancing flexibility within popular or traditional styles (e.g. rap, hip-hop, pop, rock, electronic dance music etc.)
  • Teaching a new rhythmical solfege from a different angle to musicians/students/pupils of any background or age.
  • Teaching instrumental lessons emphasising rhythm and rhythmical development.
  • Ethnomusicology with a strong practical approach to teaching.

The expansion of rhythmical possibilities has been one of the cornerstones of musical developments in the last hundred years, whether through western development or through the borrowing from non-western traditions. Most classical performers, whether in orchestral or ensemble situations, will have to face a piece by Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Ligeti, Messiaen, Varèse or Xenakis, to mention just a few well-known composers, while improvisers face music influenced by Dave Holland, Steve Coleman, Aka Moon, Vijay Iyer, Miles Okazaki or elements from the Balkans, India, Africa or Cuba. Furthermore, many creators, whether they belong to the classical or jazz worlds, are currently organising their music not only in terms of pitch content but with rhythmical structures and are eager to obtain information that would structure and classify rhythmical possibilities in a coherent and practicable way.

20th- and 21st-century music demands a new approach to rhythmical training, a training that will provide musicians with the necessary tools to face with accuracy more varied and complex rhythmical concepts, while keeping the emotional content. The programme Applications of Karnatic Rhythm to Western music addresses ways in which the Karnatic rhythmical system can enhance, improve or even radically change the creation (be it written or improvised) and interpretation of (complex) contemporary classical and improvised music.

The incredible wealth of rhythmical techniques, devices and concepts, the different types of tala construction, the use of rhythm as a structural and developmental element and, last but not least, the use of mathematics to sometimes very sophisticated levels in South India, enable the western musician to improve and enhance their accuracy and/or their creative process and make the study of Karnatic rhythm a fascinating adventure of far-reaching consequences. The large variety of rhythmical devices used in Karnatic music is, in the West, one of the elements most unknown and least documented, yet potentially most universal.

Working with Karnatic rhythmical techniques and their almost infinite developmental possibilities, enables the musician to discover new ways to learn, improvise, analyse and read new music, to create and, also, how to teach. This programme can provide students with many important tools and methods that they can adapt and use in their very own way in their very own work. 

General entrance requirements

The special ‘study by contract’ of the programme ‘Applications of Karnatic rhythm to western music’ is developed for performers and composers with a keen interest in rhythmic traditions from all around the world, with the aim to combine those with our Western music background. Candidates have to be active in the musical field and can be admitted, provided that they show proficiency in music theory and a sufficient level in performance skills.

In addition to the completed and signed application form and the other documents, students are requested to send an audio and/or video recording (CD or DVD in data format or links to the internet) of  a performance with a maximum length of 15 minutes and a motivation letter stating the student's reasons for wishing to enter the programme and a short description of what the candidate thinks to achieve after finishing the course(s).

Selected candidates will be invited to do interview with a duration of around 20 minutes in which they can present themselves and perform.

General first year completion requirements (see below for further detail):
1) Theory exam
2) Concert presentation of around 30 minutes

General graduation requirements (see below for further details)
1) Theory exam
2) Recital of 60 minutes (40 minutes for composers)

The participant will receive a certificate upon completion of the studies

Programme Content

Based on the aspects the student wishes to stress, the guidelines below can be followed. There are three main approaches (Classically-trained musicians, Improvisers, Composers), each one of them with four different options to choose from.
Each approach has two elements in common. These are:

  • a weekly individual meeting of 30 minutes in order to coach the student’s project
  • attending weekly sessions of 2 hours of the so-called ‘deepening' sessions, where the ‘roots’ of the material, as well as what other creators have done or are doing with Karnatic rhythmical concepts, will be listened to and analysed within a musical context. 

This programme can accept a maximum of three students per year.

To read testimonials by former students and professionals, please click here