Global Tutorials

Published: Jun 06, 2010, 14:52 IST | Lalitha Suhasini

Cool gurus all over the country are hooking onto Skype to teach their students scattered across Kazakhstan, Sydney, Paris and Wisconsin, finds Lalitha Suhasini

Cool gurus all over the country are hooking onto Skype to teach their students scattered across Kazakhstan, Sydney, Paris and Wisconsin, finds Lalitha Suhasini

An hour before noon, veena and Carnatic vocal tutor Shyamala Sajnani dials Sydney from her suburban home in Mumbai to link to her 24 year-old student Madhumati Santosh, who has settled down for a mid-afternoon weekly veena session. "It's been a month since I've been learning on Skype now," says Santosh, over the phone from Sydney. Santosh learnt the veena under Sajnani for two years while she was based in Mumbai, before she moved to Australia after she got married. "I practised on my own at home, but learning like this is so much better. It's as easy, as say, looking for something on Google," she says.

Mumbai-based veena and vocal tutor Shyamala Sajnani connects with Madhumati Santosh, her student based in Sydney over Skype for her weekly veena lesson.
PIC/ HASHIM BADANI


Forty five-year-old Sajnani, a self-confessed technophobe, began taking classes on Skype just this January after much coaxing from overseas students. The clear Sydney-Mumbai connectivity has helped ease her into the new system, says Sajnani.

Carnatic connection
Little did Estonian software developer Ahti Heinla realise that Skype, the internet voice calling freeware that he co-developed in 2003, would turn into a modern teaching tool for Carnatic music teachers across the world.

The new Skype Carnatic music rage has to do with Non Resident Indians attempting to reconnect with their roots in the convenience of their own homes.

Mumbai-based Satish Krishnamurthy, 29, began teaching the mridangam, a South Indian percussion instrument, just a year ago. His online students are spread across Paris and various metros in India. Krishnamurthy has an interesting backstory on how he found an audience in France eight years ago. "I was at Hari Prasad Chaurasiaji's New Year bash. I didn't know anybody there, and a French musician who plays the Irish flute got talking to me," he recounts.  The next day, the two jammed and the flautist recorded his music on a laptop. A month later, Krishnamurthy received an invitation to a gig in Paris. "Soon, students showed an interest to learn online. My international students use Carnatic music as a form of meditation," says the pony-tailed percussion guru who also teaches the kanjira and ghatam.

Says Krishnamurthy's French student Tristan Auvray, 31, based in Rennes, "We can have lessons anywhere on Skype. The good thing is we can record the video in real time so that we can later practise with the video. Besides, you save the money and time you would have spent on travelling."

Mysore V Ambaprasad, a violinist with an engineering background, who calls himself computer illiterate, got hooked onto Skype early in 2007 after a suggestion from a student. "She learnt in the traditional format for a long time in Mysore, and suggested I try online tutorials when she left Mysore," says Ambaprasad, who has over 20 online students  across the United States.

Taking cue from Ambaprasad, his sibling VRR Bhargava, also Mysore-based and a percussionist teaching mridangam and tabla, began his own Skype classes. "Teaching online is as challenging as teaching in real time, in person," he says.

Supplementing Skype lessons
While Sajnani's Indian student based in Kazakhstan makes a trip to Mumbai to brush up her veena lessons, Krishnamurthy visits Paris once a year to conduct mridangam workshops. "There are times when because of time difference and syncing, it's difficult to understand the time signatures properly. Sometimes, there's also a language barrier with the French students and I have to make do with hand gestures. It can get a little challenging," admits Krishnamurthy, who also has students as young as 10-year-old Anirudh Bharve from Goa taking online lessons.

Technology is intimidating
Krishnamurthy admits that musicians from an older generation are wary of teaching online. "My mother is a vocal guru, and she finds it impossible to understand the concept of teaching music online. I too studied under the gurukul system but I find it really interesting to use technology," he says.

On the contrary, Hyderabad-based Brinda Padmanabhan, 51, who began her Skype lessons six months ago, has effortlessly shifted to the virtual mode. She says, "My website was available for more than a year and was designed in such a way that people could download the notations as well as the MP3 versions, and learn at their own time and convenience. But since some of my students are settled abroad, most of them in the USA, I decided to try Skype."

Percussionist Bhargava claims admits he has encouraged several other colleagues to start online classes, but most are intimidated by technology.

No substitute for the real thing
Santosh says nothing comes close to sitting in the same room as your guru. But that has hardly dented the plans of those like Chennai-based vocal guru and music entrepreneur KN Shashikiran who has big plans for online music learning (see trend forecast). "Skype is a zero-expenditure basic system. It's the easiest and most economical means, but not necessarily the most effective one. It's dependent on a broadband connection and isn't a scaleable model for Carnatic music education," says Shashikiran over the telephone from Perth.

It's in-person precision that virtual classes can rarely achieve. "It's not always as easy to grasp nuances over the Internet. If a student isn't getting the strokes right, I can actually hold his hand and show him that he has to strike with a particular finger," says Krishnamurthy.

The Handbook
What sites to go to if you want to learn online

www.sruthi-laya.com
Brinda Padmanabhan's website for vocal lessons. Padmanabhan is active on the site and responds to your queries on the same day. She charges $10 per session for beginner's lessons until Geethams. For advanced lessons (varnams), she charges $15 per session.

www.mysoremusic.com
Amba Prasad and his brother V V Bhargava have set up the site for both, vocal and instrumental classes.

www.karnatik.com
The site has beginner's audio lessons, lyrics, tips on how to practice. Besides, every visitor to the site sends a penny to charity just by visiting.

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The student: Tristan Auvray, 31
In: Rennes, Paris

We can record the video in real time so that we can later practise with the video. Besides, you save the money and time you would have spent on travelling.

The guru: Satish Krishnamurthy, 29,
In: Kandivali, Mumbai

My mother is a vocal guru and she finds it impossible to understand teaching music online. I too studied under the gurukul system but i think the use of technology is fascinating.

Trend Forecast
'India will get a cultural tech-park. You can choose between a premium or a regular guru' K N Shashikaran, vocalist and teacher from Chennai KN Shashikiran has plans to set up a virtual varsity for music in India. "We were the first to create an e-learning system for Carnatic music based out of Chennai," says Shashikiran, a trained vocalist and sought-after teacher.

Currently researching distance learning in Carnatic music through IT and electronic media for a PhD, Shashikiran has worked out a model which includes learning modules, recorded lessons, monitoring systems for teachers, a merit-based system and music libraries. "We'll have a 24-hour call centre and offer different types of teachers -- a premium guru and a regular guru. It will be India's first culture techpark," he adds.

The online gurus

Hyderabad-based vocal teacher Brinda Padmanabhan

Her website was available for more than a year, and was designed in such a way that surfers could download the notations as well as the mp3 versions, and learn at their own time and convenience. But since some of her students settled abroad would constantly contact her to get their doubts cleared, she shifted to Skype classes.

Mysore-based violinist Mysore V Ambaprasad
A student who moved from Mysore, where she learnt with him, suggested he try online tutorials. He now has 20 online students spread across the United States.

Mysore-based mridangam and tabla teacher VRR Bhargava
He took a cue from brother Mysore V Ambaprasad and began online tutorials

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