This is a four-year programme that revolves around rhythmical devices/complexities and microtonal concepts (the latter are optional) derived from the theory of South Indian classical music (Karnatic music) in order to use them within a western contemporary context.

In the course of the last century...

The contemporary composer is developing a mature and panoramic vision on parameters of music such as timbre, pitch, counterpoint, form, texture, etc., as well as broader intercultural knowledge of musical instruments, and a great command of electronic resources. All of this can lead them to affirm their own expressive language.

And nowadays...

Just as a composer is aware of the physical constitution of an instrument when devising extended techniques, they could be fully aware of the organic implications of a rhythmical challenge in order to obtain an effective result.

Rhythmically, a lot has been tried out during the last hundred years, but the essence of the matter remains to be addressed within the curricula of western musical institutions, so as to produce a clear vision and comparative perspective.

The prism of karnatic techniques provides clarity in the understanding of the rhythmical phenomenon. Numerous karnatic tools facilitate dealing with rhythmical queries: speed; density; accuracy, feasibility; displacement; regular and irregular accents; relation with texture, form; choice of conventional notation, note values, time signature; tempo modulations; polyrhythm, polypulse and a long etcetera.

Of course, rhythm is intertwined with every other musical parameter, never isolated. Hence, the deep understanding of its unique characteristics and how it enhances other parameters will result in a multiplying effect.

It is only up to the inventiveness, creativity and innovation of the composer to take it a step further.

The Karnatic rhythmical system offers paths to create music using rhythmical complexities in a very organic fashion, getting away from the highly-charged ‘intellectual approach’ that has possibly characterised much of the ‘new complexity’ approach to using rhythm. An important aspect of Karnatic rhythm is that it is a system in which the practice methodology and the developmental possibilities of the same concept are inextricably linked. The notion of common denominator impregnates the structural architecture of each technique and its developmental possibilities.

Course description

This is a 4-year long programme that revolves around rhythmical techniques/devices/complexities, as well as various developmental concepts derived from the theory of South Indian classical music (Karnatic music) in order to use them within a western contemporary context. The final goal for the student is to achieve a higher degree of understanding of these concepts and its subsequent utilization in today's music and never to copy the Karnatic tradition. Combining the below mentioned Karnatic concepts with western concepts of orchestration, counterpoint and polyphony is a must within the programme.

Advanced Rhythm - Composition

Advanced Rhythm - Composition proposes an intercultural approach to universal rhythmical concepts.
We reflect upon the essence of rhythm, tackling abstract and concrete notions, simple and complex expressions:
- Pulse, non-pulse, subdivision, speed, density, displacement, accents, polyrhythm, polypulse...
- Comparative notation of rhythmical values, time signature, tempo, metrical modulations...
- Rhythmical relation with phrasing, texture, form, larger structures...
Numerous Karnatic (South-Indian) tools provide clarity in the rhythmical phenomenon, reassuring the composers' personal view, while facilitating their creativity in all diversity of genres and aesthetics.

Objectives, training:

- Composers enrich their rhythmical palette, gaining intuitive, expressive and creative potential.
   Theory and practice. Karnatic concepts in intercultural context. Universal rhythmic concepts.
- Composers acquire an organic feel for rhythmical proportions.
   Physical exercises based on karnatic tools. Bodily experience. Ability to demonstrate.
- Composers explore rhythmical issues of existing repertoire, including their own pieces and work in progress.
   Listening and analysis of relevant material from different origins, in different styles.
- Composers experiment the latest developments in complex rhythmical notation, establishing their own vision.
   Comparison of notational solutions to rhythmical challenges.
- Composers can incorporate rhythmical concepts into a larger scale of structure and form.
  Work on developing larger formal strategies. Karnatic, western and examples from elsewhere.

Course focus:

1) Theory of South Indian classical  music:

  • Rhythmical complexities: Different types of Tala (cycles) construction, all sort of polyrhythms, polypulses, irregular groupings, inner amalgamation, structural metrical modulations, polytalas and mathematical/rhythmical calculations and their relationship to structural development.
  • The study of rhythm, not only as an ‘isolated’ phenomenon of more or less complexity, but as a source for development, creation of structures and forms, feeling for proportionalities and a number of related concepts.
  • Formal and structural concepts: Developmental techniques, different types of forms. Usage of South-Indian geometrical concepts to apply  on macro and micro structures.
  • Microtonality (optional from the 2nd year on): 22 srutis (pitches) system, different types of Raga construction, 39 srutis system, different types of modulation, use of pitches outside the raga and gamakas (South Indian ornaments).

2) Practical exercises and homework based on the theory.

3) Extensive listening and analysis of recorded material.

Course structure:

The whole year is divided as follows:

  • Theory: 14 lessons before Christmas and 7 lessons after Christmas
  • 10-12 weeks to compose an ensemble piece (see below)

Between December and January the student must write a short 'etude-like' duo. From March on the student has to compose an ensemble piece (trio to quintet), and meetings to work on that piece will occur on a weekly basis.

Jahnavi Jayaprakash, singer, 
composer and teacher of Karnatic music

The student can contact students who follow the performers programme to put the piece together, and be coached in a number of the rehearsals by of one of the teachers of the Advanced Rhythm programme. The piece can be premiered within one of the final concerts of the program, or the student can also simply choose to write a piece without any specific premiere date in mind if he/she so wishes or, eventually, for a commission or event he/she may be involved in.

The program is divided into two parts, each consisting of two years. In the first part, four or five students will share weekly lessons of 2 hours. The first two years are exclusively of rhythmical/structural nature and in the third and fourth years the student can choose whether to get an introduction to karnatic forms along with more rhythmical devices, or to study only more rhythmical/structural concepts.

The second part will be structured in lessons of 1 hour, with each student devising his/her own program based on a preference for form/structures or different options of rhythmical devices.

The final grade will be based on the homework, composition and a theory exam in March.


- Bachelors students: 10 per year from the elective package.

- Masters students: 10 per year; the first 10 are taken from the master electives and 10 of a second year from the 'individual credits'.