I don’t know how to read music… how can I learn how to play these chants on a harmonium or other keyboard?
Many of these chants are very simple… even I could learn to play them. You are only playing with your right hand. The left hand would normally be pumping the harmonium. Each of the notes on the PDF notation is associated to a key on the keyboard, depending on the position of the note on the staff. The shape tells you how long to hold the note.
You can search for a free introduction piano course and find out which notes go to which keys and in no time, be playing along. Its best to start off with the easier chants such as K-05, R-04, R-16, or R-29. In most of the chants either the “G” or “A” note below middle-C is held down with the thumb to provide a drone.
If you have an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, the Anytune app is great for putting these MP3 recordings on your device. This app lets you mark a section that you are trying to learn and repeat it in a loop at a different speed or even pitch.
What equipement do I need?
At minimum, you will need a keyboard of some kind. I purchased a used Casio keyboard with mini-keys for $50 on eBay. The mini-keys are almost identical to the harmonium key size and allow you to hold the drone with your thumb and still have a decent reach with your fingers. If you’d like to get a harmonium, reputable sources are Ragamala Harmoniums and Musicians Mall.
What equipement do you use to make the recordings?
Wayne: I own an older Bina harmonium but keep that at the place where I do group meditation and so did not have access to it for doing the recordings. In the beginning I used an old mini-key Casio keyboard that I bought for $50. Then I received an iPad as a gift and kept adding onto the iPad. I bought a Korg microKEY 37-Key USB Powered Keyboard for $80 on Amazon but had some challenges plugging it into the iPad. After research, I found that I could plug it into Apple’s USB camera adapter. In addition, Korg makes a bluetooth version of the 37-Key keyboard that connects wirelessly to the iPad. The Korg’s keys are about the same size as a harmonium.
On the iPad I purchased the Bismark bs-16i app which has an excellent accordion sound sample that sounds like a harmonium. Combining the “bs-16i” with the Korg gave me velocity sensitive keys, which didn’t act like a harmonium so I added the Midiflow app to flatten out the velocity curve. The tabla sounds in many of the recordings were generated by the iTablePro app.
I also purchased a semi-professional microphone with a USB output and a mike stand. I bought Apple’s “camera connection kit” and a powered USB hub (I had to try many hubs before I found one that worked). Then the microphone and the Korg keyboard plug into the hub with the hub plugging into the camera connection kit. I do multi-track recording with the MultiTrack app, export to “wav” files, and do the final editing and mix-down in Audacity.
Recently I went crazy and purchased the iConnectAUDIO4+ and this is an amazing device. I can plug up to 4 microphones via XLR connectors or 1/4″ plugs. I also plug my Korg keyboard into it via the USB midi input and it powers the Korg keyboard. It also has midi DIN input/output connectors. I even plug an electric guitar into it. Finally, and most amazingly, it powers and charges the iPad while it is operating.
Tami: I use a full-sized keyboard, the Yamaha Portable Grand and more recently a Ragamala harmonium. For percussion, I use the auto-play function of MuseScore and play it from my PC. For recording, I use an iPod Touch with AudioMemos app.
I also use MuseScore for notation: It is a free notation software application available on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.
Are these chants from a particular spiritual group?
I have been a member of Dhyanyoga Centers since 1989 and have collected many chants from that group. I have also collected chants from other individuals and groups. In addition, I have composed a few of the chants myself. Many of these chants are common among spiritual groups and get modified by each individual group and singer that expresses them.