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What exactly is music? One may be tempted to reply, "Elementary, my dear Watson! Anything that is musical to the ears is music! 

It is by no means an easy task to define music but one may understand it as a special means of communication through organised, regular vibrations. Audible frequencies can be classified on the basis of regularity of vibrations into noise, sound and music. (Strictly speaking, sound encompasses both noise and music but here it is being used to denote something in-between.) We hear noise, listen to sound and enjoy music. If we don't enjoy it, it won't be music to us. Thus we come across people with a wide range of tastes and expectations, who may agree or disagree as to what music is. For instance, a person who likes fast exciting rhythm-based music may find slow 'alapana' or songs dreary and boring. On the contrary, a person who adores peaceful, tranquil melodies may find the super-fast stuff quite unmusical. In fact, to such a person, super-fast music may well fall under the category of noise! High-class music will have its loyal followers irrespective of country, region, religion, race or age.

Like many other systems across the world, Carnatic music can be appreciated mainly at two levels - emotional or intellectual. It has generally been observed that the majority, at least in the initial stages, go by 'what it does to their heart'. But gradually they seek to understand more in order to enjoy the music better. Of course, there are many who enjoy it for spiritual, philosophical and other reasons.

A good music system is one wherein both the emotional and intellectual aspects are present in even measure. Such a system must also have enough instant appeal to attract the unexposed listener, as well as lasting value and substance in order to stand the test of time and thorough analysis. Carnatic music commands world-wide respect, admiration and following for being one such system. It is also one of the most ancient music systems in the world and is governed by well-defined theoretical principles, which however don't jeopardize the practical and aesthetic expression of music. The performing tradition also extends back to several generations.

Carnatic music is one of the two major systems of classical music in India, the other being Hindustani music. One of its greatest virtues is that while it is among the most scientifically evolved independent systems in the world, it has also managed to take in desirable aspects from any system and adopt them with an enviable catholicity of outlook, without in any way prejudicing its originality and individuality. For instance, the violin has been successfully adopted from the West, just as a few ragas have been incorporated from Hindustani music.

Some of the key terms you will come across when dealing with Carnatic music are: Raga, Tala, Kriti, Varnam, Padam, Javali, Tillana, Alapana, Tanam, Neraval, Kalpanaswara and Tani Avartanam. You will find out more about these in the subsequent sections! But before that, here are some tips to appreciate Carnatic music!

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