Maestro Ilayaraaja's website 9th Chords in Raaja's Music
In this passage, lets look into the usage of 9th chords in Raaja’s music… When I think about the significance that an extra note (swara) can bring when added to a particular root chord (to make it a special chord like a 7th or 9th) is unbelievable to notice.  For one who understands how to do this, Music becomes a child’s play and he / she can simply do whatever they feel like doing with swaras… Ilayaraaja is among those extremely gifted souls who can play with most weirdest combination of notes to produce a chord something like ‘ Fm 9th 7th’ which can be otherwise seen only in the theory books of ‘How to Play Guitar?’ Yet he comes out phenomenally successful in his novel attempts!!!  I’m not joking or exaggerating here. Believe me, He has used this chord in the prelude of the song Nee partha in ‘Hey Ram’. The chord used in the prelude after the Piano solo is a Fm 9th 7th (which is Fm with G and D#. But C deleted from the chord. So its F+G+G#+D#). I wonder while composing, is there anyone else out there who can visualize at a meta level, i.e., in mind how does a Dm 9th would sound instead of a D minor.

Well, in any 9th chords (Both major ninth and minor ninth) when you add the second note from the root together with the root-chord, you get the 9th. Eg: Adding D to CM or Cm chord yields you CM9th/Cm9th respectively. In Carnatic terms, When you add a  periya Ri to the root chord, it gives that respective 9th. When I try to fathom what an added feel can this big Ri introduce when used, Raaja bowls me out for a duck, not letting me to conclude that a 9th chord can be used only on such and such situations.. Because he has used it for almost all-possible situations in Cine-Music. But when I try to give it a closer look, May be I get off the mark with the inference that, a 9th Chord certainly gives a “Reengaaram idum” effect in your ears… (I really can’t find a good English word for the Difficult Tamil word ‘Reengaaram’.. May be Reverberating or Resounding or Resonating or Rich ????) Because in a major or a minor chord the gap between Sa and Ga is actually large.. Hence this big ‘Ri’ comes in between like a Norwegian peace delegation on Sri Lanka-LTTE peace process… So when you play it Sa + Ri + Ga + Pa, It gives this resonating effect… Often he uses this resounding effect to create a suspense or thrilling effect. Other than this, it can be used to beautify the pain of separation in raagas like  ‘Sivaranjani’ (with consecutive Sa + Ri + Chinna Ga progression)

If Nobel consortium ever introduces a Prize for innovation in Music, Raaja would have bagged it for the way he has handled the 9th chords. He has exploited the reverberating nature of this 9th chords by playing it in a Guitar thro’ phaser!!! This can be evidently noticed in Songs like Uravenum pudiya vanil.. When Janaki sings the pallavi of this song, a guitar (with phaser) simply gives the root minor 9th chord in a arpeggio style. The fear which one would have when you fall in love for the first time is beautiful expressed by the 9th…  The song Hey I love you !! I Love you !! is another example.. The way the song starts in Cm9th with the phased output of the guitar simply mesmerizes you.. Raaja dedicates the prelude of this song for a fleet of 9th chords like Cm9th, Fm9th, A#M9th, D#M9th through out the brass trumpet melody in the prelude… Amazing!!! (If you don’t understand what a phaser is, it’s a electronic gadget which distorts the output of music by sending sound signals again and again with a phase lag.. Often its connected with a Guitar… Our traditional instruments like Thambura and Moresingh have a inbuilt Phaser in them. A matter of real pride for us over the sound engineering done by our ancestors I must say!!!).

Another pattern where he is fond of using minor 9th is places where songs undergo a sudden transition. For example from happy to sad feel or from soft to a grand feel etc., He understands the power of major and minor 9th very well.. Thro’ major 9th, he normally intorduces a bright and pleasant transition while on the contrary he uses minor 9th for a gloomy or a swift transition in a song.  Song Oh Butterfly from ‘Meera’ is a good example. The song begins with a soft melody with excellent arpeggio backings. When the phrase “Arugil Nee” begins the song acclerates as the drum and the strings backings join. The chord used here is Dm9th. Song Kannan vandhu from ‘Rettai vaal kuruvi’ is another one. In stanza the song relaxes a bit as it starts in the relative major. But the seriousness is re-introduced during the phrase “Maalai Nila” where the song switches back to minor. Here Somewhere deep behind you can listen to a slow string ensemble adding a 9th note to the existing Dm. The song really elevates here.. Similarly the song ‘Vellai Pura Onru’ from Pudhukavidhai. It’s a joyful melody in Kalyani. The second BGM also starts in a very special fashion where phased guitar and strings answer each other in interesting time intervals. But suddenyl after this Janaki takes over with a humming which sounds very haunting. It very much looks as if it’s a purposeful mood change which the movie director would have demanded out of Raaja having something else in mind while he composed this song, thou’ nothing haunting happens during this part of the song. In fact heroine waves her handkerchief cheerfully from a cliff and the ‘superstar’ acknowledges it romatically sitting in his race bike downhill !!! Neways it doesn’t matter.. During this humming a sudden gloomy effect is created by the usage of Dm9th and Am9th. The song Konji Konji from Veera is ideal to explain the brightness that Major9th   addes to a song. In stanza the song switches from minor to major when SP sings a brief sankarabharanam of ‘Sa ga ri ma ga pa ma dha  pa ni dha sa ni ri ni ni’. Here in the lines ‘Anangalin oorvalam’ its E M9th and A M9th…

Yet another pattern, which Raaja adopts, is using the minor 9th chords consecutively in a higher and a lower octave… For example Vaa vaa Anbae Anbae from Agni Nakshathram (again sivaranjani!!)… When the second interlude starts, a Piano simply plays Cm9th (in half timings) in a higher octave.. then lower octave… For two bars… Then the violin takes over…Next is in the movie Guru .. Between the lines of the song  Perai chollava  and Adhu Gnyamaguma you hear two chords.,.. Its nothing but minor 9th played consecutively on a higher octave and then on a lower octave…. Again in the song Ilamai idho idho between this line and the next line ‘Inimai Idho Idho’ the Cm9th chord goes echoing in two consecutive octaves. Same thing he does it again in the first interlude of the song Naan Thedum Sevvandhi poovidhu…

In western classical, sometimes playing some note in a chord is optional. (Eg: combination of Lower A+ E+G is also A7th) Similarly, Raaja mostly deletes the 5th note (or the Pa) from the 9th chord. I don’t know why, but mostly he prefers a 9th chord to sound like that… May be because just 3 subsequent notes souding together produces more resounding effect. All of us only remember the prelude of Illamai Idho Idho Idho, to Kamalhassan slowly walking to a bike, starting it. As the tempo of the prelude increases, He revs up his bike and when it reaches a peak he hells “Hi Every body.. Wish you a Happy new year…..”  But not everyone is aware that its nothing but Cm9th played without G (Or Pa).. A grandeur feel is very well created by this chord and he repeats this magic in the song Megam kottatum from Ennakkul oruvan.. The root chord of the song is Em9th… Raaja repeats this trick in lots of other occasions… During the second interlude starting of the song  Ooru sanam Thoongiruchu….; In the song Sem poovae. Poovae during the words “Padai kondu nadakkum manmadha silaiyo” a beautiful backing of FM9th without Pa can be noticed.. The second interlude of a telugu song in a Telugu movie starring Chiranjeevi (which is the origianl tune of Dhak Dhak karnae laga, eventually I forgot the telugu song..) starts in this minor 9th punch. The prelude of Poonthalir Aada from panner pushpangal again features Em9th without the 5th note.  That leads us to another observation that, quite often minor 9th chords are used in the preludes. Already we saw the songs begin in Ilamai idho, Megam kottatum, Hey I love you, poonthalir aada etc., ‘En Iniya Pon Nilavae’ from Moodupani joins the list.. The song begins in Cm9th. The list is endless!!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                     -Vicky
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