Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar takes children on a hopscotch game of music

Narrator and author Shyama Panikkar tries to address the gaps in Indian classical music education for children through her books and music enrichment program

Narrator and author Shyama Panikkar tries to address the gaps in Indian classical music education for children through her books and music enrichment program

“Music and mathematics have an unbreakable bond. A song is a melody composed in a rhythm pattern. Understanding beats and the mathematics behind beats is very essential in music education,” said Shyama Panikkar, author and storyteller.

The Mumbai-based artist recently hosted an online musical storytelling session about her recently launched book Bounce, Hop, Raaga Pop† The event was held as part of a Librarypreneurs of India initiative to raise money for a community library in Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Trained in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music, Shyama realized the gaps in preschool music education when she couldn’t find a book suitable for her three-year-old son to introduce him to Indian classical music. “I knew I had to change that,” Shyama says. This led to her first book A musical road trip in 2020. It is a story that takes the readers through the origin of the seven notes of Indian music and their meaning. “In ancient music literature written during Vedic times, it is mentioned that the notes are derived from animal and bird sounds. This information would never be available to children, so I made a book out of it,” Shyama says.

Her second book, released in January this year, tells a story about children and their discovery of music through the popular math game hopscotch. What follows is a game of creating musical patterns with an orchestra of bouncing balls, screeching parrots, bicycle bells and ankle bracelets.

“The main goal is to break the perception that classical music is boring and difficult. The book aims to show how music and math are related and a simple game of hopscotch can be very enjoyable while you sing and jump through the map,” says Shyama.

In her pursuit of making the classical music learning experience interactive and fun, Shyama has been leading an Indian music enrichment program ‘Sur Taal Aur Masti’ for the past three years. The pandemic came as an opportunity to reach children on the other side of the coast as she started taking classes on the online platform. “The pandemic is physically and mentally exhausting for the children. I feel that music is a great source of calm and positive energy for children,” says Shyama.

Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar, founder of Sur, Taal Aur Masti, during a session with children

Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar, founder of Sur, Taal Aur Masti, during a session with children | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Shyama, a telecommunications engineer and management graduate, has always been fascinated by music. So much so that she gave up her corporate professional career to take up music full-time. “The relationship between music and math has really intrigued me. Even in my classes, I emphasize the math elements for the kids, along with the creative elements. I encourage kids to create their own tunes too,” Shyama says.

“They first decide on a rhythm structure, put notes in the structure to make a melody, and then add their own words. It is an exercise with many creative and intellectual benefits.” To keep the lessons engaging and experiential, Shyama brings all kinds of props to explain to children that music is multifaceted. “We use kitchen utensils, shakers, spoons and all kinds of metals to show that music is everywhere,” she says. Shyama also incorporates other forms of art into her music lessons. In one of her online classes the children learned a thumri in Raag Hamir. The thumri described the beauty of Radha in Krishna’s eyes. “At the end, the kids were asked to create the image that came to their mind and made their own versions of the Radha on paper,” Shyama recalls.

She believes that Indian classical music is often undervalued in early childhood with most children being introduced to western nursery rhymes and nursery rhymes. “Kids grow up listening to and singing ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Baby Shark’. But Indian music is considered complicated and boring.” According to her, making learning interactive and introducing children to books about music with colorful illustrations and a storyline works as an effective medium to instill musical interest in children and curiosity to learn.

Shyama takes online music lessons and can be reached via her Instagram page @surtaalmasti

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