Ravi Shankar: Learning Indian Music a Systematic Approach

Edited by Elise Barnett and Mary Frances Dunham

This book was one of the first of its kind to introduce and teach Indian classical music to a Western audience. Professor Elise Barnett came up with the idea to make this book based on the lecture series Ravi Shankar gave to her students in world music at City College in 1967. Over an intensive six week period Professor Barnett and a team including Mary Frances Dunham worked closely with Ravi Shankar to produce the recordings that accompany the lessons in this book. Mary Frances Dunham was involved throughout the process of this project as an advisor and associate editor. She also provided the Western musical notations that go with the recordings.


The following text was prepared for a radio interview with Mary Frances Dunham by Kobi Sammelan.

Question: What was it like to work for Ravi Shankar?

A little background history about my late professor friend, Lisl Barnett: At the start of WWII Lisl Barnett (then Braun), with her husband and small daughter took refuge in India, in Calcutta, where she was active as a pianist for All India Radio and as a Montessori teacher. Her daughter went to a British school where, by coincidence, my own daughter started kindergarten many yeas later.

During her time there Lisl met Ravi Shankar and they became friends. Years later, after Lisl and her family had settled in New York and she was teaching at City College, she asked Raviji if he would give some lectures to her students. He agreed and over six weeks of once-a-week sessions he gave lecture demonstrations which Lisl tape recorded. When I was helping Lisl working on a discography of Indian art music for the Society for Ethnomusicology, Lisl played for me some of the tapes.

We began discussing how the tapes could be preserved. Then we got the idea of inviting Ravi Shankar to re-do the course with improved recording technology and so that it could be accompanied by a manual: a kit of recordings and manual for introducing the basics of Indian classical music.

Raviji agreed and for several weeks he conducted sessions in his hotel room at Gracie Square Mansions where chosen students and his assistant, Sue Jones, conducted pre-organized classes which Lisl and I had suggested and Raviji had improved. The sessions were exciting because we were working so closely with Raviji and could enjoy his ever ebullient spirit and love of interchange with the “students” (actually professional musicians in some cases.) Although my assistance occurred accidentally through Lisl, I was actually quite prepared to help since I had a background in both Western and Indian music theory. When I tried to steer Raviji toward organizing the teaching more in line with a Western preference for formulas as opposed to long sessions of imitating music, he was always patient and understanding. I think we reached a good compromise in the organization of the course.

The kit was published in an attractive box containing three tapes and a beautifully illustrated manual. I have Raviji’s signature boldly scrawled on my copy and also boxes of scrap notes that we all made together as we planned the lessons. Lisl used to say that this was the high period of her life. It was a high period for me too. 

7 thoughts on “Ravi Shankar: Learning Indian Music a Systematic Approach”

    1. You may be interested to know that the City University of New York has a great archive on Ravi Shankar based on the lecture series he gave there in the 1970s.

  1. Sitarananda

    Thank you SO much for making possible and opening this little window into Indian music! And such a great pleasure to find Guruji here and now, forever present and well, doing what he was always doing, keeping the flame of Indian music alive! Om Shanti

  2. Thank you for making the materials available!
    When trying to download ‘Learning Indian Music 3A’ , an error is created: ‘The requested URL was not found on this server. ‘
    If possible, could you re-upload the file?
    Thank you. Greetings

    1. Kate Dunham

      thank you for letting me know about the problem.
      It should work now. Please check it and let me know if there’s still a problem.

  3. Namaste and thanks.
    I was very lucky once to have found this treasure in Houston public library as a rare item and had cherished it in 1990s. But then the item was lost. Mow I find myself lucky again to have looked for this item on google and to have found it hosted on your site. What a awesome feeling that I am not able to describe. Will share with my friends and loved ones. Thank you very much.

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