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Music of India

IGCSE/GCSE teaching/revision resource

Elise Haller-Shannon

on 7 April 2016

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Transcript of Music of India

Indian Classical Music is one of the oldest forms of music in the world and dates back nearly 2000 years.
The music from the North of India is called
and developed from ancient religious chants.
The History of Indian Classical Music
The music from the South of India is called
and is older than the music from the North.
Each musical style was handed down by word of mouth through several generations, developing an oral tradition of teaching Indian music.
It is based on the ragas ('colours'), which are scales and melodies that provide the foundation for a performance.
Hindustani ragas are assigned to specific times of the day (or night) and to specific seasons.
Carnatic ragas constitute one of the oldest systems of music in the world. They are based on seven rhythmic cycles and 72 fundamental ragas.
is a sustained note (or notes) that is played in the background and serves as an accompaniment to the melody.
is a pattern of different pitched notes that serve as the main voice of a musical piece.
In Indian music this is known as a
Ragas, or 'rags' are melody forms (a bit like a scale) that ascend and descend, but the pitches can differ in each direction.
Many ragas share the same scale, and many ragas share the same melodic theme.
Here is an example of a Rag Desh (a late evening rag associated with monsoon season):
The concept of time in indian music is
, in which
cycles of beats
(matras) are divided into
groups of short and long sections
The tala, or 'tal', is a repeating rhythm pattern usually played by the
(small drums) and it usually has between
6 and 16
are always present in Indian classical music.
The central feature of a rag performance is a fixed composition, called
(in a sung form) or
(in an instrumental performance) in the Hindustani system. It is called
in the Carnatic system.
There are hundreds of ragas in existence in Indian classical music, each with a particular mood associated to it.
music of

there are four main elements in Indian classical music
Indian classical music ensembles have only a handful of players. Most instruments are played while seated on the floor. There are usually the same three elements:
Melody Instruments
Percussion Instruments
Drone Instruments
How is the sitar played?
How would you describe the sound it makes?
What element do you think the other instrument in the video is covering?
The tabla is the most important instrument in
classical music.
What is the main purpose of the tampura?
How is it played?
The tabla is a paired set - What are the differences between the
small drum (dayan)
and the
larger drum (bayan)
Think about the way they are played and the sound they make.
What instrument usually plays the drone?
You are going to watch a short video about raga.
As you do, answer the following questions:
What is the raga based on that is similar to western music?
What can ragas be associated with?
How are the moods or themes of the raga differentiated?
The tonic, or ground note, is Sa (this is heard in the
The other two important notes are
Why are there different sizes of tampura?
Write your own raga
You are going to have a go at writing your own raga.
Use the sargam naming system
Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa
It must:
Start on middle C
Ascend and descend
the pitches can differ in each direction.
*extension task*
When you have completed your raga try improvising on it.
There are instructions on your sheet.
string instrument with a wooden body covered with goatskin and a broad neck that has a
fretless fingerboard
. This instrument holds an esteemed position in
music and is now often accompanied by the
instrument with 3-4 main playing strings (one of which is a
string) and up to 35-40 'sympathetic' strings.
Unlike the sitar and the sarod the sarangi is a folk instrument which also
accompanies the voice
Veena (or Vina)
The veena is a
plucked string instrument
and the most prominent classical instrument of
South India
It is about 4 feet in length and has
24 frets
and a tuning box. The player usually sits cross legged on the floor and the right hand index and middle fingers pluck the strings while the
drone strings are played by the little finger
Transverse Flutes
is a transverse flute with 6 holes made from bamboo, reeds or canes. It is in the
North Indian
system. It was previously associated with
folk music
but has since found it way into classical.
is the
South Indian
flute. It is made from hollowed out bamboo and has 7 (sometimes 8) finger holes. The instrument has a
complex variety of fingering and embouchure techniques
Canartic (South Indian)
violin is essentially the same as the western violin. It was introduced to India by the British in the 19th Century.
It is a popular solo instrument and is also used to accompany voices.
The strings of the instrument are tuned as
octave pairs
, usually on the
tonic and dominant
, although the tonic not fixed and is variably tuned to accommodate the vocalist or lead player.
What other differences are there between the Indian and western violin playing?
The Sitar is a string instrument from
North India
, which plays Hindustani classical music. It is one of the more well known Indian classical instruments partly due to interest shown towards
Ravi Shankar
by the 1960s pop group The Beatles.
The tabla player has the important role of
keeping the time cycle (tala)
This is the primary drum used in
South Indian
music and often
the South Indian vocal, kriti. How does it contrast to the tabla?
Another percussion instrument commonly found in
South Indian music
. It is an up-turned,
, claypot.
The tampura is a
string instrument
similar to the
, but it has
fewer strings (4 or 5) and no frets
Unlike the sitar it plays very simple and repetitive music.
Just as notes in the western scale can be made flat and sharp, pitches in the indian scale can also be altered -
with the exception of sa (tonic) and pa (dominant), which are never altered as they are thought to be 'pure' (shudh).
Like the western scale, the Indian scale has 7 basic pitches. The names of these 7 pitches are indentified by these syllables, known as the
sa ri ga ma pa dha ni sa
However, 'sa' is relative and can usually
begin anywhere
- the vocalist or instrumentalist would decide what pitch to start on - like the solfege system.
With these tones, a raga can be constructed.
Both northern and southern Indian music use ragas as their melodic basis. However,

Hindustani music favours improvisations

based on a raga, and

Carnatic music has a huge repertoire of precomposed songs or compositions

Hand gestures
- claps or waves - mark the
division of the cycle
, but
drum syllables (thekas)
are also used to
identify metrical patterns
. These syllables, which are called 'bols',
the sounds of the different strokes on the drum.
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16
1 etc.
clap clap wave clap clap
dha dha dhin dha dha dhin dhin dha dha tin tin ta ta dhin dhin dha dha
E.g. Division of the Hindustani 16 beat
Hand gestures
The 'theka'
16 beat tintal
is the most common tala - having a division of four beats marked by
3 claps and a wave
'Tal' literally means 'clap'. These patterns were usually clapped, but have since been replaced by the
meaning 'empty beat'
The first beat is called

There is another tala,
Adi tala
, which is used in
music. This is an
8 beat
Here is a video explaining the Hindustani tintal, with demonstration:
1 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 | 1 etc
clap clap wave clap wave
In both the Hindustani and Carnatic music systems, a fairly large number of talas exist, but today only a handful are used.
is the term used to refer to the tempo the tala is set.
- slow
- medium
- fast
There are 4 sections of the raga:
The performance begins with this
freely improvised
unmetred section
. This section is accompanied only by the
, the purpose of which is to allow the soloist to define and explore the notes of the raga.
When the playing becomes more rhythmic and a pulse is felt, but still no meter has been introduced, the jhor (or jor) section begins.
At the entry of the drum introducing the tala metrical cycle, the fixed composition (bandish or gat) begins.

At this point, the soloist elaborates the composition with ornamentations, melodic expansions and improvisation. The tabla - or mridangam - player keeps the time cycle going but will, now and again, also improvise virtuosic rhythmic patterns as a display of their skills.
As the performance progresses, the playing speeds up, climaxing with the repeated striking of the drone strings in between other pitches. This
concludes the performance

At times in the alap section, the
jhala may also be heard after the jhor
; when played in this section, rhythmic density and the interplay between melody and high-pitched drone strings becomes the centre of attention although this is still unmetred.
Music is an important part of life in India; many forms of music from religious songs and chants to Hindi film song can be heard in temples, shops, households and on public transport. In the past, classical music was heard only in courts and temples, but from the 20th century, classical music was heard in many places, especially urban centers and cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi and Kolkata. With the decline of the court by the end of the 19th century, the rising urban middle class became the patron of classical music.

Up to the middle of the 20th century, semi-private performances in people’s houses (especially the teachers’ houses) were still fairly common. These performances tended to be quite informal, with the audience sitting on the floor in close range to the performers. Performances could go on all night, with performers taking time to explore the raga and introduce lengthy improvisations to an audience who were knowledgeable. With social change throughout India in modern times, however, performances of classical music began to take place in auditoriums and concert halls, on television and radio. These brought new changes to classical performances: larger venues led to sound amplification, performers now perform on stage, concerts are shortened as performances start and end at fixed times, and modern audiences may not be as attuned as before.
Perfromance Contexts
The peak of art music in India culminated with the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great (1556–1605), under whose patronage music and its artists flourished. However, with the demise of the old feudal system and courts and a new order in society, the life of court musicians began to change radically. With the loss
of courtly patronage, musicians found that they had to strive for their own livelihood in the new economic environment.

Indian classical music is transmitted via the guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) system. In the old days, a pupil learned from only one guru and the relationship of a teacher-disciple was one of utter commitment on both sides: the pupil lived with the guru and took on the chores of the teacher’s household, and equally the guru devoted much time on teaching and nurturing the pupil. Transmission was through oral and aural repetition and practice. The guru’s repertoire and style were highly guarded treasures within the teaching lineage. It was under these contexts that the gharana (ghar meaning ‘house’) guild system was established.

By the end of the 19th century, the gharana system was highly established and many powerful gharanas had links to aristocratic patronage of the old days or were known by a founding guru or specific places.
In modern times, gharanas still exist but the old traditions of guru-shishya system is no longer as strong.
Transmission of Music
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