Indian Music

Indian Classical Music revision cards - AQA GCSE 2012

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  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 25-04-12 19:12


Sitar: A plucked string instrument with frets, a long neck and over 20 strings. Only 7 of these strings are used for the melody - the others vibrate to give a shimmering sounds.

Sarod: Similar to the Sitar, but has no frets. Lots of glissando.

Sarangi: A bowed string instrument.

Bansuri: A bamboo flute.

Tanpura: A plucked instrument with 4 strings - used to play the drone.

Tabla: A pair of small drums.

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Melody (Raga)

Raga - scale of notes

  • Many different ragas - most of which are associated with a particular time of day, season or mood.
  • Usually the ascending pattern of the scale will be slightly different to the descending one.
  • Some notes are more important than others, and will be emphasised in the music.
  • Sitar improvises a melody around the notes of the raga - begins simple, but becomes more and more complex.


  • Pitch Bends - a slide up or down to a note
  • Glissando 
  • Rapid Scales
  • Ornamentation
  • Dialogue - sitar imitates rhythms played by the tabla
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Rhythm (Tala) & Drone

Tala - cycle of beats

  • Each piece is based on a tala.
  • Some beats are accented.
  • Tintal - common tala of 16 beats (similar to four bars of 4/4).
  • Tabla player improvises rhythms around the tala - gradually becomes more complex.


  • No real harmony in Indian classical music.
  • Instead a drone is played throughout the piece by the tampura.
  • It is based on the most important note(s) in the raga.
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Most pieces have three main sections:

  • Alap - free, slow, no tabla
  • Gat - tabla enters
  • Jhalla - becomes faster

The alap is a slow, improvised introduction in free time. The melody instrument introduces and explores the notes of the raga, accompanied only by the drone.

The tabla enters in the gat, creating a clear sense of pulse. This section is often improvised. The music builds in excitement as the final section is approaching.

The improvisation in the jhalla becomes faster and more virtuosic, with cascades of scales and intricate rhythms.

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