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Indian music

  • Passed on through Oral tradition (so improvisiation is a huge part of Indian music)
  • Students learning Indian instruments often go and live with 'Gurus'-great teachers who spend hours daily teaching their student to master the instrument.

3 main strands of Indian music are:

  • Melody (often improvised using notes from the Raga)
  • Drone (usually the tonic (I) and dominant (V) adds texture, keeps sense of tuning and intontation for melody instruments)
  • Rhythm (Tala-cyclic rhythmic pattern- are repeated, the Matras (number of beats in each tala) varies) 

Often the instrumentalist playing the raga and the Tabla player try to copy and outdo eachothers rhythmic and melodic ideas

Songs often end in one or multiple Tihais (a melody or pattern repeated 3 times)

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  • Alap
  • Jhor
  • Gat
  • Jhalla
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Indian Instruments


  • Tampua/Tanbura - 4 string, fretless, plays drone


  • Tabla - 2 part drum: Dayan-Smaller, wooden right-hand drum,  Bayan-larger, metal, left-hand Drum
  • Pakawaj - double headed drum (one side high pitched, one lower)
  • Cymbals

Melody Instruments:

  • Sitar - fretted, has 3-4 playing strings, 3-4 drone strings and many sympathetic strings. Tuned to each different raga, played with a Mizrab (wire finger plectrum)
  • Sarangi - Bowed lute, played on the lap, nail cuticles pressed up against the 3 main strings, has 30-35 sympathetic strings
  • Sarod - fretless, has a steel neck, strings pressed down on with edge of nail, played with a coconut shell plectrum
  • Bansuri - recorder-like bamboo flute with 6-7 holes
  • Esraj - fretted, has 6 strings and 15 sympathetic, bowed
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Rhythms are known as 'Tala' and are made up of beats and waves (rest)

The first beat of the cycle is known as 'sam'

Examples of talas:

  • Rupak (7 beats)
  • Keherwas (8 beats)
  • Jhaptal (10 beats)
  • Ektal (12 beats)
  • Tintal (16 beats)
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Melody - Raga

  • melodies use Ragas (scales) which are different going up than coming down)
  • Each Raga has a different 'Rasa' (mood) associated with it
  • There are over 200 Ragas
  • Rag Desh is associated with moonsoon season and evening
  • Ragas use 'microtones' (tones/notes in between the tones in western music) making them more complicated 

Methods used to decorate the rag:

  • Meend - pitch bend
  • Chand - scale flourish 
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Set work structures


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