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South Asia (India) Presentation by: Greg Johnson and Nicole Ester Introduction 1. Comparison of Indian to Western Music 2. Vocal and Instrumental Music 3. Raga Structure 4. Instruments 5. Methods of Learning Western Music Combination of rhythm and melody Emphasis on harmony/chordal

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south asia india

South Asia (India)

Presentation by:

Greg Johnson and Nicole Ester


1. Comparison of Indian to Western Music

2. Vocal and Instrumental Music

3. Raga Structure

4. Instruments

5. Methods of Learning

compare and contrast
Western Music

Combination of rhythm and melody

Emphasis on harmony/chordal


Based on many contrasting moods and colors

Emphasis on simultaneous motion of two or more melodies-tension and relaxation of progressions

Smallest pitch interval is semitone (octave= 12 semitones)

Indian Music

Combination of rhythm and melody-highly defined subtleties

No system of harmony

No counterpoint

Concentrates on one principle mood or emotion-elaborating

Emphasis on improvisation, expansion and elaboration-rooted from deep musical tradition

Octave=22 intervals or “microtones”- crucial to Indian musical characteristics

Compare and Contrast
vocal and instrumental music

Especially strong tradition

Most ancient form of music

Most music is devotional


Many genre

Dhrupad (Oldest in use)

Tarana (Meaningless syllables)

Kheyal (Modern, improvised)

Bhajan (Especially religious)

Gazal (Rich poetry and romantic)

Lakshangeet (Educational)


Called Vadhya Sangeet

Styles follow vocal styles

Ornamentation is used

Four major styles

Alap(Slow,no rhythm,elaboration)

Jor (Has rhythm, no developed rhythmic cycle)

Gat (Fully developed piece)

Jhala (fast rhythmic interplay between drone and strings)

Vocal and Instrumental Music
structural elements of raga
Structural Elements of Raga

Raga:Melodic Basis of Indian classical music on which musicians improvise. Each raga has definite melodic qualities that distinguish it from all other ragas.

  • Not a scale, mode, key, or melody
  • A raga is the melodic framework
  • Each raga must belong to a scale-only those notes are found
  • Number of ragas are endless-only several hundred used
  • “The beauty of the raga leads the listener to a serene and peaceful frame of mind and brings him joy. In other words, the raga must create a forceful effect on the listener.” -Shankar
south asian instruments
South Asian Instruments

Instrument Categories

1. Stringed Instruments

2. Wind Instruments

3. Drum Family

4. Small Percussion Family (metal, wood, porcelain)

string and wind instruments

Largest and most important group

Vary in size and shape

Resonating strings/Fretted

Played with bow or plectrum (worn on fingers)








Includes flutes and oboe-like instr.

Made of bamboo

Varying sizes/numbers of holes

Associated with Lord Krishna

Often found in Indian Art

Murali (Flute-like)

Shahnai (Oboe-like)

String and Wind Instruments
drum family
Drum Family


  • Most popular variety in Northern India
  • 2 Drums each with one skin stretched across the top
  • Smaller played with right hand
  • Larger played by the left hand


  • Accompanies more heavy/serious music
  • One piece drum made of clay with two heads
  • Heads tuned to different pitches
  • Today body made of wood
percussion family
Percussion Family

Separate from “Drum Family”


  • Bells
  • Gongs
  • Cymbals
  • Castanets
  • Jaltarang (Porcelain bowels filled with water and struck with sticks)
methods of learning
Methods of Learning

Three words from the heart of musical tradition

  • Guru: master, spiritual teacher, or preceptor
  • Vinaya: humility; complete surrendering of the self on the part of the shishya (student) to the guru
  • Sadhana: practice and discipline eventually leading to self-realization
methods of learning cont
Methods of Learning (cont.)


1. Choose a Guru

2. Learn basic techniques on voice or instrument

-Practice on one note until breathing, voice, and pitch control are mastered

3. Learn scales and paltas (short sequential melodic figures)

4. Learn sargams (various fixed compositions-sung to note names)

5. Learn bandishes (fixed compositions in different styles with text)

These steps should last 5 years or longer

Should practice every day for 8 hours

Student learns everything from guru-rarely from textbook

Slowly learns to improvise until confidently plays a raga

20 years of constant work makes a proficient performer



“Our tradition teaches us that sound is God... That is, musical sound and the musical experience are steps to the realization of the self. We view music as a kind of spiritual discipline that raises one’s inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss. The highest aim of our music is to reveal the essence of the universe it reflects…Thus, through music, one can reach God.”

-Ravi Shankar