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Classical Music of India. Musical traditions date back over 3,000 years. Two main types of classical music. Hindustani : secular, court music from Northern India (including Pakistan). Absorbed many Persian elements due to Muslim Persian rulers. Karnatak : temple music from South India.

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classical music of india
Classical Music of India

Musical traditions date back over 3,000 years

Two main types of classical music

  • Hindustani: secular, court music from Northern India (including Pakistan)
  • Absorbed many Persian elements due to Muslim Persian rulers
  • Karnatak: temple music from South India
  • Developed along its own lines




Music viewed as a spiritual discipline

Oral tradition—study by apprenticeship


Very important, sophisticated, and developed

Guided by melodic and rhythmic formula

Must study for years before allowed improvise



Elements of Indian Classical Music

Music is based upon the human voice

  • Pitch range limited to about four octaves

Highly embellished melody, both vocal and instrumental, is characteristic

Melodies almost always accompanied by a drone instrument


learning melodic organization
Learning Melodic Organization
  • Moveable Syllables for Pitch Names

S sa C fixed

R re D

G ga E

M ma F

P pa G fixed

D dha A

N ni B


Melodic Structure: Raga

Melody exists within a framework called a raga—a defined pattern of notes

  • Each raga has an ascending and descending form

Raga means “color” or “atmosphere”

  • The melody “colors the mind”

Each raga associated with a particular mood

  • Also linked with gods, seasons, festivals, and times of day


bh va expression of the navaras 9 moods
Bhāva: Expression of the Navaras (9 Moods)

karuna sadness, pathos

shingār love, joy

vira heroism, valor

hāsya laughter, comedy

raudrā anger

bhayānaka fear

vibhātsa disgust

adbhuta surprise

shānti peace

learning rhythmic organization
Learning Rhythmic Organization

Number of Beats Syllables (Jātīs) Grouping

1 ta

2 taka

3 takita

4 takadimi

5 taka takita 2 + 3

6 taka takadimi 2 + 4

7 takita takadimi 3 + 4

8 takita takita taka 3 + 3 + 2

9 Taka takita takadimi 2 + 3 + 4

song text categories
Song Text Categories
  • Devotional texts: Dhrupads and Bhajans
    • From Bhakti era, mostly between 1400-1700
  • Love Songs, both human and divine
  • All remaining songs, including regional songs, film music and songs of daily activity
listening devotional song
Listening: Devotional Song

Mirabei (1498-1547), best known poet, ex. CD track 13

Maine lino Govinda mol māyi ri

I have measured the worth Krishna, O my sister

Koi kahe sasta, koi kahe mahenga

Some say cheap, others expensive,

Maine lino taraja tol . . .

I weighed him against pure gold.

Koi kahe chori, koi kahe sāni

Some say it’s a secret, some say hidden,

Maine lino bajantā dhola . . .

I proclaim him out loud like a drum.


Rhythmic Structure: Tala

Rhythm is organized into blocks or cycles, each called a tala

  • Tala range from 3-100 beats in length
  • 6-16 is most common
  • Ten-beat tala jhaptal divided 2—3—2—3
  • |1 2 |3 4 5 |6 7 |8 9 10|
  • Ten-beat tala shultal divided 4—2—4
  • |1 2 3 4 |5 6 |7 8 9 10|




Vocal music most important in India

Many types of instruments

  • Many instruments associated with specific gods

Sitar most popular chordophone

  • Long necked, lute (guitar) like instrument
  • 7 plucked strings, 9-13 sympathetically vibrating

Drums of many sizes

  • Tabla and mridangam drums most common



Ravi Shankar—sitar






Ravi Shankar

Listen for: Raga and tala organization

Heavy reliance on stringed instruments

Extensive improvisation

Nonwestern musical form