Aerophone: instrument whose primary sound-producing medium is vibrating air.

Alap: Nonmetric exposition of a raga; introductory section of a raga performance; improvisation within a Hindustani composition.


Alapana: Nonmetric exposition of a raga; introductory section of a raga performance; improvisation within a Karnatak composition.

Anupallavi: “continuation of the sprouting,” second section of a kriti.

Arabesk: a popular music genre that emerged in Turkey in the late 1960s. The name refers to elements borrowed from Arab music. Arabesk composers are mainly inspired by Turkish folk and art music but also experiment with musical material from other cultures (Arab, Western, and so on). Typically, arabesk lyrics are pessimistic, picturing a world filled with loneliness and suffering. The term arabesk was originally derogatory.

Baǧlama: long-necked fretted Turkish lute.

Bhajan: Form the sanskrit root bhaj- (to share or to partake). Hindu devotional song in India, South Asia, and in the diaspora that affects a personal communion or emotional exchange with the divine.

Bhakti: from Sanskrit, “devotion.” Bhakti can refer to vernacular religious movements in South India that emphasized emotional expressions of religion over elite literary traditions. It can also refer to a performance aesthetic related to religious expression (bhakti-rasa).

Call-and-Response: generally, the juxtaposition of solo with group. A structure in which music phrases performed by a soloist alternate with phrases performed by a choir or ensemble.


Caranam: stanza, third section of a kriti.


Chilla: Term used in North India to refer to the state of pursuing a strict regimen during a period of forty days. Connected to the idea of Riaz.

Chordophone: instruments whose primary sound-producing medium is a vibrating string.


Daff: see riqq

Darbuqa/Darbuka: goblet-shaped single-headed drum found throughout the Arab world.

Dhikr: Remembrance. The term refers to the remembrance of Allah and, more specifically, to a portion of the Sufi liturgy, to the regular chanting of a name of Allah which is  usually accompanied by regular body movements.


Dhrupad: a style of music developed in the middle ages in North India consisting of two basic movements: alap-jor and the dhrupad, or fixed song.


Drone: one or more pitches sounding persistently.

Dulab: short precomposed genre of instrumental music, metered and performed by the entire ensemble. One of the component of the wasla.

Filmi: category label applied to any song that appears in an Indian film.

Gharana: a lineage of musical teachers and disciples in Hindustani music, also used to refer

to the musical style that is transmitted through this succession.

Ghazal: Poetic form widely used in West, Central and South Asia and in other Muslim cultures, particularly associated with Persian and Urdu, but applied in other languages. It is composed of several independent couplets with a unified rhyme scheme: aa, ba, ca, etc.

Guru-Shishya: relationship between master and disciple in North India.

Harmonium: portable hand-pumped organ widely used for devotional and light classical music. European aerophone.


Heterophony: music texture of one melody performed almost simultaneously and somewhat differently by multiple musicians.


Hindustani: general name for the classical music of North India.


Homophony: a musical texture that is structured around the use of chordal harmony.

Jor: term used for the solo instrumental section with recurring pulse in the introductory alap of a Hindustani raga performance.


Karnatak/Karnatic/Carnatic: general name for the classical music of South India.

Kartal: From kara (hands) + tala (rhythm mode or time-keeping). Hand cymbals used for keeping tal in many forms of South Asian music.

Khol: double-headed barrel drum made from clay used to accompany the singing of kirtan.

Khyal: a vocal style in Hindustani music that emerged in the eighteenth century and has become the prevalent style influencing vocal and instrumental performance in North India.

Kirtan: devotional praise song in South Asia.

Kriti: three-part compositional form, central genre of Karnatak concert tradition.

Layali: unmetered improvised vocal genre in which the singer uses combinations of the words “ya layli” (oh my night) and “ya ʿayni” (oh my eye).


Lila: “divine play,” refers to the pastimes of various Hindu deities and saints and theatrical performances found in South Asia.

Maqam: generic term for melodic modes in the Arab world.

Marcel Khalife: Lebanese composer, singer and ‘ud player who set to music a number of poems by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Mawwal: unmetered vocal genre in which the singer sings poetic texts while improvising.


Membranophone: instrument whose primary sound-producing medium is a vibrating skin.


Monophony: a musical texture that features a single melodic line.

Mridangam/Mradangam: double-headed barrel-shaped drum, main drum in Karnatak music.

Muwashshah: a genre precomposed art song with roots in Andalusia when Muslims ruled Spain (711-1492).

Nay: End-blown flute or reed pipe found throughout the Arab world, having six finger holes plus one thumbhole. The nay is the only wind instrument used in art music in the Middle East. The nay also accompanies religious hymns glorifying the Prophet and was used in the original Sufi mawlawiyya order, known as the whirling dervishes.

Padavali kirtan: divine plays whose texts are from a vast repertory of Vaishnava devotional poetry.Majority of the texts focus on the episodes of the Hindu deities Radha and Krishna.

Pallavi: “sprouting,” first section of a kriti.


Qafla: a cadential phrase.

Qanun: trapezoidal plucked zither or psaltery found throughout the Middle East.

Qasida: Poem in classical Arabic usually having a single rhyme scheme and meter throughout, or a musical composition setting such a poem.

Qawali: Qawali (‘gathering for listening’) is the musical assembly held by Sufis in South Asia throughout the year, but principally on the anniversary (’urs) of the numerous Sufi saints at their shrines or wherever their devotees may gather. The term qawali denotes the Sufi song itself, and only by implication the occasion of its performance.


Raga/Rag: in India the term refers to melodic mode, system governing melody; melodic mode; melodic resource for composition and improvisation.

Rasa: mood. A term from the system of Sanskrit aesthetics in South Asia that has influenced the theory and practice of music, dance, and theater.

Riaz: practice. The measure and the mark of the role of the individual in becoming musician in North India.

Riqq: term used in Egypt to describe the  Arab tambourine.

Sarangi: bowed chordophone with a short neck; used as both a solo and an accompanying instrument in Hindustani classical and folk music.


Sargam: Indian solfege syllables Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, used as text material in musical composition and improvisation.


Sarod: Short unfretted plucked lute; one of the premier concert instruments of Hindustani music.

Shirah be-Tzibbur: group singing associated with Israeli patriotic songs. Often takes place on patriotic holidays and national days of remembrance.

Shirei Eretz Yisrael: genre of patriotic songs from Israel. Composed in Hebrew, these songs are diverse in musical style, although they are influenced by European patriotic music and Western rock music.

Sitar: long-neck fretted lute of North India.

Tabla: pair of hand-played tuned drums used for Hindustani classical, semiclassical, and film musics.

Takht: name for a small ensemble of three to five or more musicians, common in the nineteenth-twentieth-century Mashriq.


Tal/Tala: the organization of time, rhythm and meter in Indian music; a metric cycle.

Tamil: language spoken in South Asia (official language of Sri Lanka, Indian state of Tamil Nadu). Used by Karnatak composers, such as Muttuttandavar, and the focus of the Tamil Music Movement in the twentieth century.


Tanpura/Tambura: Long-necked, unfretted, plucked drone lute.

Taqtuqa: a genre of light song. Its root lie in the women awalim culture.


Taqsim /Taksim: solo, unmetered introductory instrumental section of music involving improvisation, in which a particular maqam is explored.

Tarab: ecstatic state achieved during a performance of Arab art music.

Tetrachord: a scalar succession of 4 notes used in the analysis of a maqam.

Thyagaraja (1767-1847):  celebrated saint-composer of Karnatak music who refused courtly patronage and, as such, working outside (or even against) the money economy.


‘Ud: Also oud. plucked Arab lute found throughout the Middle East.


Ughniya: a mid-twentieth-century genre of eastern Arab vocal art music, often translated as “long song.”

‘Urs: a gathering celebrating the death of a Sufi saint (which represents the saint’s reunification with God), at which qawwali will be performed.

Wasla: name for a suite form in Egypt. 

Zikr: see dikr.