The Music of India


Updated August 11, 2016

Track 0:  03-Pahari Dhun - with Tabla Alla Rakha.mp3 (gat starts at 1:30)  The music fades in near the end of the alap section and then fades under the following:

Track 0.2:  You’re listening to the music of India.

Track 0 up just in time to hear the tabla announce the gat section.  The music continues up long enough to establish, and then fades out.

Track 0 and 0.2 to be used (perhaps) at the beginning of subsequent discs.

Track 1:  03-Pahari Dhun - with Tabla Alla Rakha.mp3 (gat starts at 1:30)  The music fades in near the end of the alap section and then fades under the following:

Track 2:  This is the music of India.

Track 1 up just in time to hear the tabla announce the gat section.  The music continues up long enough to establish, and then fades under for:

Track 3:

The culture of India has produced a musical tradition that is rich in complexity, elegance, and beauty.  

The beginnings of Indian music are lost in the mists of mythology.  Here is a discussion of those origins.  The speaker is the famous sitar player, Ravi Shankar.

Track 1 fades out before the end of track 3.

Track 3.1:  Beginning of Bruces tape #16 up until he talks about the tambura

Track 3.2:  Now let us look at Indian classical music, by examining its form.  

The word “classical” is often used to describe European concert music, but since “classical” means both having a long history and also possessing a strict form, the term technically doesn’t apply to all European concert music.  It is an appropriate term to be used with Indian music, which indeed does have both a long history, and a strict form.

In terms of musical creation, all music falls into one of two categories.  It may be composed, where the music is created ahead of its performance, or it may be improvised, where the music is created at the same time that is performed.  

Most, but not all composed music is written down.  The advantage of composed music is that it can allow complex structures and harmonies and can co-ordinate large groups of singers and players.  European concert music is perhaps the best example of composed music.

Track 4:  Excerpt from Beethoven’s 9th symphony, fourth movement; the first stanza of An Die Freude, sung by the full chorus.

Track 5:  Improvised music, on the other hand, can have an excitement and vitality that can never quite be found in the performance of composed music.  Every improvised performance is different.  One never knows exactly what they will be in store for.  American jazz is often a good example of improvised music.

Track 6:  01-The Bird.mp3 excerpt after opening chorus

Track 7:  The American composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein, once discussed improvisation in a lecture about jazz.

Track 8:  Bernstein on jazz improvisation

Track 9:  Indian classical music is almost exclusively improvised music.  In jazz, the improvisation is based on a melody, or on a chord progression, both attributes of a popular song.  In Indian classical music the improvisation is based on a sort of recipe that dictates several tonal and emotional parameters around which the improvisation is to be made.  This recipe is called a “raga” or “rag” or “ragam” depending on the language.  

The raga form has several musical and non-musical ingredients:

The musical ingredients include:

The non-musical ingredients include:

Here, Ravi Shankar describes the form of the raga in more detail.

Track 10 Ravi Shankar on raga form (stop before singing examples)

Track 10.1:  Now here is a complete performance of the Rag Multani, the raga that Ravi Shankar has been referring to.  

This will be our first full raga performance.  

I should mention that the sitar performer is not Ravi Shankar;  rather, it is Nikhil Bannarji.

Track 10.2:  Rag Multani alap

Track 10.3:  Rag Multani jor

Track 10.4 Rag Multani medium tintal

Track 10.5 Rag Multani fast tintal

Track 10.6 Rag multani jhala

Track 11:  The raga defines the melodic elements of a performance.  What about the rhythm?  There are two aspects of this.  The performance of a raga may be divided into up to four segments, each with increasing rhythmic content.  Not all four of these segments are always present, but if they are present then they are in a defined order.

The first section is called “alap”.  In this section the melodic material of the raga is introduced without any rhythmic component.  The notes are performed free-form at whatever pace the musicians choose.

Track 11.1:  Alap and development from Bruce’s tape

Track 11.2:  Here is a short alap section

Track 12:  Alap from G:\Music\New Itunes\Music\Traditional Indian\Easy Indian Cookbook\04 Meditational Raga of Northern Ind.mp3

Track 13:  The second section of a raga performance is called jor.  This section has a subtle rhythmic pulse to it, played on the solo instrument or instruments.  Here is the jor section of the same raga.

Track 14:  jor from G:\Music\New Itunes\Music\Traditional Indian\Easy Indian Cookbook\04 Meditational Raga of Northern Ind.mp3

Track 15:   The third section is called gat.  The gat section is almost always present.  Whereas transitions to the jor section may be difficult to discern, the beginning of the gat is more obvious.  This is because the gat adds a percussion instrument.  Here is the beginning of the gat section from the raga we have been listening to.

Track 16:  beginning of gat from G:\Music\New Itunes\Music\Traditional Indian\Easy Indian Cookbook\04 Meditational Raga of Northern Ind.mp3

Track 17:  The fourth and final section is called Jhala.  In this section the rhythm dominates the melody bringing the work to an exciting climax.

Thus in a full raga, there is a growing use of rhythm and corresponding diminishment of melody:

  Recall that I said earlier that not every performance has every section.  In the raga we have been listening to,  the jhala section is absent.

  Now let’s hear this entire raga.  Listen for the alap, jor and gat sections.  

Track 17.1:  G:\Music\New Itunes\Music\Traditional Indian\Easy Indian Cookbook\04 Meditational Raga of Northern Ind.mp3

Track 17.2:  The gat section also introduces the other  aspect of rhythm, and that is a specific rhythmic pattern, called a tala, tal, or talam.  A specific raga does not dictate a particular tala;  this is decided by the musicians for each performance.  

The most common tala is teental, which is sixteen beats, arranged into four groups of four beats.

Track 17.3:  Teental demo from Bruce’s tape

Track 17.4:  Teental is very analogous to 4/4 time in Western music, which is also made up of four beat patterns:  One two three four

Here is an example of a gat from a modern raga, performed in teental.  

Track 17.4 alternate:  Same as above; leave out “modern”.

Track 18:  04-Gat in Teental.mp3

Track 18.1:  Perhaps the second most common tala is jhaptal, which consists of alternating groups of 2 and 3 beats, for a total of 10 beats:  

Track 18.2:  Jhaptal example from Bruce’s tape

Track 18.3:  Now here’s a gat secton in jhaptal.  This is from the same raja as the teental gat we heard a moment ago.

Track 18.4:  03-Gat in Jhaptal.mp3

Track 19:  Now lets listen to another complete raga.  This is performed by Ravi Shankar, the man who is primarily responsible for introducing Indian music to the west.  At the beginning he will explain the tala.

Track 20:  02-Raga Khamaj.mp3

Track 20.1: Now let us go back and listen once again to rag multani, the first raga we heard.  This time I will point out the beginning of each section.  We begin with the alap section.  As usual, it lacks any rhythmic component and is a simply a free-flowing introduction of the raga.  

Track 20.2:  Rag Multani alap

Track 20.3:  In this raga there is no jor section, so the performance transitions directly to the gat section.  After a brief transition you will hear a tabla, an often-used Indian drum.  The tala is teental.

Track 20.4:  Rag Multani medium tintal

Track 20.5:  It is actually fairly common to use two different rhythms in the gat section of a raga.  Often, as in the previous raga we heard, they are different tala.  In this raga, both parts of the gat are in the same tala, teental, but at different tempi or speeds.  The first was at a moderate tempo, and the next section is at a fast tempo.  

Track 20.6:  rag Multani fast tintal

Track 20.7:  Finally, here is the jhala section, the highly rhythmic section used to end the performance.

Track 20.8:  rag multani jhala

Track 20.9:  Here is another example raga performed by Ravi Shankar.  He begins with a description of both the raga and tala used in the performance.

Track 20.10 Maru Bihag by Ravi Shankar

Track 20.11 As mentioned, the preceding raga, which is called Maru Bihag was performed on the sitar by Ravi Shankar.  Now here is a vocal version of the same raga performed by  Shruti Sadolikar.

Track 10.12 Maru Bihag by Shruti Sadolikar.

Track 21:  This completes our discussion of the raga form.  Next we will look at specific Indian musical instruments.  

I wanted to cover the raga form first, because virtually all of the example performances we will here for various instruments will be raga performances.

The first instrument we will explore is the sitar.  The sitar is probably the most widely known Indian instrument to westerners.  It is a plucked string instrument similar to a guitar.  

One resource I will be  using for this series is Wikipedia.  Here is what Wikipedia says about the sitar:

The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument predominantly used in Hindustani classical music, where it has been ubiquitous since the Middle Ages. It derives its resonance from sympathetic strings, a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber.

Used throughout the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the sitar became known in the western world through the work of Pandit Ravi Shankar beginning in the late 1950s, particularly after George Harrison of The Beatles took lessons from Shankar and Shambhu Das[1] and played sitar in songs including "Norwegian Wood".

The term “sympathetic strings” used in the previous passage simply means strings that that are not plucked directly by the player.  Instead they pick up on the vibration of the plucked strings and sound “in sympathy” with them.  

Another resource I will be using to demonstrate Indian instruments is from an old and largely forgotten interactive CD, which comes, curiously, from Microsoft.  It is called simply “Microsoft Musical Instruments”, and it has, among other things, examples of scales and short performance samples.  It focuses mostly on western instruments but also has a selection of Indian instruments (and instruments from other cultures as well).  Here is a scale performed on a sitar as recorded for that collection..

Track 22:  ./strings/sitr/sitrrang.wav

Track 23:  And here is a short passage played on a sitar.

Track 24:  ./strings/sitr/sitrsolo.wav

Track 24.1:  Here is an additional description and example of a sitar.

Track 24.2:  Sitar from Bruce’s tape

Track 25:  Now we will hear a complete raga with the sitar as the solo instrument.  I actually made this recording at a music store in Agra.  The store keeps a kind of “house band” on the premises to perform for customers.  

Track 26:  061206_01.wav

Track 27:  I like the salesman’s comment:  “the musicians enjoy the music more than we do.  For them, music is life.”  

The next instrument we will here is the sarod.  The sarod is also a guitar-like instrument but it has a somewhat darker, sharper sound than the sitar.    Here is what Wikipedia says about the sarod:

The sarod is a stringed musical instrument, used mainly in Indian classical music. Along with the sitar, it is the most popular and prominent instrument in Hindustani (northern Indian) classical music. The sarod is known for a deep, weighty, introspective sound (contrast with the sweet, overtone-rich texture of the sitar) with sympathetic strings that give it a resonant, reverberant quality. It is a fretless instrument able to produce the continuous slides between notes known as meend (glissandi), which are very important to Indian music.

Here is an example and scale played on sarod:

Track 27.1:  sarod scale from sitar/sarod raga on Bruce’s tape (3rd track)

Track 27.2:  Here is an example of sarod music.

Track 28:  music by ali akbar khan -- pick it from windows

Track 35  The next instrument we shall examine is the tabla, which is a set of two drums.  It is the tabla that provides the percussion for most performances of Indian classical music.  

Here is what Wikipedia says about the tabla:

The tabla is a popular Indian percussion instrument used in Hindustani classical music and in popular and devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. The term tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabl, which simply means "drum." [1]

Playing technique involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different sounds, reflected in the mnemonic syllables (bol). The heel of the hand is used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion on the larger drum so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay.

Here is an example of the sound of the tabla.

Track 36:  tablsolo.wav

Track 36.1:  Here is the sound of a tabla being played open--that is without using the palm to modify the pitch and timbre of the drum.  This was being done by a prospective customer in a music shop in Delhi.

Track 36.2:  061201_01.wav

Track 36.3:  Here are a number of strokes played on a tabla demonstrating the way the hands are used to alter the sound of the drums.

Track 36.4:  Tabla demo from Bruce’s tape track 3

Track 37:  We have heard and will continue to hear examples of tabla playing in most of the examples that I will play.  However, here’s one that features the tabla.  You will also hear tongue-twisting vocalization.  This is the tabla players themselves.  These vocalizations are used to teach tabla students the various rapid drum patterns they must master.  This is performed by Alla Rhaka -- Ravi Shankar’s long time tabla player.  Here the roles are reversed as the sitar seems to accompany the drum as solo.

Track 38:  02-Tala Sawari -  with Tabla Alla Rakha.mp3

Track 39:  Next we will describe the tampura or tambura.  Like the tabla, you will hear the the tampura in virtually every Indian classical music performance.  It is the so-called drone instrument that forms an underpinning of sound for the performance and clearly establishes the fundamental or tonic pitch of the scale used in the performance.  Here is an example of the sound of the tampura.

Track 40:  35394__marvman__tanpura.wav

Track 40.1:  Next, Ravi Shankar discusses the importance of the tampura:

Track 40.2:  Ravi Shankar on Tampura.

Track 41:  There is no such thing as a tampura solo, so we will now go to the next instrument, the sarangi.  This is a bowed string instrument.  

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the sarangi:

The Sārangī is a bowed, short-necked string instrument of India. It plays an important role in India's Hindustani classical music tradition. Of all Indian instruments, it is said to most resemble the sound of the human voice – able to imitate vocal ornaments such as gamakas (shakes) and meend (sliding movements). It is also said to be the hardest Indian instrument to master.

Here is a sample.

Track 42:  ./strings/sara/sarasolo.wav

Track 45:  And now a raga performed on sarangi.

Track 46:  01-Raga_ Bageshree.mp3

Track 47:  Next is the shenai, which is a double-reed instrument similar to the western oboe.  

 Here is the sound of a shenai being played at an Indian wedding that I recorded in Agra.

Track 52:  061210_01.wav - fade out before distorted drum enters

Track 52.1:  And here is a shenai raga.

Track 52.2:  01 Raga - Madhwanti.mp3

Track 53:  Now we will hear the santoor, which is very similar to the western hammer dulcimer.  

Here is what Wikipedia says about the santoor:

The santoor is an Indian stringed musical instrument. It is related to the Indian shata-tantri veena of earlier times and has strong resemblances to the Persian santur. It is a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer often made of walnut, with seventy strings. The special-shaped mallets (mezrab) are lightweight and are held between the index and middle fingers. A typical santoor has two sets of bridges, providing a range of three octaves.

Tracks 54:  01 Rag Madhuvanti.mp3

Track 59:  The final instrument we will here is the Indian flute.  Here is a flute raga.  First we will hear the alap and jor sections, after which the musicians pause and the audience applauds.

Tracks 60:   Flute Raga

Track 60.1  Now here is the gat section of the same flute raga.  There are actually two portins in different tala.  The first is in a tala called pupak tal, and the second is in teental.  It is not unusual for a got section to have two tala, the first slower, and the second faster.

Track 60.2 - Flute Raga gat

Track 65:  I said that the flute would be the final instrument, but I have one more to demonstrate, and that is the human voice.  Some would consider the voice not an instrument at all, while others think of it as the most flexible of all instruments.  Certainly the way the voice is used in Indian music takes advantage of that flexibility.

Here is a vocal raga along with an explanation of its form..  

Track 66:  Vocal raga from Bruce’s tape (with female voice explaining)

Track 67:  So far we have been mostly listening to classical music of northern India.  This is often called Hindustani Music.  There is also a tradition of classical music in the south of India, which is frequently called Carnatic Music.  

Carnatic music is more frequently vocal than is Hindustani music.   There is also a greater element of composition (instead of improvisation).  That is undoubtedly because sung music is based on a song, which is generally based on poetic lyrics.  This requires more structure and adherence to a specified melody that matches the lyrics.  

Another aspect of south Indian music cannot be fully attributed to the increased used of song:  As we will see in our examples, Carnatic music contains more complex overall form, with more clearly defined sections almost like movements in European music.  

Nonetheless, south Indian music contains ragas and talas;  many of them are the same as those used in the north, but even then have different names.

Here, Ravi Shankar discusses and demonstrates Carnatic music.

Track 67.1:  From Bruce’s Tape 

Track 67.2:  Here is another Carnotic performance.  The first section is called the Alapana.  It is similar to the alap section of a Hindustani performance:  it consists of non-rhythmic improvisations.

Track 68:  South Indian Music, Track 13

Track 69:  The second section is called a Kriti.  Kriti is the name of a song form, and is composed music.  

It is during this section that the tala enters, and it is here that the drum begins playing.  This is analogous to the gat section of a north Indian raga.

The lyrics are religious in nature.  In a few lines of conversation with God, it touches on many of the basic tenants of Hinduism including fate, enlightenment,  the relationship of God to man, the fact that we have forgotten our true nature.  An English translation goes,

What is to happen will happen--

Isn’t that right, O you who grant our desires?

In this age of ignorance I lost my sense, and I blamed you.

Don’t be angry with me--That fate was written right on my brow

Those bygone devotees, Narada,

Prahlada, Parasara, and Ramadas

Knew how to worship you well.

If only their way could be Tyagaraja’s now.

Track 70:  SIM track 14

Track 71:  The next section is called nirival.  It is improvised based on a single line of the song:  

Track 72:  SIM track 15

Track 73:  The next section is called Svara Kalmana.  It is also improvised, but instead of lyrics from the song, it uses solfege sylables.   “Solfege” refers to the syllables that represent relative notes within a scale:  do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do.  In Indian music they are sa, ri, ga, ma pa, dha ni, sa.

Track 74:  SIM track 16

Track 75:  The final section features the drum.  It is called Tani avarttanam.

Track 76:  SIM track 17

Track 76.1:  Now here is Ravi Shankar demonstrating an additional performance of Carnatic or southern Indian music.

Track 76.2:  From Bruce’s tape, track 2

Track 77:  This concludes our discussion of strictly classical Indian Music.

The next form I want to talk about is another vocal form, called the Ghazal.  Ghazal actually refers to a poetic form, set to music.  The word, “ghazal” probably comes from a Persion word and is said to be related to the English word, “gazelle” the horned grazing animal.

The poems can be quite old, but the performance we will here is more modern, and therefore influenced by western music.  This is true of the vocal style, as well as the instruments used.  

Track 78:  01 - Ghazal Ka Saaz Uthao.mp3

Track 78.1:  Here is a second example of Ghazal.  

Track 78.2:  G:\Music\MP3\Pankaj Udhas\The Best of Pankaj Udhas\02-Ghazab Ho Gaya.mp3

Track 79:  Since we are moving toward modern Indian music, let us complete the process by playing some modern popular music.  Most popular music was written for Indian movies.  Here is an example.

Track 80:  Track01.mp3 (Guru folder)

Track 81:  This singer’s high singing voice and slightly nasal quality are typical of Indian popular women singers.  Here’s a song by a male singer that is even more westernized.

Track 82:  02 No Way No Way (Papuyaar[1].com) .mp3

Track 83:  And here is one more piece of popular music.

Track 84:  01 Dil  diya.mp3

Track 84.1:  Here’s some music from the radio in Delhi.

Traci 84.2:  FM91_1-113006-204407.wav

Track 85.  So India has certainly entered the modern age along with the rest of the world.  

The first Wikiepedia excerpt I read at the beginning of this series mentioned the Beatles and their use of Indian instruments and styles.  Let’s listen to a couple of examples of that.  Here is Norwegian Wood, the first Beatles song, indeed the first western pop song, to use the sitar.

Track 85.1:  Norwegian Wood

Track 85.2:  Here is an excerpt of another take of that same piece where the sitar is even more predominant.

Track 85.3:  Norwegian Wood from Anthology -- just an excerpt demonstrating predominance of sitar.

Track 85.4:  Here is one more example of Beatle music using Indian instruments.  This is “Within You Without You”.  It uses the sarangi, tampura, and tabla.  

Track 85.5:  Within You Without You

Track 85.6:  Let’s listen to that same track again, but without the vocals.  It sounds almost completely Indian.

Track 85.7:  Within You Without You (Instrumental) from Anthology

Track 85.8:  Now let’s return to the more traditional.  Let us listen to another raga.  Yet even this has a modern twist:  The solo instrument is a saxophone.  This is Varnam performed  by Prasant Radhakrishnan.

Track 86:  01 Varnam.mp3

Track 86.1:  By way of review and further example, we will now play one more complete example raga with explanations of its components.  You will recognize some of these examples from their use in previous previous examples.

Track 86.2:  MP3-190636

Track 87:  04 Meditational Raga of Northern Ind.mp3  Up then under:

Track 88:  You’ve been listening to the Music of India.  Pause.

I would like to thank Bruce Bailey who explained much of Indian music to me.

I would also like to thank Ruchi Gupta who gave me several of the popular music examples, and also introduced me to Ghazal.  

This was recorded in Palo Alto in 2010.  The live recordings from India were recorded by me in 2006.

Track 87 up to end.