Indian Classical Music Essay

Indian Classical Music as a form of music and genre has its roots in antiquity. It is one of the oldest music forms and it is an improvised form of music known in music circles as Raga Sangeeth, and is based on the concepts of Raga and Tala. In addition, this form of music also has its roots in various ancient religious vedic hymns, tribal mantras, sacred temple music and Indian traditional folk music. In the process of categorizing it, Indian music is usually subdivided into two groups with one being referred as the one from Hindusthani (Northern India) and Carnatic (Southern) which are very much related and from the same roots. It is only the manner of presenting these types of music that may seem to vary albeit minutely. It is important to note that is very melodic in nature in comparison to Western music which mostly comprises aspects of harmony in its style and structure (Gupta, Om 989).

The nine Rasa(s) that are usually associated with Indian Classical music include Shringaya(sensous) ,Hasya(humorous) , Karuna(pathos) , Rudra(anger), Veera(heroic), Bhayanaka(fearful), Vibhatsa(disgust,)Adbuta(wonderment)  and Shanta(tranquility) (Kumar, Raj 16).What always stood out from the time of this music’s birth were the musical notes which were known as the swara. These notes differed a great deal from those in Western music as they are not of a homogeneous frequency. An individual was thus free to choose the frequency they wanted to sing or play the music in and this particular base would now act as an orientation at which the music would be presented.

The concept rhythm in Indian Classical music is known as tala. This refers to the beat given for timing the notes in this musical composition and can range from a three beat cycle to a 108 beat cycle. This concept of tala is responsible for the breaking of the cycle of time into cycle. Most musical pieces use a forms of tala is the teental or trital, which usually comprises of 16 beats or  matra –s per cycle, broken into four sub-groups containing four beats.


There are complex fractions in this form of music such as the 41/2, 61/2, 111/2 which requires a musician (Guru) to gain a high sense of its mastery before embracing any form of improvisation. A paramount point to always remember is that movements in Indian Classical Music are on a one-note-at-a-time basis throughout all their compositions.

The various patterns that are formed in this type of music through the art of regression are responsible for the formation of the rhythm and melody that is to be presented. The melody and rhythm end up being the most important aspects in this type of music as opposed to modulation, counterpoint and harmony that usually permeates Western style music and European sheet music.

Typical Indian Classical music concerts or presentations usually start with the Alap, Jor and jhal.  They are then followed by solo instruments such as the Sitar (stringed instrument from Northern India) and Sarod.  The Gat (theme) follows after this introduction and then followed by the percussion section usually comprising of the Tabla or Pakwawaj.

I took the Tabla (drum) class so as to get a practical feel of this type of music. The Tabla is a one of the most popular percussion rhythm instruments in Indian Classical music which usually consists of two drums, a big bass drum known as Bayan and a smaller one by the name Dayan. Its top is usually open but covered with goat skin and the bottom closed and while playing, the drums have to be placed rings known as Bira for support while the tuning wedges are beaten upwards or downwards by a tuning hammer to produce a lower or higher sound. The technique used to play this drum requires a differentiated type of fingering where the complex finger tip and hand technique is used in a sideways motion. Indian music usually emphasizes the steep contrast of sound so I had to literally hit the drum hard to make the sound loud and clear. One day my finger was broke and I had a band-aid on my hand. In essence, this experience made me better understand the concept learned in class better as I had first hand encounter with an Indian Classical instrument.

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