THE ART MUSIC OF INDIA -- Elements of Raga


Melodic Characteristics:

·         ”Raga” is the name of the pitch system and also for specific formations of pitches and tendencies.  The raga/raag/ragam is the essential melodic element in Indian classical music.

·         A raga is a series of pitches similar to a European idea of a scale. (It is the vocabulary of notes for a piece of music.)

·         A raga often has distinctive melodic shapes, a pitch hierarchy and characteristic ornamentation on specific pitches.

·         A raga is usually associated with the hour of the day and/or year or a particular emotional state (related to rasa).

·         Artful bending of pitch around the tones of the raga is stylistically valued.  Ornamentation is essential to the performance of a raga.

·         A raga has a specific ascending and descending form. 

·         Most Indian art music uses a drone, a constantly sounding pitch or set of pitches which gives reference point to the ear in hearing the intricacies of the raga being performed.  The drone is usually the interval of a perfect fifth.


Rhythm and meter
Tala/talam (H/K) is the name of the metrical system and also specific rhythmic meters.
A tala is a cycle of beats (16 counts, 14, 12, etc.) with sub-divisions (ex:  3 + 2 + 3 + 2 = 10 beats).
Each tala has a specific name and distinctive characteristics.

vocal:  usually nasal.
Melodic instruments such as the sitar have sympathetic strings the vibrations of which create a distinctive shimmering texture. 
Other melodic instruments such as the sarangi imitate the favored vocal quality.

Indian music is usually performed with small groups of instruments. Because of this, it often has a chamber music feeling, encouraging more delicate dynamics.

Form in the performance of a raga
      three basic parts:
Alap – Introduction of raga;  Drone and melodic instrument
            An introduction that is improvised and in free/flexible rhythm
            Optional rhythmic section:  jor/tanam (H/K)
Drum entrance marks the
Precomposed Piece – Strict rhythm with tala
Strict rhythm with tala continues;  various types of improvisation create sections


(Many other specific short forms, often song forms, exist.  These “fixed” forms often have many component parts and options.)


H = Hindustani, Northern;  K = Karnatak, Southern