Indian music

The word music in India means 'Sangeeta', which traditionally meant performing the art of singing, playing of instruments and dancing. Indian classical music originated from Vedic chants or Sama music. This music chiefly consisted of chanting of hymns in praise of the Vedic gods. The musical structure of the chants was characterized by descending order of notes,initially two to five which later was increased to seven notes. Gradually various developments took place and this culminated in the Raga tradition. The Raga (structure of melody) and Tala (structure of rhythm) are the two major characteristics of Indian Classical music. Tala is the pulse of Indian music. The term Tala is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Tal' which means to strike with palms. Early musicians may have employed claps or palm-strokes to mark time in dance and music which later developed into a complicated system of 108 talas of classical music. It is a time cycle that remains fixed through out a particular rendering. Tala, binds music together and offers a regularity that calms the mind. Raga is the basic scale or note pattern of a melody formed by selecting notes from the thirteen tonal intervals, conventionally established in the octave space.


The two cultures of the south and the north gave rise to the two modes of singing-Uttaradi and Dakshinadi or Hindustani and Karnatic. North Indian Music offers a variety of forms of music like the Dhrupad, Khayal (classical North Indian music), Thumri (emotional music), Qawwali (songs from the Pakistani sufi's), and Ghazal (Panjabi romantic music). The dhrupad is strictly classical and a slow form. The tabla is used as an accompaniment to most music recitals.The pakhawaj has a deeper tone than the tabla. Carnatic music is nearly totally unified and the different schools are based on the same ragas (about 300 different ragas). Mainly the veena, the flute, the violin, the mridangam and the ghatam are used. The musicians of the south adhere very firmly to the tala cycle. The dominant element of Karnatic music is the 'Kriti'; a form of composition with three parts.


The tradition of Indian classical music is an oral one. It is taught directly by the Guru to the disciple, rather than by the notation method used in the West.

As much as 90 percent of Indian music may be improvised and because so very much depends on understanding the spirit and nuances of the art, the relationship between the artist and his guru is the keystone of this ancient tradition. From the beginning, the aspiring musician requires special and individual attention to bring him to the moment of artistic mastery. The unique aura of a raga (one might say its "soul") is its spiritual quality and manner of expression, and this cannot be learned from any book.


The improvisatory nature of Indian classical music requires the artist to take into consideration the setting, time allowed for his recital, his mood and the feeling he discerns in the audience before playing. Since Indian music is religious in origin, one finds the spiritual quality in most of the musician's performances.The freedom if improvising within the bounds of artistic discipline comes only after many years of training and sadhana. This is why one cannot rightfully compare the improvisation in Indian music with the improvisation of jazz.


The traditional recital begins with the alap section - the stately and serene exploration of the chosen raga. After this slow, introspective, heartfelt, sometimes sad beginning, the musician moves on to the jor. In this part, rhythm enters and is developed. Innumerable variations on the raga's basic theme are elaborated. There is no drum accompaniment in either the alap or the jor.


More information about raga and tala


The very heart of Indian music is the raga: the melodic form on which the musician improvises. This framework is established by tradition and inspired by the creative spirits of master musicians.


A raga is a scientific, precise, subtle and aesthetic melodic form with its own peculiar ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven note octave, or a series of six or five notes (or a combination of any of these) in a rising or falling structure called the Arohana and Avarohana. It is the subtle difference in the order of notes, an omission of a dissonant note, an emphasis on a particular note, the slide from one note to another, and the use of microtones together with other subtleties, that demarcate one raga from the other. Through rich melodies in our music, every human emotion, every subtle feeling in man and nature can be musically expressed and experienced.


Each raga is principally dominated by one of the nine sentiments (called 'rasas') - like peacefulness, anger, and humor - although the performer can also bring out other emotions in a less prominent way. The more closely the notes of a raga conform to the expression of one single idea or emotion, the more overwhelming the effect of the raga.


Each raga is also closely connected to a particular time of day or a season of the year. The cycle of day and night, as well as the cycle of the seasons, is analogous to the cycle of life itself. It is said that there exist over 6,000 ragas! But a raga is not merely a matter of the ascending - descending structure. It must have its "chalan " - or certain note patterns characteristic of the raga; its principle important note (vadi); the second important note (samavadi); and its main feature known as "jan" (life) or "mukhda" (face), the cluster of a few notes by which a raga is immediately recognized.


Next to be considered are the "talas" or "rhythmic cycles" of a raga. There is unique intricacy and rhythmic sophistication in Indian music. There are talas ranging from a 3 beat cycle to 108 beats within a cycle! The most popular talas are those which have 5,6,7,8,10,12,14, and 16 beats to a cycle.There are also other cycles such as 9,11,13,15,17, and 19 beats, etc., which are only played by outstanding musicians on rare occasions.


The division in a tala, and the stress on the first beat (called sum), are the most important rhythmic factors. While there are talas having the same number of beats, they differ because the division and accents are not the same. For example, there is a tala known as "Dhamar" which has 14 beats in the cycle divided 5+5+4: another tala, "Ada Chautal" has the same number of beats,but is divided 2+4+4+4: still another tala, "Chanchar: is divided 3+4+3+4.



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