To Hit

Key points / Lesson goals:
Raga, Tala, Drone, Lack of harmony, Use of sliding/bending notes

North Indian Music - Intro/Background

North Indian music (Hindustani music) is distinct from South Indian (Carnatic Music).  It is actually a fusion music mixing Persian and Indian musical styles when Muslilm empires expanded to control india. A prominent figure in this fusion was Amir Khusru (1253-1325)* around the Medieval ages in Europe. Classical Indian music was happening before this but it gives you a sense of how old this tradition is. You can mention to your students that this musical style is a classical style that is as old and probably older than the western music tradition. 

North Indian music is constructed around melody forms called Raga, rhythmic cycles called Taal with an underlying drone. 

Raga -
Raga is a specific set of guidelines that direct how melodic motion happens.  Similar to a scale or mode but not the same because it is more specific. It could be thought of as a starting with a mode as what notes are played in the scale but also specific notes that area skipped going up or down, specific notes that are always approached from above or below, or specific phrases.  It also dictates what scale degree is emphasized in melodies or improvization.  For example you can have three different ragas that all have the same notes in them but the emphasis is on different scale degrees causing a different feeling (rasa).  It is a very specific modal form that creates different moods.  Because of the specific mood each rag elicits it is said that there is a specific time of day that it should be played at. 

Here is a great video of Ravi Shankar explaining Raga. Just remember that Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni, Sa are the Indian solfege syllables.

Taal -
Taal is a rhythmic cycle used in Indian music. Arrival points and climatic moments occur at the beginning of the cycle called sum. Cadential moments are created through tendion and release.  In western often this tension is created though harmonic dissonance resolving to consance.  Indian music does not use any specifically intended harmony and often uses rhythmic cadential forms called tihais. A Tihai is a phrase that is repeated three times and the last notes arrives on sum.

Usually the root and 5th or other scale degree sustained by the tampura

Sliding/Bending -
One of the striking characteristics of Indian music is the amount of sliding and ornamenting done between notes. This is found in the vocal style and is refelected in the instruments.  For example a sitar can bend a note up to a 4th or 5th.    

Tabla Bols
One very interesting aspect of tabla is that each different sound that the drum makes has a different syllable that corresponds to it. This creates a drumming language by which the art form is taught and it also becomes part of the performance.  

Names to look for

Ravi Shankar
Vilayat Khan
Nikhil Banerjee 
Shahid Parvez
Zakir Hussain 
Allah Rakha Khan 
Swapan Chatterjee 
Anindo Chatterjee 
Sharda Sahai 

Ali Akbar Khan
Amjed Ali Khan

Sultan Khan

Shruti Sadolikar Bhimsen Joshi 
Prabha Atre 
Umakant Gundecha and
Ramakant Gundecha

Bansuri  Hariprasad Chaurasia

*This is by no means a complete list. Just some names to put into google if you are looking for more music.


This video is taken from a DVD titled "Ravi Shankar - In Portriat" (BBC) and shows a concert of Ravi Shankar and his daughter (Anoushka) playing a concert. This will give you a good look at the sitar.
This is a nice video that shows Sarangi (Sultan Khan), Bansuri (Maestro Shashank), Tabla (Zakir Hussain) and Mridangam (Patri Satish Kumar).
It is in a jugalbandhi fashion which means the musicians trade back and forth. This is a mix of North and South Indian music but it shows the different instruments very well. 
You will notice that it is fairly long and I wouldn't suggest the whole video for a classroom but it is worth mentioning that and traditional performance of a raga can be an hour or more long.  
The beginning is back and forth between the bansuri and sarangi. Around 12 minutes the tabla enter. I would suggest watching a bit of the beginning then forwarding to when the tabla come in to show students the different instruments.

This video is a great example of someone reciting the tabla sylables (bols). This is likely towards the end of a solo program where the performer (Yogesh Samsi) is reciting various composition and then playing.

This video was taken from someone in the audience which I think is a cool thing about youtube. This was a real concert, happening on the other side of the world and we get to watch it like we are there. He explains some things in Hindi which I don't understand but if we were sitting in the audience in India we wouldn't understand either. Thanks to the internet we can peer into the other musical culture on the other side of the planet.


Ali Akbar College of Music and Store is one of the few schools for Indian Music in North America. It also stocks instruments from beginner to professional levels.

Learn has a tremendous amount of information and a list of Indian music teachers all over the world by country and state. This is where Mike first looked for people to study study tabla with.  

Eat! :)

We both really enjoy Indian food and this is a great cookbook!