Basics of Music

What is Music:

Music is an art form whose medium is sound. In its most general form the activities describing music as an art form include the production of works of music, the criticism of music, the study of the history of music, and the aesthetic dissemination of music. The word derives from Greek μουσική (mousike; “art of the Muses“).

The music of India includes multiple varieties of folk music, pop, and Indian classical music. India’s classical music tradition, including Hindustani music and Carnatic, has a history spanning millennia and developed over several eras. Music in India began as an integral part of socio-religious life.

Basics of Music:

The two main traditions of classical music are Carnatic music, found predominantly in the peninsular regions, and Hindustani music, found in the northern, eastern and central regions. The basic concepts of this music includes shruti (microtones), swara (notes), alankar (ornamentations), raga (melodies improvised from basic grammars), and tala (rhythmic patterns used in percussion). Its tonal system divides the octave into 22 segments called shrutis, not all equal but each roughly equal to one quarter of a whole tone of Western music.





The number of sounds that the human ear can hear, in an octave, is infinite.  But the number of sounds that it can discern, differentiate, or grasp, is 22. They are called shruti-s (microtones).  Shruti has been variously translated as: microtone, microtonic interval, interval, step etc. It is mainly determined through fine auditory perception. It has been used in several contexts throughout the history of Indian music. Shruti in Indian Music is the musical pitch. Basically it is a note from which all others are derived Bharata Muni uses shruti to mean the interval between two notes such that the difference between them is perceptible. In other words, shruti, in the context of Indian music, is considered the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can detect. It is an expression in the mind of the listeners.

Swaras :

In Indian Classsical music, Swara is a Sanskrit word that means a note in the octave. There are seven main swaras known as Saptak.

  1. Shadj (Sa)
  2. Rishabh (Ri in Carnatic music and Re in Hindustani)
  3. Gandhar (Ga)
  4. Madyam (Ma)
  5. Pancham (Pa)
  6. Dhaivat (Dha)
  7. Nishad (Ni)

These seven swaras are further divided into twelve notes. Collectively these notes are known as the sargam (the word is an acronym of the consonants of the first four swaras). Sargam is the Indian equivalent to solfege, a technique for the teaching of sight-singing. The tone Sa is not associated with any particular pitch. As in Western moveable-Do solfège, Sa refers to the tonic of a piece or scale rather than to any particular pitch.

Raga :

Raga is the system of scales which is associated with the melodic pattern of Hindustani music system. A raga uses a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. Understanding the concept of ‘Thaat’  is important to understand the complex structure of ragas. The term Thaat refers to the basic pattern in which the seven notes of the Saptak are arranged. Thaat is the parent scale from which the raga is derived.

To South Asian musicians, raga is the most important concept in music making, and the classification of ragas plays a major role in Indian music theory. In northern India, ragas are classified according to such characteristics as mood, season, and time; in southern India, ragas are grouped by the technical traits of their scales. The two systems may use different names for similar ragas or the same name for different ragas. There are several hundred ragas in present use, and thousands are possible in theory.

Traditionally, ragas were associated with specific times of day and seasons of the year, and they were thought to have supernatural effects such as bringing rain or causing fire. While some of the seasonal associations are maintained by certain musicians, these restrictions are largely ignored in modern concert life, as most public performances take place in the evening and are concentrated in the cooler parts of the year. Nevertheless, in program notes or verbal introductions, musicians often refer to the traditional associations of time and season.

In Indian classical music, there are about 200 main ragas, each of which is defined by its unique combination of scale-pattern, dominant notes and specific rules. The most popular ragas are: Bahar, Bhairavi, Sindhu Bhairavi, Bhim Palasi, Darbari, Desh, Hamsadhwani, Jai Jayanti, Megha Malhar, Todi, Yaman, Pilu, Shyam Kalyan, Khambaj.

Jati :

The number of notes in ascending or descending movements of a Raga is called its Jati. There are a total of 9 jatis. There are three basic Jatis:

  1. Sampoorana -containing seven notes,
  2. Shaudava – containing six notes, and
  3. Audava – containing five notes.



Tala or Taal (literally a “clap”), is the term used in Indian classical music for the rhythmic pattern of any composition and for the entire subject of rhythm, roughly corresponding to metre in Western music, though closer conceptual equivalents are to be found in the older system of rhythmic mode and its relations with the “foot” of classical poetry, or with other Asian classical systems such as the notion of usul in the theory of Ottoman/Turkish music.

Taal is the beat or rhythm of a music composition. The beats of a Taal are divided into Vibaags, which gives a taal its unique texture. There are hundreds of Taal in Hindustani music and the most popular one is the sixteen beat or Teentaal. Other common taals of Hindustani music include Dhammar, Ek, Jhoomra, Chau talas and Jhap or Rupak talas. . The most common instrument for keeping rhythm in Hindustani music is the tabla, while in Carnatic music it is the mridangam.


A Bhajan is any type of Hindu devotional song. It has no fixed form: it may be as simple as a mantra or kirtan or as sophisticated as the dhrupad or kriti with music based on classical ragas and talas.[1] It is normally lyrical, expressing love for the Divine. The name, a cognate of bhakti, meaning religious devotion, suggests its importance to the bhakti movement that spread from the south of India throughout the entire subcontinent in the Moghul era.

Bhajans by Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas and a few others are considered to be classic. The language of their works is influenced by several of the dialects of Hindi. They are widely enjoyed even among those who do not speak Hindi.


Abhang is a form of devotional poetry sung in praise of the Hindu god Vitthala, also known as Vithoba. The word abhang comes from a for ‘non-‘ and bhang for ‘ending’ or ‘interrupting’, in other words, a flawless, continuous process, in this case referring to a poem. By contrast, the devotional songs known as Bhajans focus on the inward journey; abhangs are more exuberant expressions of the communitarian experience. Abhanga is considered a form of the ovi. Abhangs are sung during pilgrimage to the temples of Pandharpur.

Bhajan starts with the Naman(invocation of god), followed by the Roopancha Abhang (Portraying the physical beauty of god by personifying in the human form) and towards the end, Bhajans giving Spiritual and Ethical messages are sung. Some Famous Musicians in Abhangs are Bhimsen Joshi, Suresh Wadkar,Ranjani, Gayatri,Aruna Sairam and Jitendra Abhisheki. It is a form of music performed by both Classical and Non-Classical Musicians. It has nowadays become an integral part in Bhajan concerts across South India.


Kriti is a format of a musical composition typical to Carnatic music, an Indian classical music style. Kritis form the backbone of any typical Carnatic music concert and is the longer format of a Carnatic music song. Conventional Kritis typically contain three parts

  • Pallavi, the equivalent of a refrain in Western music
  • Anupallavi, the second verse, which is sometimes optional
  • Charanam, the final (and longest) verse that wraps up the song

The charanam usually borrows patterns from the anupallavi. The charanam’s last line usually contains the composer’s signature, or mudra, with which the composer leaves their mark.


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