May 2017

Think Indian

Looking for interesting ideas to add to your playing? There’s plenty to be found in the classical music of India.

The playlist below features audio for all the examples from our May 2017 feature on Indian music, with the exception of Example 3, which is only meant as a very basic guide to how a melodic instrument should approach the alap or opening section of an Indian classical piece. (If you’d like to hear an actual alap, just scroll down a little further on this page.)

NotionappClick here to download Examples 1-5 for playback on the Notion app.


To get a better sense of how a piece of Indian classical music is structured, watch this vintage video featuring the great sitarist Nikhil Banerjee (1931-1986). The clip is just over five minutes long, which is very short by typical standards—it’s not unusual for Indian musicians to explore a single raga for more than half an hour in concert. Banerjee begins with the alap, which establishes the raga’s mood without rhythm of any sort. The music floats free, paying no heed to time signature or bar lines. When the tabla player to Banerjee’s right begins to tap on his drums, we enter the jor section, which sets out the piece’s rhythm and tempo. Toward the end of the video, you’ll notice that both sitar and tabla pick up speed significantly. This is the closing jhalla, in which musicians get to show off both how fast they can play and how well they can listen (it’s common for musicians to challenge themselves by trying to echo each other’s improvised phrases as precisely as possible). The jhalla here is severely truncated; in live performance, this part of a raga can go on for much longer, becoming progressively faster, more rhythmically and melodically complex, and more exciting.