Indian Music – Its PeculiaritiesDrugs never cure disease. They merely hush the voice of nature's protest, and pull down the danger signals she erects along the pathway of transgression. Any poison taken into the system has to be reckoned with later on even though it palliates present symptoms. Pain may disappear, but the patient is left in a worse condition, though unconscious of it at the time. - Daniel. H. Kress, M.D.
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Indian Music – Its Peculiarities

By Manjiree Vikas Gokhale

Indian Music owes its credits to the Vedic Culture. Indian Music has been treading the path of evolution and changes, since then.

Traditions in India have been
passed down for generations.
Learn about the Peculiarities of Indian Music, from folk, devotional, natya sangeet and ravindra sangeet to gazals and more. Manjiree, an accomplished India singer/performer shares some of the details of Indian music.

There are many popular forms of music like folk, devotional, natya sangeet (drama music), light film music, ravindra sangeet, gazals, etc. All forms have their own sub-categories. In spite of these forms, Classical Music still has retained its status and popularity all over India. Classical Music performers have always been a pride of India.

Today, Indian Classical Music is broadly divided in 2 branches:

1. Hindustani or North Indian

2. Carnatic or South Indian Music.


There are a few peculiarities of North Indian Classical Music which I would like to share here. Though not all, many of them are common to Carnatic Music also.

1.) Even today, when the equi-tempered scale is popularized all over the world, including other Music forms of India, Indian Classical Music performers prefer to sing or play their instruments in the Natural Scale. Instruments too, are tuned to the natural scale. The Natural Scale has 22 microtones called as ‘shrutis’. Among them there are 7 main (shuddha i.e. fixed) notes and 5 other (vikrut i.e. shifted) notes. Except for the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th main notes all other notes change their shruti values according to different ragas.

2.) Raga is a special concept of Indian music. This concept is unique to Indian Music, both Hindustani and Carnatic style. Ragas are peculiar types of scales that have an aesthetic value. Raga is a melodic language of the heart. The notes of the scale have a specific melodic structure. The Raga has to follow certain rules for rendering the notes. Also, every raga has its own style of pronouncing every note.

3.) The Ragas are based on a time theory. Each raga is allotted its special time of the day and/or year. It is believed that every note has a different emotional value, and its proper use can intensify or pacify emotions. So, the allotment of time depends on the notes included in the Raga and their melodic rules. Rules of the melodic structure vary for each Raga. Some notes are strong, some weak, some used only in specific cases, some are avoided, etc. It is believed strongly, that ragas have a therapeutic value, if sung properly.

4.) In western music, all reference is based on the note and value of ‘C’. In Indian music the performer has liberty to choose his own comfortable frequency i.e. note, as the base for his performance. That note would serve to be his tonic or key note throughout the performance. The values of the other eleven notes of the scale are derived from that base frequency, with reference to the ratio of the musical intervals of the natural scale.

5.) This base note is called as Shadja (in short saa). It can be compared with the solfa notation as ‘do’. This ‘shadja’ is not a fixed frequency. The 7 main notes are Shadja, Rishabh, Gandhar, Madhyam, Pancham, Dhaivat and Nishad, shortly pronounced in rendering music as saa, re, gaa, maa, paa, dhaa and nee, respectively. Their respective solfa notation equivalents would be do, re, mi, fa, so, la and ti (ci).

6.) Whereas the rhythmic pattern of Western Music is based on simple or compound meters. Indian Music has a much more complex pattern of meters called as ‘Taala’. These patterns have a variety and complexity of combinations of strong and weak beats. Popular basic meters are more than 25. Carnatic Music has 108 meter patterns.

7.) Each beat of a ‘Taala’ has a specific timbre. Every beat is given a name, according to the timbre produced, by the style of playing the beat on the rhythm instrument. The names of these beats are like ‘dha’, ‘taa’, ‘tat’, ‘naa’, etc.

8.) Another peculiarity of Indian Music is that all accompanying instruments, including the rhythm instruments are tuned to the key note of the singer or the instrumentalist.

The basis of Indian Music is ‘Melody’. Harmony is used in Indian Classical Music performances, not like the way it is used in Western Music, but, with a different hue. Harmony is sought by giving a drone effect of the key note and its fifth, throughout the performance. The harmonizing notes are usually played not in a chord, but, in succession.

Music has been used as a therapy in the form of ragas, mantras or omkar in India, since Vedic times. It was never named as or referred to as ‘Music Therapy’, though, and used therapeutically, in a very informal way.

About the Author

Manjiree Vikas Gokhale is a Indian musician, Music Therapist of a sort, poet and Yoga practitioner. She sings professionally with her beautiful melodic voice and has had a number of recordings published, and has performed on All India Radio.

Email: manjireegokhale at


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