Inside the Music | Musical Forms | World of Music | Classical
Most Indian classical music has three main components: a solo melody line, a rhythmic accompaniment and a drone. Vocal music is predominant, although modern Western audiences are more aware of instrumental genres. Improvisation, a key feature of Indian music, is based on the elaborate rules of the ragas and talas, which are the principal formal concepts of classical Indian music. A raga is a framework for playing melodies: a performer of a particular raga improvises a melody while following the performance guidelines associated with it. These can include how fast to play, what mood (rasa) to convey and the appropriate time of day for performance.
Of the thousands of ragas found in theoretical writings, around 50 are played in the North Indian tradition and 50 in the Karnatic. The common structure of a raga would comprise a slow improvisatory section, followed by a fixed composition, leading to faster virtuosic interplay between the soloist and the drummer, culminating in an explosive finale. The word tala means ‘beating together’, suggesting the hand-clapping and small cymbal-striking which is used to keep time in Indian music. A tala is a framework for combining rhythms, and Indian drummers must memorize the characteristic patterns and phrases of the talas in their repertory.
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