North Indian classical musicNorth Indian classical music is one of the most highly developed art music in the world. Partaking strongly of improvisational elements, the structural framework of the music is provided by a system of melodic patterns called ragas and of rhythmic patterns called talas. Within the framework, the performers must create the musical fabric at the moment of performance.
Following tradition, the musician doesn't perform a set program, but rather plays different ragas as inspired by the moment. The choice of raga is not usually a matter of whimsy: in accordance with centuries old philosophical traditions, certain ragas are considered to be appropriate to the specific time of the day, states of mind, and/or ethical considerations. (In this, the concept of raga is similar in some ways to the Greek philosophical concept of the modes).
Ragas are not to be confused with the Western notion of Ä¢scalesÄ£, while each raga has a characteristic pitch structure, much more is implied. The order in which the notes of the raga are introduced, and the manner in which the raga itself is revealed and unfolded are all extremely important. So, also, are matters of ornamentation, pitch alteration, and melodic structure.
Although notational systems exist, the tradition is largely an oral one, passed on by each master to students. Performances are appreciated by the audiences in many of the same ways as jazz improvisations: that is, performers are expected to demonstrate extensive knowledge of the traditions of the individual raga (in the same way a jazz musician is expected to know Ä¢the changesÄ£). Nonetheless, in both traditions, the performer is admired when able to cast some new light on the familiar: it is the ability to honour the integrity of the raga while doing so in an intensely personal way that wins the greatest esteem.
The basic form for the interpretation of a raga is made up of four parts:
ALAP. This is a slow introduction where the performer contemplates the raga note by note, composing phrases, at first quite simply, with the two or three notes nearest the tonic, but gradually becoming more and more complex as he extends through the first octave - then over the whole range of the instrument. The alap is performed Ä¢ad libitumÄ£ rather like a Western cadenza, deriving momentum from the emphasis in the developing phrases. Much use is made of microtonal inflections, ornamentation and glissando. The artist, through his use of these means of expression, reveals his understanding of and sensitivity to the raga he is playing. A truly creative musician is always trying to draw out of a raga some hitherto unseen facet, by way of his improvisation.
JOD / JOR. When the artist feels that he has completed his exposition of the raga through the alap he introduces a rhythmic pulse into the music, starting again by playing short phrases against his regular striking of the drone strings. A new dimension enters the music. The improvisations become more and more extended - eventually with very fast staccato passages called Ä¢tansÄ£, full of rhythmic subtlety and requiring considerable technical virtuosity. As the tempo of the music increases the performer enters the next movement of the music.
JHALA. Here the artists starts playing triplets and quadruplets on the drone strings at an amazing speed, against which he plays phrases on the melodic strings, mostly in syncopation. Gradually he builds up to a climax, bringing to a close the first part of the performance.
GAT. This movement is really in Ä¢RondoÄ£ form with the main subject being a previously composed motif (usually traditional), which is set to a recurring rhythmic cycle called a Ä¢TalÄ£. The tabla player, whose main function is to mark this Ä¢TalÄ£, accompanies the melody instrument to the end of the performance. As with the Western Rondo where the main theme returns after each variation, the Indian performer, having improvised for a few cycles will return either to the beginning of the theme, or to the first beat (the Ä¢SumÄ£) of the new cycle (not necessarily the same). The theme, or gat, also serves as a time keeping pattern and the main performer may repeat the gat for several cycles while the tabla player improvises. It is usual for this whole movement to comprise of two gats, one slow and one fast. Near the end of the performance the melody instrument goes into jhala again to bring the performance to a climax.