Components of Indian Music

There are three main components that make up Indian music, these are: Drone, raga and tala.


Western music is based on harmony whereas Indian music isn't. Another difference between western and Indian music is that the changing of keys (modulation) is absent. Indian music bases itself on one continually sounding pitch referred to as drone. This acts as a point of reference for musicians to return after a flight of improvisation.

Raga - "Organisation of Melody"

The word "Raga" has no equal word in English. In general terms it can be described as a structure of melody but is more flexible.

The raga is best described as being in between a scale and a tune. It's flexibility is more then a scale and is not confined to a scales limits. A raga is less then a tune as it leaves no room for improvisation.

A raga consists of a specific selection of tones where some are more important and pronounced then the others. It can also be characterised by being phrases or specific ways in which certain tones cannot be played. Each raga is specific to a mood, time of day and season of a year.

This results in a variable composition that can be easily recognised. However, no two performances will be the same in length due to the amount of improvisation used in the raga.

Tala - "Organisation of Rhythm"

Talas are a grouping of bols. Bols are single strokes of tones and putting a combination of bols together will achieve a cycle in a rhythmic structure.

This is mostly used on the tabla where the bols are strikes on certain positions on the tabla skin. Players of the tabla will vary the pitch, tone and speed but will do so to keep in tune with the raga. He/She will carefully differentiate between khali (open) and bundha (closed) strokes and khali (off-beat) and tali (on-beat), which are defined for each tala.

The important beat of the tala is the first one, called "sam". In a performance, the soloist may make a long flight of improvisation but will always return to the composition on the "sam".