I am always fascinated with the songs which have some elements of Hindustani Classical Music. I want to learn more about the core or the basic elements of the same. I have tried to read them on Internet but being a beginner I get lost in the very beginning of otherwise a detailed article. An explanation in layman terms will be highly appreciated and helpful 😀😀

5 Answers 5


The raga is one of the fundamental elements of Indian Classical Music as you may have already encountered. To get a feel for this concept, I recommend listening to non-classical / semi-classical songs based on the same raga. In doing this, you will notice similarities and patterns.

Only after this, I recommend looking into the notes of ragas that are now familiar to you. Yaman, Bhairav, Des, Malhar, Bhoop, are some of the most commonly encountered ones. Look at some YouTube videos introducing them.

Overall, listening will help you grasp faster than reading long articles, which may add value at a later stage. Good luck!


I have a website that thoroughly explains and demonstrates all the basics of Indian classical music for students. But for the benefit of Stack Exchange visitors, I will summarize the contents here.

I would say that the core elements of Hindustani classical music are swara (notes), raga, taal (rhythm), alankaar (ornamentation), bandish (compositions), and improvisation.

There are seven distinct swaras, namely sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni. Except for sa and pa, the rest of them have variants. re, ga, dha, ni have shuddha (natural) and komal (flat) variants, while ma has shuddha (natural) and tivra (sharp) variants. So, in total, there are 12 notes or pitches (shruti) in an octave.

Ragas are like melodic themes chosen from out of these 12 notes. For instance, you can choose all seven natural notes, and it would give you the scale of Raag Bilawal, or you could choose the flat versions of ga and ni, and you would get the scale of Raag Kafi. You could choose to use five or six notes instead of all seven, and you would get other ragas. Depending on the sets of notes you choose, the melody sounds very different and has its own mood. You then use the different ragas as frameworks to create music in various ways.

Taal (rhythm) is a very important component in Hindustani classical music. We have many different taal patterns, comprising different types of beats and different numbers of beats. These patterns are viewed as cycles because they are played repeatedly, over and over again, for the entire duration of a given piece of music. Compositions are designed to fit specific taals, and care must be taken to sing each syllable of the composition to the correct beat of the taal cycle. A related concept is laya (tempo). Understanding taal and laya is very important also for being able to improvise.

Indian classical music is based mainly on melody, and alankaar (ornamentation) is what makes the melody complex and interesting. The specific ornaments used in Hindustani classical music include kan swar (grace notes), meend (glides), gamak (percussing a note), andolan (oscillating a note), khatka (ornamenting a note with the addition of neighboring notes), murki (trills), etc. These ornaments together give Hindustani classical music its distinctive sound.

Bandish is a generic name for compositions in Hindustani classical music. There are many different types of bandish used in different sub-genres of Hindustani classical and semiclassical music. There are, further, many bandish in each raga, and students will learn a few them as the first step in their study of a raga. Bandish are also used as a starting point for improvisation during classical music performances.

If you ever attend a Hindustani classical music performance, you will find that it goes on for over an hour or more, but over 90% of it is improvised on the spot. In fact, if it is not improvised, it could not be called a real classical music performance. It takes many many years of study and training to know the music so well and to develop such a broad vocabulary within each raga that you are able to improvise for an hour or more. But there is a systematic process for training students in this art, as I've explained in my page on improvisation.


Neeraja is right that the Raga is a key part of Hindustani Classical music, but it's only half the picture. The use of tala, or metrical system, gives Hindustani music its sound of rhythmic complexity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tala_(music)


Indian classical music is composed of main three general parts of music i.e. notes(sur), rhythm(laya) and beats(taal). The notes that defines the melodic scales..this melodic scales are called "thaats" in indian classical music, the raga, that is the core element of indian classical music, is the subset of this thaats or scales.The compositions made based on this ragas are set on specific number of beats(16 beats,7 beats,12 beats etc), that defines the rhythm of that composition or how the composition moves and improvises.

In short, The raga defines the constraint that 1.how many notes are going to be used. and 2.How they are going to be used. each raga has different constraints about the number of notes and method of use of notes in higher and lower octaves.There are prominant notes, resting notes and restricted notes in each raga. The composition will be represented with different laya(rytham) and tala(beats) , i.e. slow(Vilambit), medium(Madhya) and fast(Drut).

And based on this above factors the vocalist have to improvise the raga. spontaneity is also one of the key factor in indian classical music.


First, let's talk about Carnatic Music. In Carnatic Music, there is a scale, called a raga. A raga is a combination of notes that make up a scale in Classical Music. Some ragas have all 7 notes of the scale, and a lot of them don't have all of the notes.

There are a total of 72 melakarta ragas. Melakarta ragas are the ragas that have all 7 notes of the scale. The melakarta ragas can be divided into two groups: One with M1, and one with M2. M is simply a note in the scale, and it is the only note that has two variations. D and N have 3 variations each.

Here is a chart of the melakarta ragas:

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Now keep in mind that there are even more ragas out there. These are called Child Ragas, and that's another topic for another day.

Here are the similarities between Carnatic music and Classical music:

Let's look at a C Major scale:


In carnatic music, there is a raga called Shankarabharanam. These are the notes in that raga (note that a raga is basically a scale):

S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N3

They are the same thing! "S" corresponds with "C", "R2" corresponds with "D", and so on.

Now let's look at a C Minor scale:

C D Eb F G Ab Bb

What are the differences in the notes between a C Major and C Minor scale? The mediant (or the 3rd note), submediant (the 6th note), and the leading tone (the 7th note) are all lowered (by a half step).

And let's look at another raga called Natabhairavi:

S R₂ G₂ M₁ P D₁ N₂ S

What are the differences in the notes between Shankarabhranam and Natabhairavi? The third note (G), the 6th note (D1) and the 7th note (N2) are all lowered by 1 (see the subscripts - D2 became D1, for instance).

So, as you can see, there are raga equivalents for the scales in Classical Music. So it's definitely possible to learn Classical Music after Carnatic Music (that's what I'm doing!) and it will consequently give you a headstart.

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