What is Indian classical music? How Carnatic music and Hindustani music are different? What are all the different instruments used with Carnatic and Hindustani music?


Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is the classical music of the Indian subcontinent, this includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. It has two major traditions: the North Indian classical music tradition is called Hindustani, while the South Indian and Sri Lankan expression is called Carnatic.

Below here we have given a brief introduction to both Carnatic music and Hindustani music.

Carnatic Music

Carnatic music, Karnāṭaka saṃgīta, or Karnāṭaka saṅgītam, is a system of music commonly associated with southern India, including the modern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, as well as Sri Lanka. It is one of two main subgenres of Indian classical music that evolved from ancient Hindu traditions, the other subgenre being Hindustani music, which emerged as a distinct form because of Persian or Islamic influences from Northern India. The main emphasis in Carnatic music is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in gāyaki (singing) style.

Although there are stylistic differences, the basic elements of śruti (the relative musical pitch), swara (the musical sound of a single note), rāga (the mode or melodic formulæ), and tala (the rhythmic cycles) form the foundation of improvisation and composition in both Carnatic and Hindustani music. Although improvisation plays an important role, Carnatic music is mainly sung through compositions, especially the kriti (or kirtanam) – a form developed between the 14th and 20th centuries by composers such as Purandara Dasa and the Trinity of Carnatic music. Carnatic music is also usually taught and learned through compositions.

Carnatic music is usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians, consisting of a principal performer (usually a vocalist), a melodic accompaniment (usually a violin), a rhythm accompaniment (usually a mridangam), and a tambura, which acts as a drone throughout the performance. Other typical instruments used in performances may include the ghatam, kanjira, morsing, venu flute, veena, and chitraveena

Important elements of Carnatic music:

Śruti Śruti commonly refers to musical pitch.

Swara - Swara refers to a type of musical sound that is a single note, which defines a relative (higher or lower) position of a note, rather than a defined frequency.

Raga systemA raga in Carnatic music prescribes a set of rules for building a melody – very similar to the Western concept of mode. It specifies rules for movements up (aarohanam) and down (avarohanam), the scale of which notes should figure more and which notes should be used more sparingly, which notes may be sung with gamaka (ornamentation), which phrases should be used or avoided, and so on.

Tala systemTala refers to a fixed time cycle or metre, set for a particular composition, which is built from groupings of beats.

Popular instruments with Carnatic music:

The most prominent instruments of Carnatic music are the tanpura is a long-necked plucked string instrument, Sarasvati veena is an Indian plucked string instrument. It is named after the Hindu goddess Saraswati, venu is one of the ancient transverse flutes of Indian classical music. It is an aerophone typically made from bamboo, mridangam is a percussion instrument of ancient origin. It is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Carnatic music ensemble. ghaṭam is a percussion instrument used in various repertoires, kanjira, khanjira, khanjiri or ganjira, a South Indian frame drum, is an instrument of the tambourine family. morsing is an instrument similar to the Jew's harp, violin sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument.


Hindustani Music

Hindustani music unlike Carnatic music is greatly influenced by Persian and Islamic cultures and is more prominent in North India. The heritage of Hindustani music goes back to Sufi age. The melodic pattern is brought in to the music with intelligent use of Ragas known as Aaroha and Avaroha. The main styles of vocal Hindustani classical music are Dhrupad, Khayal and Tarana.

Important elements of Hindustani music:

Dhrupad - Dhrupad is an old style of singing, traditionally performed by male singers. It is performed with a tambura and a pakhawaj as instrumental accompaniments

Khyal - Khyal is the modern Hindustani form of vocal music. Khyal, literally meaning "thought" or "imagination" in Hindustani and derived from the Persian/Arabic term, is a two- to eight-line lyric set to a melody.

Tarana - Another vocal form, taranas are medium- to fast-paced songs that are used to convey a mood of elation and are usually performed towards the end of a concert. They consist of a few lines of Farsi poetry with soft syllables or bols set to a tune.

Tappa - Tappa is a form of Indian semi-classical vocal music whose specialty is its rolling pace based on fast, subtle, knotty construction.

Thumri - Thumri is a semi-classical vocal form said to have begun in Uttar Pradesh. There are three types of thumri: poorab ang, Lucknavi, and Punjabi thumri.

Ghazal - Ghazal became the most common form of poetry in the Urdu language and was popularized by classical poets like Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib, Daagh, Zauq and Sauda amongst the North Indian literary elite.

Popular instruments with Hindustani music:

The most prominent instruments of Hindustani music are the sitar (a long-necked fretted lute with about 30 melodic, drone, and sympathetic strings), sarod (a short-necked unfretted lute with sympathetic and drone strings), sarangi (a bowed fiddle), shehnai (an oboelike wind instrument), tabla (a set of two drums played by one musician, the right-hand drum carefully tuned), and tambura (a large long-necked lute with four strings, used only to play the supporting drone, a single repeated chord).


Learning Carnatic music or Hindustani music is one's own personal choice based on their culture, interest and passion.  Here at Trishan School of Music we teach Carnatic vocals, Hindustani Vocals and Carnatic Violin. Reach us out at +91740690996 or contact-us using the form.



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