Indian Classical Music is all about ragas. A raga portrays a mood, a sentiment, expressed through a microtonal scale. There are a number of ragas, each with its own mood and its own corresponding microtonal scale that is based on the natural harmonic series – the natural law of vibrations.
Today, Indian Classical music is influenced by a foreign tonal system that is not based on the natural harmonic series. This is the Western tonal system that has had a big influence on Indian Classical music. Many Indian Classical musicians, nowadays, make use of Western instruments such as guitar and drums.
Most Western audiences find Indian Classical music to be quite exotic. Two major reasons are the differences between the two traditions in tuning and scales.
The subtle differences
Let’s straightaway delve into the differences between these two vast genres of music to get a better idea:
Indian Classical Music (ICM) is primarily homophonic, which means that it focuses on creating melodies using a sequence of notes, whereas Western Classical Music (WCM) is to an extent polyphonic, which means multiple notes are played/sung together, where the counterpoint, harmony, and texture created using multiple voices is very important.
WCM is composed, whereas ICM is improvised. WCM compositions are formally written using Staff Notation, and performers usually follow that. But in the case of ICM, the Teacher-Student tradition of learning leads to each performance being an improvisation.
ICM uses “Taal”, where Taal is a cycle of beats that is centered on “Sam” that repeats itself. In the case of WCM, there aren’t any complex beat cycles.
WCM is modal and so has a chord for each note of the scale. On the contrary, ICM is tonal and, hence, is based on a single scale (a single drone, chord, and key).
Fusion all the way
But then again fusion is a growing concept in India. So, their differences and some similarities make fusion music even more interesting and challenging. If we take a deeper look, we will actually find a number of similarities. Today, “guitar” has acquired prime position and popularity in Indian Classical Music with Indian Ragas being played on guitar.
There are two types of Guitars that is used for fusion in India: Spanish guitar and Hawaiian guitar.A wide variety and mix of instruments ranging from Guitar, Drums, and Saxophone to Sitar, Tabla, and Flute are used for fusion music/concerts.
My band, known as Kaivalyaa, is also a fusion band, where we fuse various western genres with Indian Classical music. The Western and Indian instruments we use include Guitar, Drums, Keyboards, Mouth Organ, Bass Guitar, Harmonium, Flute, Sarod, Tabla, and a number of percussion instruments. Some of the big names in the Indian fusion scenario are Indian Ocean, Avial, Advaita, Raghu Dixit Project, Mother Jane, Tabla Beat Science, and Bandish Fusion. With varied influences, experiments, scales, tones, and sounds, fusion is the next big thing. So, if you want to know more about the Indian Classical scales/Ragas, you are at the right place.