Asian Music and Dance

The Pallet – Part 1

Today’s Hindustāni (North Indian) classical music is the result of centuries of development with influences from Ancient India to more recent medieval influences from Persia.  The origins of Indian music can be traced to the three-note Vedic chants, which later developed into a sophisticated musical system by the 3rd century BC.

In India music has always been related to nature and seen as a means of attaining spiritual realisation.  Even today, its spiritual essence is maintained and music plays a pivotal role in everyday Indian life.

Like in any other major civilisation, Indian music also contains many different styles of music such as art music (Hindustāni and Carnātic [South Indian] classical music), semi-classical, folk, devotional and popular to name but a few.  The backbone of Indian music is Rāga and is also sometimes known as ‘Rāga Sangeet’ (Rāga music).  In order to understand the concept of Rāga it is important to be introduced to ‘Swara’ or musical notes.

The seven primary notes can be equated to the seven colours of the rainbow or the seven chakras of the body.  These notes, together with their more common abbreviated names are:

ShadajRīshabGandhārMadhyamPanchamDhaivat Nīshād

Sā is the originator and gives rise to the seven primary and five altered notes, thus giving the twelve main Swara.  Sā and Pā never move from their original positions.  In actual musical practice in the context of Rāga, these notes are further altered subtly to evoke different emotions.

Let us look at the twelve notes a little closer.  The primary notes are given the name ‘Shūdh’, the flattened notes ‘Komal’ and the sharpened notes ‘Tīvra’.

The reference for Sā supported by Pā is given by a four-stringed drone instrument named ‘Tānpūra’.


Try singing along with this sound clip of the Tānpūra:

In modern notation, the Swara can be written using Roman letters.  An underline denotes a Komal Swara and a vertical line denotes a Tīvra Swara.  This is how the twelve are notated:



The Shūdh seven-note scale is written:


The seven-note scale with all altered notes is written:



Summary: Part 1 – The Pallet:

• Over thousands of years, Indian music has developed from the simple single-note to the modern seven-note scale.

• Sā is the originator and gives rise to the twelve notes.

• Brief introduction to the Tānpūra which gives a 

reference for Sā.



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