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Indian Classical Music has chords or not

Indian Classical Music And Chords

Indian Classical Music has chords or not

Two of my friends were debating. One said, “Indian Classical Music has no chords.” And the other said “Yes, it has!” However, when their debating turned into exchanging hot words, I had to intervene. However, the incidence prompted me to write this article.

Indian Classical Music has chords or not:

The basic difference between Indian Classical music and Western Classical Music is that the Indian Classical Music evolves from dedication to god and the Western Classical Music evolves from the entertainment approach.

Due to this basic difference between these two genres of Music, the Western Music moves around technical exactness and so chords play a major role in it. As the Western Classical Music uses change in scale method, if any tune is to be played in the Western Classical Music, the first question would be – “what is the scale? C, C#, D major/minor etc.

The chords used to create harmony in Western music are based on scales. If you only say G major to a Western Classical Musician, he will play the chord as per its position on the instrument. e.g. on keyboard, it will be from 2nd black key out of the  group of 3 black keys followed by the 5th and the 8th key.
Thus, the scales identify the position of a tone on the instrument in Western Classical Music.

On the other hand, in Indian Classical Music, we start with Sa (Shadja).
If the aforesaid example has to be put in plain words in Indian Classical Music, it would be like this –
Consider any frequency as ‘Sa’ to make it easy to understand on the keyboard. The scales are distincted to understand the range of the main performer.
If you consider the first note of G major as Sa, then the chord will become Sa Ga (shudha) Pa.

Indian Classical Music has no chords. But, if we consider a studious approach, Indian music also has chords. These two statements may sound too much contradictory to each other. But just think! There is ever a tune set against a drone (usually a Tanpura) with the tonic and the 5th.  By description, the 1st – 5th and anything else is a chord.  But for a realistic intention, Indian Music has no chords.

On the other hand, as chords create harmony, currently Indian film music uses chords almost everywhere. These days, Indian film songs (Hindi and other regional) have a great influence of Western Music. Thus it’s now the fusion of Indian Classical Music and Western Classical Music, with the wide use of western instruments in it. At present, Indian film songs are also based on the Western chords. For such Western-motivated type, there may be a huge dependence upon chords.

In Indian Classical Music, the accompanying artist doesn’t create harmony, he just tries to pursue  the lead performer’s performance. In jugalbandi, there is sawal jawab and in Carnatic music, the lead performer performs and others try to pursue the same thing. After that, each player performs a solo part and again at the end, they play the same bandish/composition.

But in Western Classical Music, the composition is fixed and written with chord sheets for all the performers. They all play together or play a different tune in harmony.

About Pratik Kashallu

Hey Cassicals , I am Pratik Kashallu and I am steady followers of Indian Classical Music…just like you. I’ve have a passion for collecting antique classical gramophone records and record players. Thousands of antique gramophone records and many record players are available in my collection. With this zeal, I am a Admin of world famous Facebook fan page "Indian Classicl Music Fan Club" which is loaded by more than 22K facebook fans and it's total weekly reach is around 90K

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One comment

  1. I don’t think this is technically true as any melody can have chords defined for it once the melodic pattern is known and predictable. The problem is more that since there is so much improvisation in raga sangeet it is hard to predict the melody line.

    The Tanpura in a sense is a static chord and if the musician who played the chords was comfortable with rapidly changing improvisation they could follow a raga melody to some extent. A chord is just a set of notes that are related to a melodic line and jazz musicians often do this but the soloist more frequently will follow the chords though in very dynamic situations this can go the other way too if both musicians are very competent.

    So chords that stayed very close to the Sa – Pa – Sa or Sa – Ma – Sa can work for many ragas but very challenging for 99% of musicians around.

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