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Music of India

When I was an undergraduate student studying music, I became very interested in music from India.


Digital copy of map of India, from Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Though I did not know how to play a plucked instrument very well, I enjoyed the sound of the sitar. And, whenever I heard someone playing a set of small hand drums called the tabla, I thought about the amount of training and years of practice the player must have had. Traditionally, musicians who play tabla must first be able to speak the sounds that their hands will play. You can imagine how difficult this is for complex or fast-paced pieces of music. Talk about tongue-tied!

This concept of learning to speak a melodic or rhythmic line of music before you play it is familiar to many musicians. Often, after singing a phrase of music, something between our right brain and left brain cooperates. Suddenly, we play it perfectly! I wonder how that works.

Recently, fellow blog author Katie Rodda wrote a post about the variety of world music scores and books available from the NLS music collection. Maybe her post subconsciously influenced me to remember my forgotten love of music from India.

To get you started learning more about one of my favorite types of music, I’ve compiled a condensed list of NLS music collection recordings. Where appropriate, I’ve included a description of the book, which comes from our online catalog. Please enjoy:

The Exotic Sounds of India, by Ravi Shankar, DBM00300
“Ravi Shankar, who introduced the sitar to rock musicians, explains and performs the intricate music of his country.”

Indian Music and Bach, I: The Non-Ornamental uses of Ornamentation ; and Indian Music and Bach,II: The Spirit and the Letter of Musical Embellishment, by Rosalyn Tureck, DBM00035 and DBM00041
“Rosalyn Tureck discusses ornamentation in the music of early composers. Jon Higgins demonstrates the importance of ornamentation in the classical music of south India, describing its relationship to the Western tradition.”

Music of the Orient: Introduction to Primitive Music, by Dr. John Greenway, DBM00394
“Designed by the University of Colorado Extension Division for the students studying ethnomusicology, [this recording] analyzes the theoretical system of the Indian raga in terms of melodic and rhythmic formulas, and the music’s relation to specific gods, events, and seasons. [It] emphasizes the importance of animistic rites and festivals to Balinese music. Examples [are] played by a gamelan orchestra.”

Spotlight on Bismillah Khan: Hindustani Composer Explores Modern India’s Musical Heritage, DBM00313
“[This recording] discusses the art, daily life, and music of Bismillah Khan, exponent of India’s subtle and complex music played on the shannai, a double reed instrument.”

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