How is Indian Music Different From Western Music

Well, we will talk about few differences between Indian music and Western music in this article. To begin, Indian classical music can be classified into North Indian music and South Indian music. While the North Indian classical music stream is known as Hindustani, the South Indian classical stream of music is known as Carnatic music. And though both are collectively known as Indian music, there are some minor differences between them in terms of ornamentation, creations, articulation and scale.

Going into further detail, Indian classical music is a mix and migration of cultures that are specific to the Indian subcontinent. Varied Indian cultures and tribes have amalgamated and built the Indian classical music form. Western music on the other hand has its roots dating back to the 19thcentury. Western music in contrast is the style of art music that celebrates and reflects the life in the United States, Europe and in other societies set up by the European immigrants.

Different Aspects of Indian and Western Music

Melody and Harmony

In terms of melody and harmony, Indian music differs greatly from Western music. Two fundamental elements of the Indian classical music scene are the raga and the tala. The former is the melodic framework which is an amalgamation of swaras. The latter is the basis of rhythm and keeps the time cycle.

The Indian music system is based on a melody or single notes which are played in a particular order. On the contrary, the western music system is based on harmony and uses counterpoint and tonic progression profusely. Differing from melody, harmony denotes a group of notes played in quick succession of one another. Moreover, western music needs to be played exactly as it is written and has a standardised written notation.


In terms of Pitch also the two are very different from each other. Western music uses just minor and major scales and equal temperament notes. Indian classical music uses a much more complicated system of scales that is a mix of parent scales and that of descendant families, which sound very varied from each other.

Again while in western music there exists only a dual set of pitch ratios between the notes, one for major scales and the second for minor scales, this is not the case with Indian music. In Indian classical music, the equal-tempered division of musical notes is not followed. Instead of notes in different scales, different pitch ratios are used.


In terms of Notes in Indian classical music, there are a basic of seven notes and five variations. These variations are organised in the order of increasing pitch to form a gamut or a scale. This is termed as ‘saptaka’ meaning seven in Indian classical music and as octave in Western classical music. ‘Saptaka’ in Indian classical music is divided into twenty-two intervals titled as ‘srutis’ with five sharp or flat notes called ‘Vikrit Swar’ and seven natural notes or ‘Shuddha Swar.’

In comparison, there are twelve semitones to an octave in western music. Saptaka refers to a set of seven notes in Indian classical music and is also known by the word, ‘sthayi.’ This parallels the word ‘register’ in Western music.


With regard to Scale, the note of ‘Sa’ is an adaptable note that can be placed anywhere and no fixed rule applies to where ‘Sa’ should be specifically placed. However, once ‘Sa’ is selected the basic Indian scale corresponds to the Western C major scale. So the Indian scale of ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dh Ni’ matches the western ‘Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti’ with a total of seven full notes in the scale and a full octave of twelve notes. A raga scale can start on any pitch, the tonic coarsely parallels C in Western scales.

However, unlike in Western C, it does not specifically have to be a certain frequency. All other notes are produced in orientation to the constant tonic.

Nature and Spirituality

In terms of Nature and Spirituality, Indian classical music has a closer association with both than western classical music. Ragas are associated with specific times of the day or with seasons in a year.

Most western classical music does not have such kind of associations. The foundation of Indian classical music lies in spirituality while western classical music has more secular roots like individual experiences, historical events, dance celebrations and other kinds of events.


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