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Indian Classical Music - IELTS Reading Passage with Questions and Answers

Updated on 24 January, 2024

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad abroad Editorial Team

Indian classical music, with its rich heritage and intricate styles, stands as a testament to the cultural and artistic diversity of India. This passage explores the depths of this musical genre, unraveling its history, nuances, and impact on both the Indian subcontinent and the world.


Indian classical music, a profound art form steeped in history, resonates with the soul of India’s rich cultural and artistic diversity. This intricate and expressive music style is more than just an auditory experience; it is a spiritual journey and a reflection of India’s age-old traditions. Spanning over a thousand years, Indian classical music encompasses a wide range of emotions, techniques, and musical philosophies, making it a fascinating subject of study and appreciation.

The Historical Tapestry

The roots of Indian classical music trace back to the Vedic period, around 1500 BCE, where music was seen as a medium to attain spiritual enlightenment. The ancient scriptures like the Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, extensively discuss musical forms and the role of music in religious and social life. Over centuries, Indian music absorbed diverse influences from various dynasties and cultures, including the Persians and Mughals, enriching its form and content.

Two Distinct Traditions

Indian classical music branches into two major schools: the Hindustani classical music of North India, and the Carnatic classical music of South India. Both schools share a foundational emphasis on melody (raag) and rhythm (taal), but differ significantly in their approach, performance, and aesthetic.

Hindustani Music: The Northern Echo

Hindustani classical music evolved under the influence of Islamic rule in North India, integrating elements of Persian music. This genre is known for its improvisational nature and the use of ragas—musical scales and melodies imbued with specific emotional qualities and times of day or year. The performance usually begins with a slow, introspective alap, where the musician explores the raga, followed by a gradual build-up in tempo and complexity. Renowned instruments in this genre include the sitar, sarod, tabla, and bansuri.

Carnatic Music: The Southern Harmony

In contrast, Carnatic music, predominantly practiced in the southern states of India, is more composition-based and structured. It is deeply rooted in Hindu religious traditions and often performed in temples. Carnatic music is notable for its rhythmic complexity and extensive use of compositions known as kritis, written by musical saints like Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, and Syama Sastri. Key instruments include the veena, mridangam, and violin.

Raga: The Soul of Indian Classical Music

The concept of raga is central to Indian classical music. A raga is not just a scale but a complex framework for improvisation and expression. Each raga is associated with specific moods and times, creating an environment for the listener and performer to delve into an emotional experience. The execution of a raga requires skill and deep understanding, often taking years to master.

Taal: The Rhythmic Aspect

Equally important is the concept of taal or rhythm. Indian classical music features a variety of taals, complex rhythmic patterns that are executed with precision. The tabla in Hindustani music and the mridangam in Carnatic music are the primary percussion instruments, providing a rhythmic foundation for performances.

The Guru-Shishya Tradition

The traditional method of learning Indian classical music is through the guru-shishya (teacher-student) parampara. This age-old tradition involves rigorous training and a deep, holistic understanding of music, often beginning in childhood. The guru not only teaches the technicalities of music but also imparts lessons on the spiritual, philosophical, and emotional dimensions of this art form.

Performance and Improvisation

Performance in Indian classical music is a blend of structured composition and improvisation. While Carnatic concerts often follow a pre-determined set of compositions, Hindustani performances give more scope for spontaneity and improvisation. This aspect allows the artist to connect deeply with the audience, making each performance unique and dynamic.

Instruments: The Voices of Music

The instruments in Indian classical music are as diverse as the music itself. In Hindustani music, the sitar and sarod are known for their deep, resonant strings, while the bansuri (bamboo flute) adds a touch of mellowness. The tabla, a pair of hand drums, provides the rhythmic aspect. In Carnatic music, the veena (a string instrument) and mridangam (a percussion instrument) are central, along with the violin, adapted from Western music, which has found a significant place in this genre.

Influence and Evolution

Indian classical music has not only influenced various other music forms in India but has also caught the attention of the Western world. Collaborations between Indian classical musicians and Western artists have led to the creation of unique fusion music styles. Additionally, this genre has adapted to contemporary times, with modern-day artists experimenting with electronic music and new-age sounds, thus keeping the tradition alive and evolving.


Indian classical music represents a remarkable blend of history, culture, spirituality, and artistry. Its influence extends beyond the Indian subcontinent, capturing the hearts of music enthusiasts worldwide. As an IELTS subject, it offers a rich tapestry of knowledge, covering historical origins, musical techniques, and cultural significance, making it an engaging and informative topic for readers and learners alike.


Q1. What are the two major traditions of Indian classical music?

a) Hindustani and Rajasthani

b) Carnatic and Bengali

c) Hindustani and Carnatic

d) Bengal and Punjab

Q2. Indian classical music dates back to which period?

a) Mughal period

b) British era

c) Vedic period

d) Mauryan period

Q3. Which of the following is a characteristic feature of Hindustani music?

a) Improvisation

b) Fixed compositions

c) Use of the guitar

d) Focus on dance

Q4. Carnatic music is closely associated with:

a) Islamic traditions

b) Hindu religious practices

c) Western music styles

d) Folk music

Q5. Which instrument is predominantly used in Hindustani music?

a) Veena

b) Violin

c) Sitar

d) Piano

Q6. The guru-shishya tradition is a method of:

a) Writing music

b) Public performance

c) Passing knowledge from teacher to student

d) Solo practice

Q7. In Indian classical music, a 'raga' primarily refers to:

a) A rhythmic pattern

b) A dance form

c) A melodic framework

d) A type of instrument

Q8. Which composer is associated with Carnatic music?

a) Tyagaraja

b) Beethoven

c) Ravi Shankar

d) Zakir Hussain

Q9. The tabla is a type of:

a) String instrument

b) Percussion instrument

c) Wind instrument

d) Electronic instrument

Q10. Indian classical music is known for its:

a) Heavy use of electronic sounds

b) Emphasis on melody and rhythm

c) Focus on western musical scales

d) Simple and repetitive structures


A1. c) Hindustani and Carnatic. Indian classical music is divided into Hindustani music of North India and Carnatic music of South India, each with distinct styles and traditions.

A2. c) Vedic period. The origins of Indian classical music can be traced back to the Vedic period, with references to music in ancient scriptures.

A3. a) Improvisation. Hindustani music is characterized by its improvised nature, allowing the musician to creatively express within the bounds of a raga.

A4. b) Hindu religious practices. Carnatic music is deeply intertwined with Hindu religious practices and is often performed in South Indian temples.

A5. c) Sitar. The sitar is a renowned string instrument predominantly used in Hindustani music, known for its distinctive sound and complexity.

A6. c) Passing knowledge from teacher to student. The guru-shishya tradition is a key aspect of learning in Indian classical music, emphasizing the transfer of knowledge from an experienced teacher to a disciple.

A7. c) A melodic framework. A raga in Indian classical music refers to a melodic framework for improvisation and composition, associated with specific emotions and times.

A8. a) Tyagaraja. Tyagaraja is one of the legendary composers in Carnatic music, known for his profound and devotional compositions.

A9. b) Percussion instrument. The tabla is a widely used percussion instrument in Hindustani music, known for its distinctive rhythmic patterns and tones.

A10. b) Emphasis on melody and rhythm. Indian classical music places a strong emphasis on melody and rhythm, forming the foundation of its diverse musical expressions.

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