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Singers of the Subcontinent: A Guide to Hindustani Classical Singing

Have you ever been mesmerized by a piece of Hindustani classical singing? From the passionate voice of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to the timeless bhajans of Lata Mangeshkar, have you ever wondered what it takes to master this art form?

If your answer is yes, then welcome to the wonderful world of Hindustani classical singing. This ancient Indian form of musical expression combines elements from both North and South India and has been popular for over three thousand years.

Being a vocal genre, learning Hindustani classical singing requires dedication, patience, and practice. It involves understanding not just the technical aspects but also its underlying philosophy. In this article, we will be your guide through this complex yet beautiful process so you can get started on your journey towards mastery.

Introduction to Hindustani Classical Singing

If you're looking to explore the rich soundscape of Hindustani classical singing, you've come to the right place! Originating from northern India and Pakistan, Hindustani classical music has been an integral part of the Subcontinent's culture for centuries.

This beautiful form of singing is characterized by its melodic improvisations, complex rhythms and use of powerful vocal techniques. The art is based on raga—a series of notes arranged in a particular order, with each one belonging to a specific mode (or scale). The raga can be modulated in endless ways, creating endless possibilities for musical expression.

The singer is also able to convey emotion through the use of different techniques such as meend (smooth transitions between notes), taan (short bursts of melody) and laya (rhythmic cycles). Additionally, the singers are able to engage in conversation-like dialogs with accompanying musicians using a call-and-response style known as kihaar.

These various elements combine to create a captivating soundscape that transports listeners into another world!

Ragas and Alankars: The Musical Landscape of Hindustani Classical Singing

Hindustani classical singing is one of the oldest musical traditions in the world, having evolved over the centuries to become a highly complex and intricate form of music. At its core, Hindustani classical singing is based on two main concepts—ragas and alankars.

Ragas are melodic forms that provide structure, while alankars are improvisations that musicians use to interpret and embellish the raga. Together, they create a musical landscape that provides singers with endless possibilities to explore their creativity.

Ragas consist of specific combinations of musical notes and scale patterns, with each raga having its own unique set of characteristics that set it apart from other ragas. Similarly, alankars involve intricate rhythmic patterns and melodic variations which allow for different levels of improvisation and complexity.

By understanding these two fundamental concepts—ragas and alankars—you will be able to start building an appreciation for Hindustani classical music. Through exploring these elements within the context of a traditional raga-based performance, you can begin to understand what makes this genre such a powerful force in Indian culture.

Developing Your Voice in Hindustani Classical Singing

If you're looking to take your Hindustani classical singing to the next level, you need to develop your voice. This can be done through vocal exercises and some practice.

Vocal Exercises

Vocal exercises can help develop your voice and add a range of tones, volume and pitch inflections. These exercises may include humming, lip rolls, trills, glides and staccato syllables. Consider working with a teacher who specializes in Hindustani classical singing to help guide you through vocal exercises and breathing techniques.


Consistency is key in developing your voice. Start by devoting at least 30 minutes every day to practice singing scales or ragas. You can also practice the basics of a raga each day before exploring more complex pieces. It is important that you challenge yourself with new pieces to explore, but do not push yourself too hard—breathing and muscle memory are important elements of expanding your voice.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to practice and consistency—so focus on both equally while developing your singing technique!

Listening to the Greats: Learning From Our Musical Forefathers

When it comes to learning Hindustani classical singing, it pays to listen to the greats. There are many legendary singers who have been performing this style of music for centuries, and studying their works can give you a valuable understanding of the genre.

Fortunately, there are numerous recordings and videos of some of these great singers that you can access online. For instance, if you are looking to learn more about ‘Alaap’—the process of gradually unfolding a raga through its various notes—then listening to Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s rendition is a must. Similarly, Dhrupad vocalist Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar is considered one of the greatest exponents in history and his recordings are available for you to learn from.

Listening carefully to these performances will not only give you an idea about how the raga should be presented—the tonal quality and melodic structure of each piece—but also teach you about improvisation. Aspects such as how much space should there be between two notes; how long should one note be extended; or which phrases will make your piece unique—all of these important elements can be heard in their masterful renditions.

So when you’re just starting out learning Hindustani classical singing, keep an open mind and take inspiration from the legendary singers who have come before us. It’ll help your own journey toward becoming a master vocalist all the more rewarding!

Performing Thumri and Other Forms of Hindustani Classical Music

When it comes to Hindustani Classical Music, there are a variety of forms you can learn to perform. The most popular is thumri –a semi-classical form of singing which is improvised and typically begins with the singing of a poem. This poem can be either in Hindi or Urdu.

Once the poem is sung, the musician then moves into improvising their own music with the help of time-tested musical phrases and scales known as 'ragas'. The improvisation aspect of thumri makes it highly adaptable for any given situation. For example, you can take an audience from a somber or contemplative mood, to an elated one by changing your rhythm and melody.

Other forms include:

· Dhrupad - one of the oldest forms of Hindustani classical music that focus on vocals and played on instruments like sarangi

· Khyal - a form of composition featuring two sections called 'sthai' and 'antara' that involve both singing and playing instruments like sitar or tabla

· Tappa - a fast-paced vocal style accompanied by hand clapping and rhythmic dialog between vocalist and tabla player

These various forms of Hindustani classical music offer singers an opportunity to express themselves while also connecting with their audience when performed live. It's easy to see why Hindustani music has had such an enduring appeal over the centuries!

Where to Learn More About Hindustani Classical Singing

If you're interested in learning more about Hindustani classical singing, there are some great options for you. You can take classes in person, attend performances or explore online resources to gain a deeper understanding of its history and practice.


You can join an in-person class in Bhardwaj Music Academy in Mumbai or Online for Hindustani classical singing to get an in-depth education. It's important to find a qualified teacher who will be able to guide you through the complex tradition of classical Indian music, and Bhardwaj Music Academy is the best music academy for the Hindustani Classical Singing located in Mumbai.


Going to a performance is another great way to immerse yourself in the art form and understand it better. Every performance is unique, but classical vocalists tend to perform solo and accompanied by instruments like the tabla or harmonium. To make sure you're getting a quality performance, buy tickets directly from the artist or venue, as this ensures that everyone involved receives fair payment.

Online Resources

Finally, exploring online resources can help you build your knowledge of Hindustani classical singing even further. There are lots of websites dedicated to Indian music that offer lessons, tutorials and audio recordings so that you can listen and learn at your own pace. You'll also find educational videos from experienced singers which can help you gain insight into the nuances of this genre of music.


At the end of the day, Hindustani classical singing is a journey of sound—a way to commune with an ancient tradition and to discover the beauty and complexity of musical expression. It is not just about replicating what has come before and following the rules, but rather, learning the foundations and then unlocking your own creativity. It is a journey of self-expression and exploration, where each step of the way opens up further possibilities that can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned professional, the possibilities are endless and the rewards are many.

No matter where you are on your journey, Hindustani classical singing is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience. By engaging with the tradition, you can open up new pathways for personal expression and appreciate the beauty of Indian music. Even if you are just starting out, you can strive to reach the level of excellence that has been demonstrated by musicians in centuries past. And as you do, you will learn more about yourself and your culture along the way.

Of course, it takes dedication and hard work to master this art form. But with the right guidance, practice and perseverance, you too can become a skilled musician and share your skills with the world. With this guide as your reference, you can take the first steps on your own Hindustani classical singing journey and discover the joys of this beautiful music.

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