The Indian music characteristics are evident when you compare it with Western music. In both the systems you will find some essential differences: the Indian music is based on melody or single notes played in a given order, while the Western music is based on harmony: a group of notes known as chords played together.
Dr. Rabindranath Tagore who was well familiar with both the systems, explained the difference as follows: “The world by daylight stands for Western music which is a flowing concourse of vast harmony, composed of concord and discord and many disconnected fragments. And the night world stands for Indian music: one pure, deep and tender raga. Both, touches our heart, and yet both are contradictory in spirit. But this is natural. Nature, at the very root is divided into two, day and night, unity and variety, finite and infinite.
Indian men live in the realm of night; we are inspired by the sense of the One and Infinite. Indian music draws away the listener beyond the boundaries of daily joys and sorrows and takes us to the solitary space of renunciation which exists at the root of the universe, while Western music leads us to dance through a limitless rise and fall of human joy and grief.
” Indian classical music basically stirs our spiritual sense and discipline – a longing for realization of the self salvation. Singing is a worshipping act and not an intellectual exhibition of mastery on the technique of a raga. In Western culture, singing is a formal and secular exercise, and does not involve piety or devotion as compared to Indian music
The teacher-student (Guru-Shishya) tradition in Indian music is responsible for the deep dedication and attachment of the student to the teacher. In the West, a music teacher is taken as a hired person who teaches lessons and there is no deep attachment between the teacher and student.
Like Western music, Indian music too is based on melody and rhythm, but it has no foundation of harmony which is so significant in Western music. Indian music is “modal” – based on the relationship between the permanent individual notes known as tonic, with the successive notes. This is the reason why Tanpura (drone) is played in the background of Indian music which reminds one of the tonic notes.
The Indian classical music system is horizontal; one note follows the other, while the Western music is vertical; many notes played at a time. Yehudi Menuhin, the noted musician, highlights the differentiates both systems by describing Indian music as: “for appreciating Indian music one has to adopt totally a different set of values… one must orientate oneself and at least for the concerned period, forget the passing of time and just sink into a kind of thematic, almost hypnotic trance. The rhythmic and melodic features of Indian music that are repetitive, acquires an extraordinary charm and fascination… despite the domination of this hypnotic mood’s domination, which is an Indian music characteristic, actively frees the mind.”
The place of “composition” in these two systems is notably different. In Western music, the music is first composed by the composer and arranges it in notation: then the musicians play this composition under the guidance of a music conductor. Here improvisation hardly takes place, and the performance value lies in the uniformity and the pre-determined conduct of tone and music speed (tempo). In Indian music, while the melody grammar and rhythm is fixed, the ingenuity and skill of the musician lies in his creativity and improvisation, especially in mood evocation and rasa of a particular raga.
In this context, an international musicologist has written: “In the West, solid blocks of music are constructed. After carving out like building stones, the seven degrees of diatonic scale, lined up and placed on top of each other with cleverly worked out harmony and counterpoint. In this way fantastic edifices in sound are erected.
In Indian classical music, no one can think of dividing sound into blocks; instead it is refined into a wire-thin thread. The sound is stretched out to refine it to an extreme point of delicacy… No standard materials, no building of three or five floors, but just like silk thread which unfold and rises and falls and evokes a world of sensations and feelings.”
In music of India, melody and rhythm offer a variety of subtleties, which is not possible in Western music. Indian notes are divided into units called shruties (22 microtones), whereas Western music consist of 12 semitones. The microtones are more subtle than semitones. These microtones adorned with gracetones (gamakas) create a magical effect.
Western music has the capacity of producing many feelings and moods. While Indian music, has the capacity to produce a principal emotion or a mood in a raga. An Indian musician improvises with his own creative genius within a raga’s framework, but in Western classical music, except in jazz, such an improvisation is inconceivable. Moreover, the percussion in Indian music emphasizes its rhythm. It is only through keeping one’s mind and ears open that one is able to appreciate the melodies and sequences different from one’s own. This applies to Indian audiences attending Western music performances, and to Western audiences attending music of India concerts. Just remember that the both music systems are complementary, like two halves of classical music.