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Rag Desh

Updated on September 21, 2016

Rag Desh

Revision notes for the Edexcel GCSE Scheme of work

Rag Desh is an Indian Raga with several different versions (3 to be exact). They are taught by oral tradition, (schools where students learn from their masters - called master-student tradition).

Rag Desh is a piece to be played in the late evening and usually in the monsoon season (so wet and sunset!).

Note from the editor:

This does seem difficult, I admit! Luckily my GCSE exam actually didn't include this set work - but that doesn't mean yours won't! Look at the whole piece in general and find similarities - there is little chance you will be asked on the exact minute differences between each one - more commonly they may ask you what instrument is playing, or what part of the piece it is (alap, gat...). If this comes up in the essay question though, i would highly recommend you don't do it, and hopefully a less complex one is given to you! But as always - LEARN AND REVISE!

Key Features

Musical System

The sargam is similar to the western musical note system, but uses different names: Sa (C), Re (D), Ga (E), Ma(F), Pa(G), Dha(A), Ni(Bb), Sa(C). The tonic note is Sa (drone), and Rag Desh has 2 other important notes: Pa and Re.


A raga has a structure based on sections which can be heard. But, these can be omitted, such as in Rag Desh where Jhor and Jhalla are not played - only the alap and gat. But you may still be asked questions about this!


- unmetred part of the raga

- slow tempo

- no metre (e.g. 3/4, 4/4) i.e. in free time.

- this section is usually characterised by a soloist who uses the notes set for the raga to improvise from and is usually joined by a tambura drone.


- section 2, usually an increase in tempo

- faster tempo than alap (medium ~ish).

- introduction of metre due to a pulse, possibly played by a percussion instrument, e.g. tabla.

- still improvised but slightly more rhythmic and elaborate.


- section 3, climax of the piece

- tempo is fast with complex rhythms

- musician shows off here - virtuoso or virtuosity -while improvising using advanced techniques


- section 4, last,

- instrumental = Gat, vocal = Bandish

- tempo medium-fast.

- tala or a rhythmic pattern (glossary!) is played by the tabla drums

- not improvised!

- Call and response type performance as well as improvised embellished melodic lines played as well as the fixed melodic pattern


What is it?

MAD T-SHIRT is a tip for remembering musical features by going through 9 key parts of any musical piece.

They are:

Melody, Articulation, Dynamics, Texture, Structure, Harmony (tonality), Instrumentation, Rhythm, Tempo


Rag Desh

Just in case you didn't find Rag Desh hard enough, there are actually 3 versions that are listed! Now if you learn the basics, then its practically the same for each one - but if you feel compelled to learn everything, i will post all the information!

Anoushka Shankar (Sitar)
Anoushka Shankar (Sitar)


Version 1: Anoushka Shankar (Sitar)


- Alap: unaccompanied and exploring the raga

- Gat (A, B): sitar melody is fixed

- Tihai is used to signify endings

- sitar plays lots of triplets

- Finishes with a Tihai


- Alap: decorated sections of the melody

- Gat (A, B): Decoration is added to the fixed melody comprising of complex scalic patterns and dialogues with the Tabla


- Dynamics are widely controlled by the number of instruments


- Tambura and sitar start, then the Tabla comes in later to start the Gat section


- Alap

- Gat A

- Gat B

Harmony (Tonality)

- Tambura drone is used


- Sitar, Tambura and Tabla


- Alap: rhythms are fluid and free due to the lack of regular pulse

- Gat (A): enters with a 10-beat tala (Jhaptal) with decoration to the rhythm

- Gat (B): uses a 16-beat tala (Tintal)


- Alap: slow and unmetered

- Gat (A): medium speed

- Gat (B): slightly faster

Sarangi and Sarod
Sarangi and Sarod


Version 2: 'Mhara janam maran' performed by Chiranji Lai Tanwar (voice)


- Alap: Vocalises a melody based on the notes of the raga

- Bandish: Fixed composition

- Sarod and Sarangi solo


- Alap: the singer uses lots of vibrato and scoops notes

- Bandish: lots of trills and scooping of notes


- Increase during the Bandish


- Tambura starts with the Sarangi next, and then the voice

- Tabla joins to start the Bandish section


- Alap

- Bandish

Harmony (tonality)

- Tambura drone is used


- Voice, Sarangi, Sarod, Pakhawaj, hand Cymbals and Tabla


- Alap: 'free time' rhythm

- Bandish: Tabla joins so a good beat is set

- 8-beat tala (Keherwatal)


- Tempo increases during the Bandish

Steve Gorn playing Bansuri
Steve Gorn playing Bansuri


Version 3: Benjy Wertheimer (Esraj and Tabla) and Steve Gorn (Bansuri)


- Alap: the Bansuri uses notes from the rag develops from short melodic fragments to more developed melodic part

- Gat (A):the beginning of the piece has a fixed composition, but then an improvised part is explored with one playing a fixed melody while the other improvises

- Tihai's are heard to end each section of Gat A

- Gat (B): the Bansuri plays an elaborate melody of extreme pitch ranges with lots of scalic runs

- Tihai's are heard to end the piece


- Alap: decorated sections of the melody

- Gat (A, B): Tabla and Bansuri play a melody with embellishes and scalic runs


- Mostly the same volume throughout the piece


- Tambura starts with the Bansuri and Esraj next

- Tabla comes in much later to start the Gat


- Alap

- Gat A

- Gat B

Harmony (tonality)

- Tambura drone is used playing Sa (C - Tonic) and Pa (G - dominant)


- Bansuri, Esraj, Tambura and Tabla


- Alap: rhythms are free flowing, reflected by the sound of the Bansuri

- Gat (A): 7-beat tala (Rupak)

- Gat (B): 12-beat tala (Ektal)


- Alap: Slow and unmetered

- Gat (A): slow tempo

- Gat (B): fast tempo


- For all those words you didn't understand and more! -

Raga - the set melody on which music is improvised, normally 5 or more notes

Drone - notes that are repeated under the main melody (normally the tonic, third or dominant)

Tabla - drums used in Indian music

Sitar - a large, long-necked string instrument with between 4 and 7 strings (up to 5 are melodic and 2 are sympathetic (creating drone notes))

Tambura - similar in shape to a sitar, but only has four metal strings, used as a backing.

Pentatonic - scale, 5or more note scale (known as a raga is Indian music)

Rasa - Mood, connected by the time, day, season or weather

Tala - rhythm in Indian music with a set number of beats, played on the Tabla

Sam - the first beat of a tala

Rupak - a 7 beat tala

Keherwatal - An 8 beat tala

Jhaptal - a 10 beat tala

Ektal - a 12 beat tala

Matras - another name for the beats in a tala

Tintal - 16 beat tala

Alap - the first phase of a raga performance - only melodic instruments with drone, slow, improvised

Jhor - the second phase of a typical raga performance. Faster and more rhythmic than the Alap, still no drums and the sense of pulse is improvised.

Jhala - the third phase of a typical raga performance. Faster than the Alap and Jor, still no drums, and still improvised

Gat - the final phase of a typical raga performance played on instruments rather than sung (Bandish if sung) much faster than other sections, drums are added, but also a rehearsed section.

Meend - sliding effect between notes

Tihai - played 3 times to signify the end of a section

Bansuri - a bamboo flute used in Indian music

Sarangi - A small, bowed sting instrument with no frets.

Sarod - an instrument like a small sitar with a fretless finger board

Esraj - bowed fretted string instrument played sitting on the floor and has a number of sympathetic and drone strings


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