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Classical Music Around the World

Updated on September 27, 2020

Music has always been considered as a vital element in celebration, worship and ritual and it has been a constant support in coping with life’s crisis, work and warfare. For instance, the Indian raga was associated with certain moods as well as with different times of the year. This unique relation between music and belief persists in many parts of the world. Egyptians, Hindus, Indonesians and Native Americans in ancient times believed music was a gift from the god. The instruments and their sound and appearance had a symbolic significance for the Sumerians and Egyptians. Many Native Americans, Oceanic people and others still consider music as the expression of sacred beings.

Musical influences have flowed between people across different countries and continents. Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel were fascinated when they came across gamelan music from Java in the late 19th century, Olivier Messiaen found inspiration in a 13th century Indian treatise and Steve Reich was influenced by the traditional music of Asia and Africa.

Classical Music across Regions

Western Classical Music: The western classical music has been believed to have started with plainchant, the vocal religious practice of the Roman Catholic Church. This form of classical music is known for its sophisticated instrumental music like sonata, concerto, fugue, and symphony. It is also known for its mixed vocal and instrumental styles such as cantata, opera and mass. The later part of the 18th century is often referred to as the “Classical” period in Western music.

South Asia: South Asia has two great classical music traditions, North Indian (including Pakistan and Bangladesh) and the Carnatic (southern India). The absence of harmony and simpler four-square rhythms in both these traditions meant that music was not played in large ensembles. Indian traditions instead followed a refined art of solo improvisation in expressive forms called ‘ragas’ and rhythmic frameworks called ‘talas’. This oral tradition was entirely different from classical music in Europe.

The history of the classical Hindustani Indian music goes back to the 17th century, the same time Bach devised the circle of fifths and other important elements of European music. Simultaneously in India, Tansen began scripting the formal structure and framework of the Indian classical music.

Southeast Asia: Countries like Cambodia and Thailand have classical music that is complex with their own formal systems. In these regions there are many Hindu temples and thus they have an Indian influence from 5th century itself. Early Javanese Kawi literature tells about percussion ensembles accompanying battles, shadow puppetry and masked dances. Wind and string instruments were also played for women’s court dancing. Music is intimately linked to the theatrical arts throughout Southeast Asia. Between c.1300 and c.1750, the northern mainland was introduced to Chinese theatrical forms and the southern mainland received Arabic influences.

China: Shang, the earliest recorded dynasty in China, developed the system of writing which today gives records of Chinese musical activity spanning 5000 years. The writings also tell about the destruction and reinvention of music theory throughout centuries. The traditional classification for instruments was called ‘eight sounds’ (pa-yin) to mark the significance of the eight different materials to make instruments. The earliest musical instruments found in China are stone-chimes, ocarinas and bronze bells.

Classical Arabic Music: Countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria as well as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey have a different form of classical music. They follow a system of melodic notes called ‘maqam’. The art of improvisation in classical Arabic music is called ‘taqsim’. Classical Persian music exerted a large influence on various genres of Indian music as well as on their musical instruments.

How is Indian Classical Music different from Western Classical Music?

Indian classical music is mainly homophonic which means it focuses only on the melody created using certain notes. Western classical music on the other hand is polyphonic, i.e. the melody created is not singular and thus cannot be defined. Western classical music is composed whereas Indian classical music is improvised. When vocals are used in Indian classical music, the instruments used along with it can just be considered as mere accompaniments. This is different from Western classical music where instruments carry a lot of weight in the overall composition. Indian classical music uses ‘taal’ which is the cycle of beats that repeats itself. Western classical music on the other hand uses no such complex beat cycles.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      2 weeks ago

      Thank you Prithviraj for your generous comments. I am glad you liked reading this article.

    • Prithviraj Shirole profile image

      Prithviraj Shirole 

      2 weeks ago from India

      Thanks for sharing such melodious information. I learned great insights into different types of classical music around the world.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you very much Vanita for your lovely comments. I am pleased to know that you enjoyed reading this article. I too love every genre of music and it is true indeed what you have written. I truly appreciate your insightful comments. Take care.

    • Vanita Thakkar profile image

      Vanita Thakkar 

      3 weeks ago

      Articles on Music always appeal to me as Music breathes life into me.

      You have compiled some interesting facts about classical music in different traditions. Loved reading about them. Your article reminded me of my studies on international music while pursuing my Masters degree in Indian Classical Music - about 22 years back (it also reminded me that it was so a time back - ha, ha ....)

      The history of Indian Classical Music dates back to the Vedic Era, with one section of the Saama Veda devoted to Musical rendering. In our Indian traditions, Music is considered as a means to attain the highest states of Existence - Naada Yoga ....

      I love every genre of Music and have had the good fortune of performing in many of them, in different languages. Knowing classical music can add to the quality of your performance in every genre.

      Thanks for a nice article. God bless you.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you James for your kind comments. Yes you can find many Indian classical songs of different ragas sung by maestros. Every raga has its own unique melody. Hope you enjoy listening to them.

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 

      3 weeks ago from The Great Midwest


      Interesting comparison of different classical music styles. Do you have any favorite south or southeast Asia classical music I can find online?

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you very much Chitrangada for your insightful comments. I am delighted that you liked reading this article. I truly appreciate your comments. Take care.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      3 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

      Well written and informative article about the classical music around the world.

      I like music in all it’s forms. Music is an expression and it has no language. You have shared some interesting information about music, both Indian and Western.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you Vandna. I always appreciate your lovely comments. Take care.

    • Vandna Patel profile image


      3 weeks ago from Navsari (India)

      Thank you so much Ankita for sharing this information.

      I enjoyed reading it.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you so much Devika for your kind comments. I am glad that you enjoyed reading this article and found it informative.

    • profile image

      Devika Primic 

      3 weeks ago

      Ankita B this is an interesting hub about classical music. I do enjoy listening to it and learned so much more from you.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you very much Linda for your generous comments which I always appreciate. I am so pleased to know that you enjoyed reading this article.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing this information, Ankita. I like listening to

      classical and world music, so I found your article interesting and enjoyable.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Yes Danny, the ragas of Indian classical music have their own unique powers to heal people. I have learned Indian classical music and truly appreciate its beauty. Thank you for your wonderful comments.

    • Danny Fernandes profile image


      3 weeks ago from India

      Classical music always touches the heart and I am a big fan of it.

      I know that there are ragas for specific issues

      Raag Darbari was introduced by Miya Tansen to Akbar for relieving his tension after the days work

      Raag Todi is very helpful in easing symptoms of High B.P

      Ankita, just introduce the above two ragas to people dealing with related issues. Very helpful!

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you very much FlourishAnyway. I always appreciate you generous comments. I am glad that you enjoyed reading this.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you Pamela for your encouraging words. I am pleased to know that you loved reading this article. I appreciate your comments very much.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      True Sowrabha what you have said. Thank you for your lovely comments. I am so delighted you enjoyed reading this.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you so much Lora for your kind comments. Indeed music is a great healer for me as well. I am glad you enjoyed reading this article.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 weeks ago from USA

      This was an interesting contrast and comparison. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      I didn't know so much of what you just explained in this excellent article. The evolution of music around the world is fascinating. I also was only familiar with western classical music. This is a wonderful article, Ankita.

    • Sowrabha Mahesh profile image


      3 weeks ago from Bengaluru

      Hi Ankita, this was a fascinating read on the evolution of music across the globe.

      Now we see music breaking barriers, intermingling with other forms and leading to newer forms of fusion music.

      Enjoyed this write up!

    • Lora Hollings profile image

      Lora Hollings 

      3 weeks ago

      Fascinating article on classical music. I'm very familiar with western classical music and its history as I was a music major in college but I had no idea there were so many other countries which also have a type of classical music. I've always found music to be a great healer in my life and a very important part of it. Thank you for your wonderful article, Ankita!

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you very much Lorna for your encouraging words. I appreciate your lovely comments.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      3 weeks ago

      I have a love of music which has remained with me from childhood. This was such an interesting article Ankita which I enjoyed reading.


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