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10 Popular, Traditional, Indian Musical Instruments: For Folk and Classical Music

Chitrangada loves the richness of Indian art, culture and traditions. As a writer, she wants to spread information about Indian culture.

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.~~~ Victor Hugo

Indian musical instrument, Sitar.  Artist-Pandit Ravi Shankar

Indian musical instrument, Sitar. Artist-Pandit Ravi Shankar

A Brief Introduction to the Traditional Indian Musical Instruments

Music has no language. It‘s a form of expression, which can be felt by the heart, and enjoyed even by those, who do not understand the lyrics.

Besides God, it is the art of music, which is the greatest treasure of mankind. Soulful music can help you, to build spiritual powers, and you can connect to the supreme almighty.

Music has immense and incredible power, to unite people, irrespective of their language or geographical boundaries.

In this article, I want to highlight some of my favourite, Indian musical instruments.

India is a land of music and dance. In various parts of the country, different musical instruments are used. Broadly, they can be listed as Sitar, Sarod, Tanpura, Shahnai and Tabla. These instruments are used in Hindustani classical music. Whereas, Veena, MrIdangam, Kanjira, and Violin are used in Carnatac classical music.

Indian Musical instrument--Sitar

Indian Musical instrument--Sitar

Indian musical instrument, Veena

Indian musical instrument, Veena

The Sitar and The Veena

1. The Sitar:

Sitar is one of the most popular North Indian classical instrument. The neck of the Sitar is crafted from teak wood, and a resonator, carved from a large seasoned gourd. It has normally seven main strings. The gourd acts as a resonator for the strings.

The Sitar has a long neck, with twenty metal frets, and seven main cords at the lower end of the neck of the Sitar. The frets are moved up and down, to adjust the notes.

2. The Veena:

Veena is the most popular musical instrument of South India, and is synonymous with Carnatac music. Its melodious tunes, have the power to invoke spirituality, and one feels close to the God, by listening to it.

It is a plucked string instrument, and has many variations in sound, shapes and sizes. It is considered to be an ancient musical instrument, and has a glorious history of being played at temples.



Mass Sitar concert, Source: You tube

Harmonium

Harmonium

Indian musical instrument, Harmonium

Indian musical instrument, Harmonium

The Harmonium

3. The Harmonium:
A traditional musical instrument of Northern India, played along by vocal artists, when they sing. It is very commonly used by the Ghazal and the classical singers.

The harmonium has a keyboard, of over two and one-half octaves.

It works on a system of bellows. The keyboard is played with the right hand, while the left hand is used to operate the bellows.

Indian musical instrument, Tabla Artist—Zakir Hussain

Indian musical instrument, Tabla Artist—Zakir Hussain

Indian musical instrument, the set of aTabla

Indian musical instrument, the set of aTabla

Tabla performance by Ustad Zakir Hussain, Source: YouTube

The Tabla

4. The Tabla:

One of the most popular musical instrument, which is used in Sangat, that is along with the Sitar, Veena and other instruments, for beats is the Tabla.

It consists of a pair of drums- the Tabla and the Bayan and is made of wood. It’s top is made of stretched animal skin. The drums have round black spot, at the top centre, which produces the sound, or the beats. It is made of iron dust or manganese.The bayan has a metal outer cover. Tuning of Tabla is done by striking the rim of the Tabla with a small hammer.


Indian musical instrument, the Sarod Artist—Ustaad Amzad Ali Khan

Indian musical instrument, the Sarod Artist—Ustaad Amzad Ali Khan

Indian musical instrument, Sarod

Indian musical instrument, Sarod

The Sarod

5. The Sarod:

Sarod is another wonderful musical instrument which has a small wooden body covered with the skin. It has a fingerboard, which is covered with steel.

It does not have a fret, instead, it has 25 strings, among which, 15 are sympathetic strings. A metal gourd, acts as a resonator. The strings are plucked, with a triangular plectrum.

Live performance by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Source: YouTube

Indian musical instrument, The Traditional Dholak

Indian musical instrument, The Traditional Dholak

I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music.

~~~Billy Joel

The Dholak or the Pakhawaj

7. The Dholak or the Pakhawaj:
The Dholak or the Pakhawaj is a very popular musical instrument, and can be found in many homes. It is easy to play and sing along, especially the folk or traditional songs.

It is believed that the Tabla was derived from the Dholak or Pakhawaj.

It usually accompanies Dhrupad style of singing. It is a barrel-shaped drum, with two heads, on the opposite sides, which are made of layers of skin. The heads are expanded by leather straps, which run along the sides of the body, over small cylindrical wooden blocks, which are used for tuning.

Indian Musical Instrument 'Shehnai': Artist Bismillah Khan.

Indian Musical Instrument 'Shehnai': Artist Bismillah Khan.

Shehnai by Ustaad Bismillah Khan, Source: YouTube

The Shehnai

6. The Shehnai:
If you had the opportunity to attend an Indian wedding, you must have heard the Shehnai. The auspicious and melodious sound of Shehnai is synonymous with North Indian weddings and in temples.

Shehnai is a double reed instrument, with a tapering bore, which progressively increases towards the lower side. The Shehnai has finger-holes, to produce semi, quarter and micro-tones. It is played by blowing wind, into the holes with lips, in a coordinated way.

Mrigandam

Mrigandam

The Mridangam

8. The Mridangam:
The Mridangam is one of the most popular classical musical instruments of South India.

It accompanies vocal artists, instrumental artists and dance artists.

Mridangam is a barrel-shaped double-headed drum, made of single block of wood.

The right head is smaller than the left, and they are made of layers of skin. It is played by coordinated tapping of palms and fingers.

Indian Musical Instrument 'Santoor' : Artist Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma

Indian Musical Instrument 'Santoor' : Artist Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma

Indian musical instrument, Santoor

Indian musical instrument, Santoor

The Santoor

9. The Santoor:

The Santoor produces the music of the hills, or so it sounds. It is a trapezoid-shaped musical instrument, made of walnut, with many strings. It is believed, to be related to the shata-tantri veena of earlier times.

A lightweight wooden hammer is used to play the Santoor, known as Mezrab. To play the Santoor, these mallets (mezrab), are held between the index and the middle fingers.

Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma on Santoor, source: You tube

The Sarangi

10. The Sarangi:
One of the most popular and oldest bowed musical instruments of India, the Sarangi has 40 strings, among which 37 are sympathetic.

The Sarangi has a hollow body, and it is made of teak wood, adorned with ivory inlays. It is held in a vertical position, while being played with a bow. The artist has to press the fingernails, of the left hand, against the strings, to produce the melodious music.

Sarangi -The Indian musical instrument

Sarangi -The Indian musical instrument

To Conclude:

  • All of us get attracted to music as music is an expression of heart.
  • Musical instruments are used to produce melodious music and are moderated by the artist so as to get desired audio effects.
  • The instrumental music artists play an extremely important role in the field of music.
  • The music created by the instruments when played is unconditionally harmonious and musical.
  • It relaxes the mind and the senses and you feel very positive which is good for your physical and mental health.
  • In this age of electronic musical instruments, we must take great care to preserve our traditional and classical musical heritage .

Chitrangada Sharan

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.

© 2015 Chitrangada Sharan

Comments

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 20, 2020:

Hi Sowrabha!

Good to hear from you. I am pleased to read your words of appreciation for this article.

India has a rich tradition of classical music and dances. It’s so difficult to sum it up in few words or paragraphs. My article is a brief introduction for those, who don’t know much about our rich cultural heritage.

It’s so nice to know that you are a singer. I love to sing, and can play Sitar and Guitar. All this for personal joy only.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

sowspeaks from Bengaluru on August 20, 2020:

Hi Chitrangada , I came across this hub having written one on Pandit Jasraj. What a wonderfully well written hub. Being an amateur singer myself, am familiar with all these instruments, nevertheless found it detailed and enjoyable.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on February 13, 2020:

Thank you femi, for reading and commenting. Much appreciated.

femi from Nigeria on February 13, 2020:

Interesting looking musical instruments and sounds

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on October 24, 2018:

Thanks Anirudh!

Anirudh on October 24, 2018:

Guitar

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on October 02, 2017:

Thank You Nithya for appreciating this article about traditional musical instruments! Sitar is my favourite too. I learnt playing Sitar when I was in my school.

Your feedback is always appreciated! Thanks.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 01, 2017:

I enjoyed reading about the fascinating musical instruments, I love the sound of the Sitar it is divine!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on February 02, 2017:

Thank you Frances Metcalfe for coming back and sharing your insightful views. I am really impressed by your thoughts.

Thanks for your interest in my hubs. I would be checking out your hubs shortly.

Thanks again!

Frances Metcalfe from The Limousin, France on February 02, 2017:

You're welcome! It's always a good thing to read about other cultures. I love watching programmes about lost civilisations and the way other people live and think. Diversity means a rich society and should not break society apart. and than you so much for following me. Also, will be looking at your recipes - they'll be authentic!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on February 01, 2017:

Thanks Frances Metcalfe for your kind visit and valuable comments!

Your views show that you have an understanding of music.

Appreciate your positive feedback about Indian music.

Thanks for stopping by and the follow as well. Have a wonderful day!

Frances Metcalfe from The Limousin, France on February 01, 2017:

It's a new world to me, but I do like the sound of Indian music, certainly the micro tone is something you don't ordinarily come across in western classical music (unless playing out of tune!). Quite a different outlook, and very good it is too.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on October 21, 2015:

Thank you Reynold Jay, for your kind visit and appreciation of the hub!

I am really pleased that you liked it. There is a wide variety of music and musical instruments played in different parts of India. It is not possible to include all of them in one single hub. I am glad you got some idea of the popular Indian musical instruments.

Thank you and have a good day!

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on October 20, 2015:

What a great HUB...My, you put a lot of work into this! I'm exhausted from reading and enjoying all of it. I did play flamenco guitar and then have run across several of these you mention here and have a few old albums to dust off now!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 11, 2015:

Thank you AliciaC, for your kind visit and appreciation of the hub!

I am pleased to see your interest in music and musical instruments. Glad you liked it.

Thank you!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 10, 2015:

This is a very interesting and informative hub. I love music and enjoyed learning about the instruments of India very much. I'm familiar with some of the instruments that you describe, but most are new to me. Thank you for the education!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 08, 2015:

Thank you Deb, for your kind visit and appreciation of the hub!

I think the Musical instrument you are referring to is 'Dhak'--Mostly played during 'Durga puja'/ Dussehra festival. Its sound is similar to the drums.

I am happy to see your interest in Indian musical instruments.

Its always a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 08, 2015:

Hi Devika!

Its a pleasure to read your comments. I am pleased to learn that you enjoy Indian music. Appreciate your positive comments.

Thank you and have a good day!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on September 07, 2015:

I knew about the tabla, harmonium, and sitar. I have seen the sarangi. What are the big kettle drums that are played in Bangla music? Since we have so many Bangla students, they have a concert once a year at the local university, which is how I got acquainted with music and movies from southern Asia. Thanks for filling in the rest of the instruments that you included.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 06, 2015:

Music is beautiful and your choices here is just amazing. I listened and watched the Sitar music I was impressed and really enjoyed it.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 04, 2015:

Thank you Nell!

Appreciate your positive comments and glad to learn that you are familiar with some of the Indian musical instruments.

Thank you for your continued support!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 04, 2015:

Thank you AudreyHowitt, for appreciating the hub! I am glad you liked the information about the musical instruments of India.

Have a good day!

Nell Rose from England on September 03, 2015:

I love the sound of the sitar, my friend had a huge birthday party a couple of years ago, and she had hired some guys with sitars for the music, it was amazing! great hub Chitrangada, nell

Audrey Howitt from California on September 03, 2015:

This was fascinating! I am familiar with some of these instruments and not others--so pleased to learn more about them!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 30, 2015:

Thank you peachpurple, for your kind comments!

Yes Guitar is also quite popular in India but these are traditional instruments. The theory of music is the same but the sounds created by various instruments differs.

Appreciate your positive comments! Thanks!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 30, 2015:

Thank you Charito1962, for your kind visit and appreciation!

I am pleased to learn that you liked this hub and a short description of the Indian musical instruments.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 30, 2015:

Thank you Catherine Giordano, for your visit and kind words of appreciation! Glad that you liked it.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on August 29, 2015:

wow, lots of different guitar type instruments, I had seen veena, awesome

Charito Maranan-Montecillo from Manila, Philippines on August 28, 2015:

What interesting instruments, Chitrangada!

The sitar and the veena remind me of a banjo. The sarangi looks like a violin.

Thank you for educating us on the music culture of your country. Impressive!

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on August 28, 2015:

Thanks for teaching me about the instruments of India. I enjoyed listening to the videos.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 27, 2015:

Thank you Faith Reaper, for your kind comments and blessings!

You are so right that we cannot imagine a World without music and its a universal language.

I love and enjoy music of any kind from all over the World. So happy to read your comment and appreciation of the hub.

Thanks and Regards!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 27, 2015:

Thank you manatita44, for your comments!

It gives me immense pleasure that you are so much attached to music. Music is a great tool to be spiritually inclined. Music has amazing power to bring one closer to the self and the Supreme.

Thank you and have a great day!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on August 26, 2015:

Oh, how beautiful are all of the instruments! I learned so much here, ChitrangadaSharan. Music is a universal language. I can't imagine a world without it.

Thank you for sharing of these traditional musical instruments of India.

Blessings

manatita44 from london on August 26, 2015:

Would love to hear you play. As to singing, we have super-excellent singers as you can imagine in a spiritual group, but the Indian women, and the Africans too, actually. They bring a different kind of melody and richness to their voices which is uniquely theirs.

Maybe you'll sing for me one day, eh? Sri Chinmoy's favourite is the Esraj, I believe, but he liked Sitar also. He played over 100 instruments. Much Love.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you Venkatachari ji, for reading and appreciating the hub!

I am glad you liked it. You are right that there are so many wonderful musical instruments in our country. All of them are unique and produce wonderful sound. It was difficult for me to select only ten of them. Violin and Clarinet are just wonderful too.

Thank you so much !

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you MsDora, for reading and appreciating the hub!

Glad to learn that you are familiar with the Indian music and some of the traditional musical instruments. Yes these instruments produce wonderful sounds. I am rather addicted to them.

Thank you for your lovely comments!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you, MarleneB, for your kind visit and comments!

I am glad this hub gave you some brief idea of the traditional Indian musical instruments. They blend very well with the classical, folk, Ghazal and other similar styles of singing. They are played individually also for stage performances and the Live recitals are just mesmerizing.

Being a music lover yourself, I am happy that you liked this hub.

Thank you !

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on August 26, 2015:

Very interesting and informative post. I like all of them. Each one has its own importance and appeal. There are two more popular instruments - clarinet and violin. Violin is like veena in smaller form and played with a bow. Clarinet is famous like shehnai and mostly played in marriages and at temples and other religious gatherings.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you Ericdierker, for reading and appreciating!

Its always a pleasure to have your comments. Thank you!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you manatita44, for your lovely comments!

I am sure you must be well versed with these traditional Indian musical instruments, as it shows in your writings and your thoughts.

Undoubtedly the divine sounds created by these wonderful instruments bring you closer to God. I am a trained Sitar player and can also play Harmonium. I just love the stage recitals by these great artists you have mentioned above.

Thank you so much! Hari Om!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you Dana Tate, for reading and commenting on this hub!

I am glad this hub was informative to you. These traditional musical instruments blend pretty well with Indian folk and classical singing.

Thank you!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you Buildreps, for reading the hub!

Appreciate your kind comments. I can play Harmonium and Sitar. I believe, Playing some kind of musical instrument gives a wonderful feeling. Its a great stress reliever and keeps one calm and happy.

Thank you !

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you Jodah, for your kind visit and comments!

Glad you liked the hub. All these are wonderful musical instruments with amazing sound effect. They go very well with Indian classical and folk songs.

I can play Sitar and Harmonium. Its an amazing feeling to be able to play such musical instruments.

Thank you!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 26, 2015:

Thank you billybuc, for being the first one to read and comment!

I am glad you are aware of Sitar. I am a trained Sitar player. The other instruments are also wonderful and very much popular in Live stage performances.

Thank you!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 25, 2015:

Thank you for this very informative article, an interesting music lesson I would say. I lived in Guyana, South America for a few years where Indians make up most of the population, and got quite accustomed to the sound of Indian music--wonderful sounds!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on August 25, 2015:

I have never seen any of these instruments before, but they are all beautiful. I enjoy all types of music and this is a nice introduction of music played by these instruments.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 25, 2015:

Very cool. Thank you for enlightening my world.

manatita44 from london on August 25, 2015:

Hi my Sweet Friend, Chitrangada,

You've touched on the music and people of the Soul. It is rather like entering another realm, for those who know. I hope that I do not preach but Sri Chinmoy met probably 3000 or more luminaries, Heads of State, Olympians, Popes ... you get the picture, and most certainly Ravi Shankar and Zaki Hussain as well.

I am in New York where I listen to these instuments on most days, and definitely on Thurs and Frid this week, when we give our public concerts. On Friday, Guru's Grace, we will be listening to no lesser person than Dr Subramanian, his wife, daughter and son. They have also met Sri Chinmoy too. We will listen to Krishna Das and others on Thurs.

Very inspirational Hub and with two lofty and sublime Lights from the music industry. Hari Om!

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on August 25, 2015:

I've never heard of any of these instruments so this has been a very educational hub for me.

Buildreps from Europe on August 25, 2015:

Very nice to see 10 instrument we've hardly heard of. I know people who use the harmonium while they chant:)

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 25, 2015:

Very interesting hub Chitrangada. Like Bill however, the only instrument of these I had heard of was the sitar. Thanks for sharing.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2015:

I hate to admit this, but the only one of these I've heard of is the sitar. Thank you for the musical education.

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