Indian Classical Music The Mathematical Patterns that Make it Soulful

Kumar Gandharv Mishra


The next time you tap your feet or drum your fingers while enjoying a musical concert, notice that you do so at fixed time intervals. In fact, while listening to a musical piece your mind gets conditioned to its beats and temporal regularity, and subconsciously you start tapping in sync with the beats.

You can get a sense of what we are talking about in this video [ (at 6m40s)], where Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia plays a tune on a flute, and the audience keeps clapping at some intervals. The artist did not tell the audience to clap or when to clap, but just listening to the tune the audience figured out how and when to clap in between the tune. 

In a musical tune, there is often a pattern of beats that propels us to enjoy the music. A musical performance can be explored through various mathematical aspects, which often go unnoticed by listeners and the audience. An attempt is being made here to develop an analogy between mathematical concepts and musical elements in the context of an Indian classical music performance.

Indian classical music has two major traditions: Hindustani music and Carnatic music. The focus is on performing a melodic phrase based on a Raga which is a kind of repetition of some musical notes such as SA, RE, P,.... (discussed later). Often, the main artist who is on vocal or a particular musical instrument is accompanied by percussion (plays sound such as tik-tik at some intervals) and a Tanpura. The essence and pleasure of the performance depend on the jugalbandi (partnership) between these instruments and vocalists. Let’s explore this jugalbandi from a mathematical lens…read more on NOPR