Indian Music Styles and Techniques for Jazz and Contemporary Composition

Course Number

Indian music, one of the great musical traditions of the world, has influenced composers and improvisers of all stripes for generations. Its musical resources and techniques offer a wealth of ideas that can both inform and be integrated into jazz and contemporary composition. Artists as diverse as The Beatles, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Anoushka Shankar, Terry Riley, Geetha Ramanathan Bennett, Steve Reich, Naina Kundu and Sheela Bringi; and film composers Dave Robbins and Ry Cooder (Dead Man Walking), A.R. Rahman (Slum Dog Millionaire), and the legendary Saraswati Devi (Bollywood talkies) all exhibit the influence of Indian music in their works.

In this class, students will learn about ragas (melodies) and talas (rhythm cycles) and how to compose, arrange, and create improvisational models based on these resources. It also includes a styles survey, exposing students to the two main Indian classical music systems (Hindustani and Carnatic), which both use ragas and talas, but in somewhat different ways. There is also a special section on konnakol—South Indian rhythmic solfège. In addition, we will examine selected Indian film and popular music, which can serve as inspiration for students as they compose their own pieces.

Students will compose right from the beginning, through weekly writing assignments and mid-term and final projects. This will capture their first compositional impressions, and lead to the more informed work they will compose by the semester’s end. Musical techniques from other traditions, such as African, Brazilian, or Indonesian Gamelan may also be included, to illustrate cross-cultural compositional principals. 

Required Of
Electable By
Major Elective for
Semesters Offered
Fall Only
Course Chair
George Russell Jr.
Courses may not be offered at the listed locations or taught by the listed faculty for every semester. Consult to find course information for a specific semester.