SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Raga: concept and practice

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2
The concept of rāga is South Asia’s most distinctive contribution to the theory and practice of music. It is the melodic foundation of Indian classical music, and permeates other types of music as diverse as religious music, folksong and Bollywood film song. Rāgas or rāga-influenced music is to be heard in India itself, in other parts of South Asia, and across the world wherever South Asian musicians play or South Asian films are shown. It is the treasured heritage of lineages of classical musicians, transmitted through practice, but has also been extensively theorised in writing, from varying perspectives, by Indian and Western musicologists. It is a heritage from India’s remote past, but it underwent profound changes of context and role in the 20th century, both preceding and following Indian Independence and the emergence of Indian classical music as a national  cultural symbol.
Rāga can be approached as a set of musical practices, a music theoretical system, an aesthetic or symbolic system, a genre of visual art, a cognitive process involving memory, recognition and expectation, or a form of explicit or implicit knowledge; as an abstract form of musical structure or as a musical vehicle for social interaction; as a constant over many hundreds of years, or a perpetually changing phenomenon; and as the product of divine creation or human re-creation. The course will consider this cultural phenomenon from a variety of perspectives, and will involve analysis of recorded performances by leading 20th-century artists, and discussion of the concept of rāga in its cultural context.


Introduction to Music Analysis -155800070

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objective of the course is to gain understanding of the concept and practice of raga in Indian music, with reference to contemporary performance, traditional and modern theory, and the cultural environment of 20th-century India.

At the end of the course, a student should be able to analyse the structure of selected ragas and the processes of performance in particular renditions, and discuss the concept of raga in relation to contemporary and historical contexts.

This course aims to contribute to the development of the following skills:

(a)  analytical skills (QAA Benchmark for Music, 4.1.1):

  • the ability to recognise and identify by ear essential components of a musical language
  • the ability to recognise and describe musical organisation, style, genre or tradition


(b) knowledge-based skills (4.1.4):

  • the ability to understand theoretical and aesthetic systems and relate theory and practice to each other;
  • the ability to assimilate relevant scholarly literature and relate its insights to the practice and experience of music;
  • the ability to assess concepts and hypotheses critically in the light of evidence, and to apply insights and discoveries in one area of study to another;
  • the ability to relate processes of change in music to historical, social and other factors;
  • the ability to confront, explore and assimilate unfamiliar musical sounds, concepts, repertoires and practices.


(c) intellectual skills (4.2.1)

  • the ability to assimilate and synthesise complex information;
  • the ability to comprehend and apply the parameters of context;
  • the ability to conceptualise and to apply concepts.

Scope and syllabus

Students will listen critically to, analyse and compare key performances of selected ragas. In addition some or all of the following topics will be discussed:

  • Raga before the 20th century
  • Raga as an aesthetic/symbolic system
  • Raga as a melodic system
  • Raga and notation
  • Raga and improvisation
  • Raga as a cognitive system
  • Raga and meaning
  • Raga outside classical music (eg folk/religious music, film/popular music)

Method of assessment

  • one two-hour exam worth 30%
  • one 1,000 words essay worth 20%
  • one 2,500 words essay worth 50%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules