Music of India

North Indian instruments

North Indian classical music ensembles have only a handful of players. Most instruments are played while seated on the floor. There are usually the same three elements:

  • soloist - either a singer or an instrumentalist playing the melody
  • percussion - usually tabla
  • drone - usually a tanpura, harmonium or electronic box

Here are more details about some of the solo instruments.

The sitar

Man playing the sitar

Man playing the sitar

  • is a long-necked plucked string instrument with movable frets and a gourd resonator
  • is played by plucking the strings with a metal plectrum
  • has six or seven main strings and twelve or more sympathetic strings running underneath them, which resonate in sympathy
  • has a characteristic shimmering sound

Listen to the sitar played by Anoushka Shankar in the extract from Rag Desh.

The sarod

  • is a plucked string instrument
  • is shorter than the sitar and has no frets
  • is played by plucking the strings with a large wooden plectrum
  • has main strings and sympathetic strings
  • plays ornaments by sliding up and down the strings

Listen to the sarod in this extract taken from Mhara janam maran performed by Chiranji Lal Tanwar. Listen out for the sliding effects - these distinguish it from a sitar.

The sarangi



  • is a fretless bowed instrument
  • is held in the lap
  • has three main strings and as many as 36 sympathetic strings

Listen to the sarangi in the opening alap of Mhara janam maran performed by Chiranji Lal Tanwar.

The esraj

  • a bowed string instrument
  • played sitting on the floor like the sarangi, but with frets like a sitar
  • has a number of sympathetic and drone strings

The bansuri

The bansuri is a bamboo flute with no keys.

Back to World music index

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.