Indian Ragas

Grade Levels: 5 - 9

Explore Indian ragas and learn the differences between an Indian raga and the Western scale.


  • Students will sing the familiar song "America," first in the Western major scale and then in two Indian ragas (bhairavi and purvi) on a neutral syllable, in order to identify differences in whole- and half-step patterns between an Indian raga and the Western scale.
  • Students will learn that ragas have distinctive names and structures.
  • Students will create a short, improvised composition on the jaltarang in raga bhupaii.


  • “Two ragas” (bhoiravi and purvi)
  • The C major scale on a transparency or on the chalkboard
  • The song “America” on a transparency or on the chalkboard – first in a major scale and then in the ragas bhdravi and punn
  • Overhead projector
  • Seven glass soup or cereal bowls, and a pair of chopsticks


  1. This lesson is for upper-elementary or middle school students. Compare several Indian ragas to the Western major scale. Explain that one of the major reasons why melodies in Indian music sound so different to us is that they are developed from ragas, which are an organized series of pitches from which musical compositions are developed. There are hundreds of ragas, and each has a particular name and structure.

  2. “Figure 9” shows several ragas. Have the class sing each one on a neutral syllable such as "ah" or "loo." Then sing the Western major scale on a neutral syllable. What differences do you see and hear?

  3. Write or project transcriptions of "America" as sung in the Western major scale system and the Indian ragas, bhairavi and purvi (see “figure 10”). Have the class sing and compare the sound of each example.

  4. Improvise short compositions in the ragas thoiravi and pumi on the jaitarang.
    1. The jaltarang is an interesting musical instrument consisting of a series of tuned bowls arranged in a semicircle around the performer. The bowls are of different sizes and are tuned precisely to the pitches of various ragas by adding appropriate amounts of water. The instrument is played by striking the inside edge of the bowls with two small wooden sticks, one held in each hand.
    2. Collect seven glass soup or cereal bowls and devise a jaltarang. Tune the various bowls to the pitches in raga purvi by filling them with appropriate amounts of water. Using a pair of chopsticks as mallets, create an improvised piece of music in flexible or free rhythm. Change the pitches of the bowls to raga bhairavi and create another improvised piece of music in flexible or free rhythm. Compare the sounds produced by ragas purvi and bhairavi and the Western scale by creating an improvised composition on the jakarang in the C major scale.

  5. Add to the bulletin board chart those things that you have learned in this lesson: the ragas purvi and bhairavi and the jaltarang.

Standards Correlations

  • Standard 1a

    : Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music

Excerpted from Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education, created by MENC.

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