Indian vs Western Music Notes: Difference and Comparison

A musical note is a concept that describes the pitch and period of a sound. It shows whether a sound is high or low. Instead of identifying the sounds by their frequency, musicians gave them letter names.

Different regions have their naming convention for music notes. The solfege system is used in countries like Italy, Spain, Greece, France, Portugal, and so on. The Indian tradition has the Swara system.  

Key Takeaways

  1. Indian music uses a “Sargam” system, while Western music uses the “doe-ray-mi” system.
  2. Indian music features microtones, or “shrutis,” allowing for greater melodic complexity than the 12-tone Western music system.
  3. Indian classical music emphasizes improvisation, whereas Western classical music follows written notation more strictly.

Indian Music Notes vs Western Music Notes

Indian music notes consist of seven notes which are sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni. The notes are collectively called Swara and are used for Carnatic and Hindustani music. Western music notes consist of twelve notes, which are collectively called an octave, and include C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

Indian Music Notes vs Western Music Notes

Indian music notes are a culmination of the contributions from various cultures in the diverse land of India. Raga and tala are the foundation of this musical tradition.

The two traditions from the south and the north have slight variations in their scales and articulation. The saptaka denotes the notes in Indian music and has subdivisions called shruti.

There is no standardized notation for Indian music notes.

Western music has its origins in Europe. There is a standardized system of notations for western music notes. This maintains uniformity and rigidity.

The music is played by following the notations. The harmony in this music tradition is made up of groups of notes played continuously. There are two sets of pitch ratios.

The octave note system is followed. Like Indian music notes, and western music notes have sharp and flat notes. 

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonIndian Music NotesWestern Music Notes
OriginIndiaWestern countries
Scales usedParent scale and descendant scaleMajor and minor scale
Scope for improvisationPresentAbsent

What are Indian Music Notes?

India has two major music traditions: The Hindustani and The Carnatic. The Indian music notes consist of seven notes. They are collectively called Swara.

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The notes are sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni. This system of sapta Swara is called Sargam.

 These notes have their specific names; Sadja for sa, Risabh for re, Gandhara for ga, Madhyama for ma, Panchama for pa, Dhaivata for dha, and Nishada for ni.

The unalterable Swara, sa, and pa are achal swaras, and the other swaras are chal swaras as they move from their initial positions.

There are twelve semitones in the Indian music scale, and it is again divided into 22 notes called shruti.

The basis of Indian music is the use of intonation and gliding between notes. Natural notes are called shuddha. Flat notes are Komal Swar, and sharp notes are Tivra swar.

The notes have an association with animal sounds as well. The note Sa is derived from peacock, Re from the bull, Ga from goat, Ma from heron, Pa from cuckoo, Dha from the horse, and Ni from the elephant.

The swaras are also associated with planets, colors, and chakras in the body.

What are Western Music Notes?

Western music originated from western civilization. There are twelve notes in western music, which is called the octave. Western music has a solid notation scheme.

The harmony in western music is created out of twelve notes. C, D, E, F, G, A, and B are the notes with five flats and sharps. 

All western musical instruments have the chromatic scale system. The order is that of ascending fashion. It is a set of pitch classes with notes separated by semitones.

Boethius first used the notation system. He used the Latin alphabet. Today, the Helmholtz pitch and scientific notation systems are in use. 

The tuning system is centered around the pleasing octave, perfect fourth, and perfect fifth intervals. The microtonal music goes beyond the twelve notes.

The archetypical notation system is followed by everyone who plays western music.

The musical traditions evolved from the Baroque, romantic, and music traditions of Europe.

The notation system is designed to enhance the system for playing, composing, and recording as well as improving the effects on listeners.

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Main Differences Between Indian Music Notes and Western Music Notes

  1. Indian music stems from the melody that is a tune soothing and content to the ear. It is derived from the ragas. There are hundreds of ragas, and they are the frameworks upon which artists create music. On the other hand, western music is based on harmony and has many layers.
  2. There is a scope for improvisation in Indian music notes as it is not written and rigid. While in western music, the notes are written on a staff, and it is played according to what is written.
  3. Indian classical music notes are related to spirituality and nature. The notes are derived from animal sounds and are related to planets and chakras. But in western music notes, such a sense is absent.
  4. There are two traditions for Indian music notes, the North Indian style called Hindustani and the South Indian style called Carnatic. Western music notes explore European life and related cultures.
  5. The melodies in Indian music are played in a specific order or framework. But western harmony uses tonic progression and counterpoint.
  6. There are major and minor scales in western music. In Indian music notes, there is a complex system of scales with parent scales and descendant scales.
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Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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8 thoughts on “Indian vs Western Music Notes: Difference and Comparison”

  1. It is interesting to note the association of Indian music notes with animal sounds, planets, colors, and chakras. This adds a unique dimension to the understanding of Indian music.

  2. The scientific explanation of the music traditions, scales, and notation systems for Indian and Western music notes provides a deep insight into the rich diversity of musical expressions across different cultures.

  3. The microtones or ‘shrutis’ in Indian music and the emphasis on improvisation in Indian classical music are notable differences between Indian and Western music.

  4. The contrast between the melody-based nature of Indian music and the harmony-based nature of Western music is well articulated in the article.

  5. The comparison table is a great way to showcase the differences between Indian and Western music notes. It provides a concise summary of the key points.

  6. The description of the Indian music notes system and the Swara system is clear and comprehensive, making it easy to grasp the essence of Indian classical music.

  7. Explaining the basis, scope for improvisation, and main differences between Indian and Western music notes help in understanding the unique characteristics of each tradition.

  8. The article clearly explains the two different music traditions, Hindustani and Carnatic. It also mentions the association of Indian music notes with spirituality and nature.


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