What is Aalaap:
The gradual exposition of Raag emphasizing Vaadi, Samvaadi and other salient features of the raag in a slow tempo is known as Alaap.The word alaap means a dialog or conversation. Alaap is a dialog between the musician and the raag. Alaap reflects the depth, the temperament, creativity and training of the musician.
In alaap, the musician improvises each note gradually. Beginning with the lower octave and in a slow tempo and techniques like kana swar and meend etc. The alaap is sung in the beginning of the raag at the time of a performance. This is also known as the Vistaar. When the musician starts rendering a Bada Khayal / Chotaa Khayaal (bandish) the tabla or any other percussion instrument joins. Alaap is used again with the composition, this time with the rhythm as well. This alaap is slightly faster and rhythmic.
Some times the words of the song are also improvised with notes. This is known as Bol Alaap.
Alaap is usually sung in Aakaar i.e. without pronouncing any syllables only using the sound "aa" of the vowel. Sometimes syllables like teri, Nom, Tom are also used for singing the alaap this type of singing is called Dhrupad and Dhamaar. It is said that Tansen used to sing in nom, tom and Amir Khusro for the first time introduced khayal gayaki in Indian Classical Music.

What is Raag :
Raag is the backbone of Indian Classical Music. The word raag comes from Sanskrit word "Ranj" which means to delight, to make happy and to satisfy. Here it's necessary to clarify that not all raags project a happy mood. The raag can produce various moods such as Shant (serenity), Shrungaar (erotic), Bhakti (devotion to God), Veer (gallantry, bravery, aggressive).
Raag is neither a scale, nor a mode. It is, however, a scientific, precise, subtle, and aesthetic melodic form with its own peculiar ascending and descending movement which consists of either a full octave, or a series of five or six notes. An omission of a jarring or dissonant note, or an emphasis on a particular note, or the transition from one note to another, and the use of microtones along with other subtleties, distinguish one raag from the other.Raag has its own principal mood such as tranquillity, devotion, eroticism, loneliness, pathos, heroism, etc. Each raag is associated, according to its mood, with a particular time of the day, night or a season. Improvization is an essential feature of Indian music, depending upon the imagination and the creativity of an artist; a great artist can communicate and instill in his listener the mood of the raag.
Each melodic structure of raag has something akin to a distinct personality subject to a prevailing mood. Early Indian writers on music, carried this idea further and endowed the raags with the status of minor divinities, with names derived from various sources, often indicating the origin or associations of the individual raags. In theoretical works on music each raag was described in a short verse formula, which enabled the artist to visualize its essential personality during meditation prior to the performance.

Raga development:

Ragas are based on improvisation. The slow introductory section, called "alaap", lacks rhythm and is entirely improvised. Occasionally a "jor" follows, which has rhythm, but no composition, and is not accompanied by percussion. Next comes the "gat", a short composed piece, generally of 4 to 6 lines, that serves as the basis for improvisations that can last as long as the musician desires. The gat signals the percussionist to join in, so if you listen for the tabla (the most common drum of northern India) to begin, you'll know when the gat is being played. In a full length classical piece, there are usually two gats, the first is slow to medium tempo, and when this finishes, a fast gat is played, usually using a different composition and a different rhythm. Again, the fast gat can be played for as long as the musicians like, with the compositions serving as the skeleton of the raga, from which improvisations begin, and to which they return. Often, a "tihai" (a short phrase repeated three times) signals the return to the gat. Generally the tabla player plays "theka" (a relatively fixed rhytmic pattern) while the instrumentalist improvises, and the tabla player solos when the instrumentalist returns to the gat. By repeating the "asthai" (the first line of the gat), the instrumentalist signals the tabla player to solo. The raga often culminates with a fully improvised crescendo called "jhala", which for bansuri players is a fast staccato section using a lot of tonguing to break each note. An interesting aspect of the raga is that the compositions used in each raga are not fixed, and anybody can compose their own gat for a raga, given that the main framework of the raga (its scale, important phrases, important notes, etc...) remain. Thus popular ragas like Yaman or Bhairavi have thousands of compositions in use today, yet when any of them are well played, an experienced listener can quickly determine what raga they are hearing.

The Raga - Scales

Each melody in Indian Classical Music is called a raga. Literally translated, raga means "that which colors the mind". Ragas differ based on their scales and their important phrases and notes. Their are thousands of ragas, which are derived from the 72 possible combinations of heptatonic (7-note) scales (known as melakartas in southern India), as well as hundreds of possible combinations of hexatonic (6-note) and pentatonic (5-note) scales. Further, there are ragas that use 5 or 6 notes going up, but 7 notes coming down, and there are ragas that have notes in their natural form on ascent, but in their flattened form on descent. Some ragas use scales that are "vakra", which means crooked: one cannot simply go straight up or down. Finally, there are ragas that are "mishra" meaning they are mixed, and use notes in both their natural and their sharp or flat form, often resulting in more than 7 notes being used in the raga.
Examples of ragas with different types of scales:
-- 7 notes: Kirwani, Simendra Madhyam, Vachaspati
-- 6 notes: Gujri Todi, Janasamohini, Malaya Marutan, Mohini
-- 5 notes: Shivaranjani, Bhoopali, Hansadhwani, Durga, Madhyamad Sarang, Megh
-- 5 notes up, 7 down: Bhimpalasi, Bhairavi, Madhuvanti
-- 5 notes, with some shudd in ascent but komal in descent: Jog, Brindavani Sarang
-- Vakra: Tilak Kamod, Hameer
-- Mishra: Kafi, Sindhi Bhairavi, Piloo

There are 3 Raag bhed (Types of Raag)
   1. Shuddha Raag : The raag in which even if any notes that are not present in it are used, it's nature and form
       does not change.
   2. Chhayalag Raag : The raag in which if any notes that are not present in it are used, it's nature and form changes.
   3. Sankeerna Raag : The raag in which there is a combination of two or more raags.

Vaadi : The most prominent note of the raag which gets emphasized in the raag and used very often.
Samvaadi : The second most important note of the raag. It used lesser than the vaadi but more than the other notes of the raag. This is the fourth or fifth note from the Vaadi.
Anuvaadi : The other notes of the raag (other than Vaadi and Samvaadi).
Vivadi : The meaning of vivadi is "one which produces dissonance", the note which is not present in the raag. But still a vivadi swar is used in a raag by able singers in such a way that it enhances the beauty of the raag. This is done very rarely.
For example Teevra Madhyam in raag Bihag was considered a Vivadi but recently it has almost become a important aspect of Raag Bihag.
Aaroha : Ascend of the notes. Here each note is higher than the preceding note. Example : Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni
Avaroha : Descend of the notes. Here each note is lower than the preceding note.Example : Ni, Dha, Pa, Ma, Ga, Re, Sa
Pakad : A small group of notes which describe the unique features of the raag.
Jaati : Gives the number of notes in Aaroha as well as the Avaroha of the raag. Audav has 5 notes. Shadav has 6 notes and Sampoorna has 7 notes. Thus there are 9 jaati based on Audav, Shadav, Sampoorna in Aaroha andAvaroha.(i.e. making combinations of either Audav  or Shadav or Sampoorna in Aaroha and Audav or Shadav or Sampoorna in Avaroha.)
Thaat : The system of classification for the raags in different groups. The set of seven notes or scale which can produce a raag. Presently in Hindustani Classical Music 10 thaat classification of raags have been adopted (as described in the previous article.
Samay : Each Raag has a specific time at which it an be performed. This is because specific those notes are supposed to be more effective at that particular time.
Ras : The emotion each raag invokes. Depending upon the notes used in the raag, it will invoke a ras.
Musical terms regarding a presentation of a raag in vocal style
Sthayee : The first part of the composition. Mainly develops in the the lower and the middle octave.
Antaraa : Second part of the composition. Develops in the middle or higher note.
Mukhadaa : The first line of the composition.

What is Taan:

To improvise and to expand weaving together the notes in a fast tempo is a taan. Taans are very technical and shows the training, practice and dexterity in weaving complicated patterns of the notes with variations in the rhythm. Taans also are sung in Akaar. Speed is an important factor of the taan.
Some important types of the taan
Bol Taan : Taan can also be sung by utilizing the words of the Cheez (Composition). This is a difficult type of a taan as in this correct pronunciation, the beauty of the words, meaning of the composition, every thing has to be taken in to consideration.

Shuddha/Sapat (Straight)Taan : The notes are placed in an order in one or more octaves.

Koot Taan : The notes do not remain in order. It's complicated in nature.

Mishra Taan : Combination of the above two taans.

Gamak Taan : Gamak is a technique by which a force is added to notes and each note is repeated atleast twice.  Also there are many other types of taan called Ladant taan, Zatkaa taan, Gitkari taan,  Jabde ki taan, Sarok Taan, Halak Taan, Palat taan.

Alankar : Alankar literally means ornaments or adorations. Specific melodic presentation in succession in which a pattern is followed is called Alankar. For example : "SaReGa, ReGaMa, GaMaPa, MaPaDha, PaDhaNi DaNiSa". This phrase is a part of an alankar in which three notes in succession are used at each time.

Gamak : These are many ways of ornamenting the notes. In the ancient books fifteen types of gamaks are found.

    * Kampita - Shake
    * Andolita - Swing
    * Aaghaat - Strike
    * Valit - Vipple
    * Tribhinna - Threefold
    * Gumphita - Threaded
    * Plavita - Flowing
    * Mishrit - Mixed
    * Kurula - Spiral
    * Sphurita - Pulsating
    * Tirip - Flurry
    * Leen - Absorbing
    * Mudrita - Imprint
    * Ullhasit - Happy
    * Naamita - Obeisance

Many of these gamaks are still in use in Karnatak music under different names. However, today in the North Indian music, vibrating the notes with force is now called Gamak. This is an important technique in Dhrupad and often in Bada Khayal singing.

Kan or Sparsh Swar : Kan means a small particle of a neighboring note used with the main note. It can be higher or lower than the main note.
Murki : It's a short taan of three or four notes. It's sung very fast.
Khatkaa : Two or more notes sung with a jerk. Its a combination of Kan and Murki.
Meend : Stretching or lengthening the sound from one note to another. This technique maintains the continuity of the sound. Meend brings a continuos flow, softness and continuity.

Notation system in Indian Classical Music:

There exist two notation systems. One developed by Pt. Paluskar which is a little more elaborate and for the same reason intricate and difficult to use. And the other developed by Pt. Bhatkhande which is a little easy to use. Throughout the site, we will be following this system of notation.

Shuddha Swar(Normal Notes) : No symbol for shuddha swar.
Example : Sa, Re, Ga, Ma
Komal Swar (Flat Notes) : Shown by a small horizontal line underneath.  Example:   x
Teevra Swar (Sharp Notes) : That is, Ma shown by a small vertical line on the top.
Mandra Saptak Swar (Lower Octave Note) : Shown by a dot below.  Example:  fu+
Maddhya Saptak : Has no sign.
Taar Saptak Swar (Higher Octave Note) : Shown by a dot above. Example:  jas
A dash (hiphen "-") : Used for lengthening the note. One dash corresponds to one beat when the playing or singing with the taal.
Example : Sa - Ni - consists of four beats in all.
Avagraha : Shown by "S". It's used for having pauses in the words.
Example : GoSSSvindaSSS
Chandra : Shown by half moon. Any number of notes can be inside the half moon to indicate that they are to be rendered in 1 beat.
Example : Description: Mandra Saptak
Kan Swar (Grace Note) : Writen above the note to the left top in small letter size.
Example : Sa ReGa
Meend : Continuing sound from one note to the other.
Example : Description: Mandra Saptak
Notes in bracket : Equal to a short phrase of three or four. It's sung very fast so that the notes blend and sound as one note. The order for these notes is, one note after the note in bracket, the note after, the note in bracket so on.
Example : (Sa)- ReSaNiSa
As there is no key change in a raga, it is possible (and preferable) to have a drone in the background that repeatedly plays the tonic and one or two other important notes in the raga. The drone serves several purposes:
(1) it creates an ambience and fills empty spaces between notes; (2) it allows the musician to determine the correct pitch of the notes they are playing, and adjust accordingly; and (3) it serves as the sound against which each of the musician's notes are based, and thus brings out the feeling of each note: a note in and of itself has no feeling; it is only its relationship to another note that allows it to produce feeling.
This drone is most often produced with a "tanpura", a 4 to 6 stringed instrument, whose strings are repeatedly plucked for the duration of the performance. The drone is most often using the notes "low Pa - Sa - Sa - low Sa", though if the raga in question lacks Pa, but has shudd Ma (i.e. Malkauns), the Ma is used instead of the Pa. If the raga lacks both Pa and shudd Ma (i.e. Marwa or Puriya), one could use Sa, Ni, or Dha as the first note, depending on their preference. Another drone instrument is the swarpeti, a rarely heard pump organ that repeatedly plays "Sa"