Seed ideas and creativity in Hindustani raga music: Beyond the composition–improvisation dialectic

Adrian McNeil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


While Hindustani music is often celebrated around the world as a powerful improvising tradition, paradoxically no equivalent term for ‘improvisation’ exists in the lexicon of Hindustani music. Terms such as badhat, vistaar and upaj, which signify growth, expansion and spontaneity, are often conflated with Western notions of improvisation—yet Ranade has alerted us to the unintended consequences that arise from the use of the term ‘improvisation’ in the context of Hindustani music. When creative growth and expansion are expressed as improvisation they are re-inscribed with the values and experiences of another ontology, and in the process these concepts become detached from the broader resonance they have in their source culture. This article argues that a model of fixed seed ideas which are creatively expanded or grown during the performance of a raga provides a more culturally relevant and appropriate conceptual and analytical framework for understanding the processes of spontaneity and creativity in Hindustani music than is possible through a dialectic formulated around the terms ‘composition’ and ‘improvisation’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-132
Number of pages17
JournalEthnomusicology Forum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Hindustani music
  • improvisation
  • improvisatory practices
  • Musical creativity
  • seed ideas

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