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ĀLĀP ālāp/ālāpa/Ālāpana (Sanskrit, lāp "speaking"; Hindustani, "dialogue," or "talk") in Indian classical music is an unmeasured musical form focusing on pitch; it either acts as the complement to metered music or stands alone. Ālāp (in North India) and alāpana (in South India) is the primary medium by which a performer illuminates rāga (underlying melody). This illustration can follow the shape of an existing melody (with each pitch of the melody shown in its relationship to the pitches around it) or systematically elaborate each of the pitches of a rāga's scale. In the latter—the svar-vistār ālāp—the most common approach is to start at the primary tonic () of the rāga and first explore the pitches below that pitch (usually for an octave, but sometimes more) and then, ascending note by note, each of the notes in a rāga as high above the fundamental tonic as the performer cares to elaborate. Ultimately, an ālāp/ālāpana is an opportunity for the performer to show the nuances of the rāga without the constraints of meter. For many melodic instrumentalists and listeners, the ālāp/ālāpana is the most important part of the performance, the part in which the rāga appears most clearly.

In North Indian practice, the ālāp can be the entire unmeasured "first movement" of a performance as well as, more specifically, the opening unmeasured and unpulsed section. That is, the word "ālāp" refers both to all of the music that functions without meter (and, by implication, has no drum accompaniment) and, more precisely, to the opening music that not only lacks meter but has no pulse. Within the context of this temporal freedom, the performer is free to explore the entire range of the voice or instrument through the rāga. Indeed, singers will commonly use the note names (, re, , etc.) so that the listener can better appreciate the shapes. (Performers call these musical elaborations sārgam tāns.)

North Indian performers mark each section of the growing pitch ambitus with a form of rhythmic-melodic punctuation called a moharā (Hindustani, "opening" or "something formed in a matrix"), a musical phrase that—for a few seconds—gives the temporary notion of a pulse with notes that focus around the principal tonic.

Very often, a second section, which performers still broadly refer to as part of the larger ālāp, follows the unmeasured-unpulsed ālāp. In instrumental music, the jor (Hindustani, "pair") features a recurring and constant pulse with alternations between a note and a simple strummed drone. In vocal dhrupad, singers perform this same kind of pulsed but meterless section with nonlexical syllables and refer to this music as nom tom.

Sometimes in instrumental music, the rhythm of the jor intensifies in a frenetic concluding section called the jhāla (Hindustani, "web"). In this part of an instrumental performance, not only is a recurring pulse present, but the performer sets up a fast, intricate rhythmic pattern on the instrument's drone strings (cikārī) and weaves the melody into that framework.


ālāpmeterless, pulseless
develops note-by-note
subdivisions are marked by moharās
begins in madhya sthān
descends through mandra sthān
rises back through madhya sthān
rises into the tār sthān
jorpulsed, but meterless
developed in all three sthāns (similar to ālāp)
jhālapulsed and intensely rhythmic
developed in all three sthāns

Gordon Thompson

See alsoDhrupad ; Music ; Rāga


Jairazbhoy, Nazir. The Rāgs of North Indian Music: Their Structure and Evolution. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1971.

Vishwanathan, Tanjore. "The Analysis of Rāga Ālāpana in South Indian Music." Asian Music 9, no. 1 (1977): 13–71.