You can start the same as with any kind of music: sample a few tracks, pick a couple you like, buy those albums, follow the trail of that particular performer, instrument or vocal style, find friends (or online buddies) who seem to like similar things and ask for recommendations, etc. Indian classical music is a very social experience. You shouldn't really attempt it alone.
As much as possible, go to live concerts. Since the music is basically improv, no amount of CD listening will give you a true sense of what the culture is about. There's plenty of good stuff on YouTube. I don't use things like grooveshark and spotify, but I assume there's a good selection there.
If you want a book to start you off, I'd recommend Nad
by Sandeep Bagchee (this is North Indian, but it'll also give you a decent understanding of Carnatic):http://www.amazon.com/Nad-Unders...
Should be especially useful if you are starting out from a Western perspective, because the structured improvisation model that is raga music is definitely an acquired taste. Without some basic idea of (for example) why there are long, apparently boring aalap
sections in the beginning, you can give up too easily.
The one special thing about Indian classical is that learning to perform even a teeny bit, and very badly, vastly increases your appreciation. So if you can, take a few classes. Music appreciation and performance blur into each other much more strongly than in Western classical music. Listening well requires a certain degree of skill.
Whereas most listeners of Western classical music can easily identify Beethoven's Fifth from the opening bars after a couple of listens, most listeners cannot pick out the raga of a particular performance. I still cannot identify any ragas after many years of listening, partly because I don't have a good ear for that sort of thing, and partly because I never learned melodic performance of any sort (I learned some tabla, but that is not much help for raga identification).
Raga identification is not a vanity skill. By the time you get to that level, you really will have increased your appreciation level significantly. I gave up the effort at some point, but just trying to get there increased my appreciation a lot. If you are interested in finishing that marathon of skill development as a listener, there are CDs to help you, for example, Alain Danielou's Ragas of North Indian Music
I gave up on this quite early, and gave the CDs to a more musically minded friend, but the journey seems worthwhile for people with good ears. Even if your primary interest is in other musical traditions, this might help you improve your listening (be warned though that Indian classical music does not use the Western chromatic scale, but something called a just-tempered scale, so it might screw with your head a bit, like trying to learn physics in SI units and apply it in FPS units).
But basically, all this is scaffolding for later serious and nerdy taste development. Focus on just listening to whatever you like, no rules, until you feel inclined to do more. You should adopt the performance style for your learning itself: start with a long exploratory aalap, then add more structure later.
Quick note on Carnatic: it is a significantly more conservative style, with a higher degree of codification (and therefore -- this is a personal opinion -- less creative improv by the practitioners and more rigidity/rule-following), less influence from Islamic styles and more old-fashioned aesthetically (it is like the now-obscure Dhrupad tradition of the north, which was once dominant, before Islamic influences made it evolve into modern Khayal). The composed semi-classical stuff is also more important (Krithis etc.).
This can go either way, taste-wise. I would say on average,
I prefer North Indian if I had to pick out a CD blindly. But a lot of my favorite specific performances are Carnatic. Stuff I repeatedly listen to is dominated by Carnatic. Stuff I wander through is more Hindustani.
So just dive in and get started. It is easiest to start with performers rather than specific ragas (since you can't tell them apart initially, and may never be able to). Most available CDs tend to be based on a dozen or so popular ragas anyway (Bhairav, Malhar, Malkauns...), so if you buy the popular ones with lots of star ratings and comments, you're safe. It is generally the performances of really obscure ragas that are not fun (they are obscure for a reason... and performers who seek them out are often just looking for an artistic challenge rather than to entertain).
While there are always new and upcoming performers, Indian classical is something of a game for more mature performers. Younger ones may have clearer voices, more stamina and purer tones, but the older ones are generally more rewarding to listen to, due to the complexity and nuance in their performances. You can also ignore gharanas
So you cannot go wrong with the basic older greats. Here's a quick top dozen if you really have no clue where to begin.
- Bhimsen Joshi
- Pandit Jasraj
- Kishori Amonkar
- Bismillah Khan (Shehnai)
- Vilayat Khan (Sitar ... I prefer him over Ravi Shankar)
- Shiv Kumar Sharma (santoor)
- Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute)
- Balamurali Krishna
- M. S. Subhalakshmi
- Maharajapuram V. Santhanam
- Zakir Hussain (tabla)
- L. Subramanian (violin)
Some more unusual choices, just for fun:
- Dagar brothers (Dhrupad)
- Kamlesh Maitra (tabla tarang)
- Imrat Khan (surbahar)
- Chitti Babu (veena)
Listening to a lot of pure khayal
(ragam-tanam-pallavi in Carnatic) can be tiring initially, so mix it up and pick up some random semi-classical from both North and South: ghazals, tarans, bhajans, kirtans (krithis in the south). For westerners, one of the most interesting experiences can be listening to chants or recitations. Semi-classical specialists are worth listening to as well (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Jagjit Singh).
Some semi-classical favorites include Santhanam (Krithis on Vinayaka
), M. S. Subhalakshmi (Namo Ramayana, Ganesha Pancharatna Stotram
), Hanuman Chalisa
(many renditions), Meera Bhajans, Gayatri Mantra
Have fun.See Questions On Quora