(Scroll down to see the desired term and click here to read more about the structure of the Alap)

Alap: pronunciation: AA-laap. Free improvisation. Alap, literally meaning introduction, is a complete form in itself and stands on its own. It precedes that part of a recital where there is a Bandish and development of the Raga around the Bandish.

There are many forms of Alap, some with rhythm and some free of rhythm. Where there is rhythm, the rhythm may be linear or cyclic (although the use of cyclic rhythm is rare nowadays). The rhythmic part of the Alap may or may not be accompanied by a percussionist. The Alap may be long and elaborate or may be short, sometimes so very short that it is but a formality.

In most present day recitals, the Alap is an elaborate affair amongst many instrumentalists. However, only a very few contemporary instrumentalists (or vocalists, where vocalists present a long Alap) use percussion accompaniment and/or cyclic rhythm during the rhythmic portion of the Alap. The commonly preferred rhythmic cycles in such cases are Choutal, Jhaptal, Dhamar or Tivra (Note that these are Dhrupad Talas as this practice was mainly in vogue during the heydays of Dhrupad singing). The author falls within this rare category of the few instrumentalists today who have the knowledge and the ability to do so: he performs all varieties of Alap.

The act of performing the Alap is called Alapchari (pronunciation: AA-laap-chaa-ree). Contrary to the vast majority of lay listeners, the knowledgeable and qualified listeners prefer to listen to the slow and early part of the Alap, before rhythm sets in, for it is here that the essential skill and artistry of the performer and his creativity within the bounds of grammar are most truly manifest rather than during the fast paced and virtuositic passages. Modern vocalists tend to confine themselves to Auchar Alap only, when the main measure of their musicianship is, for the qualified listener, the Vistar (pronunciation: VIS-tar) or Badhat (Pronunciation: buh-DHUT) portion. This portion is the Alap-like improvisation that takes place after the Bandish/Gat commences.

In ancient treatises, Alap and Vistar were known as Bhasha (pronunciation: BHAA-shaa), Vibhasha (pronunciation: vi (as in "sit")-BHAA-shaa) and Antarbhasha (pronunciation: UN-tur-bhaa-shaa).

Svar-alap: pronunciation: Svur-AA-laap. A form of the Alap where the Raga is predominantly unfolded note by important note, progressing through its tonal centres, rather than by using the characteristic phrases or note-combinations of the Raga.

Rag-alap: pronunciation: Raag-AA-laap. A form of the Alap where the Raga is unfolded through its successive tonal centres by means of the characterestic phrases of the Raga rather than by its individual important notes.

Auchar-alap: pronunciation: Au-chaar-AA-laap. A short Alap, moving quickly through the important notes or phrases of the Raga, before plunging headlong into the Bandish and continuing the Raga elaboration by means of Vistar (pronunciation: VIS-tar) or Badhat (pronunciation: Bu-DHUT). Vistar or Badhat means rhythmless development of the Raga after the Bandish has been enunciated and while the rhythm cycle is maintained on the accompanying percussion instrument. Bits of Vistar or Badhat are concluded by reiterating the Bandish.

Poornang-alap: pronunciation: Poor-naang-AA-laap Also called "Nom-tom" (pronunciation: NOME-tome) Alap when performed by vocalists like Dhrupad singers or some singers of the Gvalior or Agra Gharanas. This is the full and complete development of the Raga through Alap alone. It has four parts: Sthayi (pronunciation: STHAA-yee), Antara (pronunciation: un-tu-RAA), Sanchari (pronunciation: Sun-CHAA-ree) and Abhog (pronunciation: AA-bhoge) [not to be confused with the Sthayi, Antara, Sanchari and Abhog of Dhrupad songs!] A detailed explanation is outside the scope of this article. The name Nom-Tom comes from the meaningless syllables used by vocalists during the Alap, such as Noom, Re, Ne, Nome, etc. Some people romanticise these syllables by suggesting that they are broken or corrupted forms of the syllables of a meaningful expression in praise of the Lord (Aum Shri Ananta Narayana) but this is merely a fanciful conjecture.