The alap (Hindi pronunciation /IPA|ɑːlɑːp/, English pronunciation /IPA|ælɑːp/) is the opening section of a typical North Indian classical performance. It is unmetered, improvised (within the raga) and unaccompanied (except for the tanpura drone), and started at a slow tempo. In instrumental performance and dhrupad singing, this part receives heavy emphasis and can last for more than an hour; in the more popular modern vocal style of khyal, generally less so.

Instead of wholly free improvisation, many musicians perform alap schematically, for example by way of "vistar", where the notes of the raga are introduced one at a time, so that phrases never travel further than one note above or below what has been covered before. In such cases, the first reach into a new octave can be a powerful event.

When a steady pulse is introduced into the alap, it is called jor; when the tempo has been greatly increased, or when the rhythmic element overtakes the melodic, it is called jhala (dhrupad: "nomtom"). The jor and jhala can be seen as separate sections of the performance, or as parts of the alap; in the same way, jhala can be seen as a part of jor.

(Several musicologists have proposed much more complicated classifications and descriptions of alap. In the same way as traditional four-part compositions have a "sthai", "antara", "sanchar" and "abhog", some treat alap with a four-part scheme using the same names. Bengali researcher Bimalakanto Raychoudhuri in his "Bharatiya Sangeetkosh" suggests classification both by length ("aochar" being the shortest, followed by "bandhan", "kayed" and "vistar") and by performance style (according to the four ancient "vanis" or singing styles – "Gohar", "Nauhar", "Dagar" and "Khandar"), and proceeds to list thirteen stages:

# "Vilambit"
# "Madhya"
# "Drut"
# "Jhala"
# "Thok"
# "Lari"
# "Larguthav"
# "Larlapet"
# "Paran"
# "Sath"
# "Dhuya"
# "Matha"
# "Paramatha"

Even though Raychoudhuri admits the 13th stage is wholly extinct today, as we see we are in jhala already at the fourth stage; the sthai-to-abhog movement is all part of the first stage (vilambit); stages six and up are said to be for instrumentalists only. Other authorities have forwarded other classifications. For example, when alap is sung with lyrics or at least syllables, as in dhrupad, it is called "sakshar" as opposed to "anakshar".)

ee also

* Alapana
* Hindustani classical music
* Buka

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