In Indian classical music, an alapana is defined as the introduction and elaboration of a raga (musical scale). The flavor of the raga is outlined in the alapana by rendering the raga's permitted notes in structures and phrases unique to the raga (known as "raga lakshanam"). Alapana typically precedes a song that is going to be sung in the same raga.

Alapana is rendered in different speeds, with a gradual increase in tempo. Likewise, the complexity of the patterns increases steadily as the alapana progresses.

Alapana is divided into three parts:

In Carnatic music

In Carnatic Music, the alapana is sung in a free-flowing format, without adherence to a specific beat or taalam. In a Carnatic music concert, the vocalist or instrumentalist may spend anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes or more on the alapana prior to beginning the song that is in that raga. Performers and instrumental accompanists often render the alapana together and individually (for example, vocalists's phrases shadowed by that of a violinist, as well as vocalist's rendering followed by that of the violinist).

In Hindustani music

Hindustani music features percussion accompaniment to raga alapanas once the phrasing has picked up sufficient complexity and tempo. In a concert, alapana typically takes center stage. Entire concerts may be devoted to the exposition of just one or two ragas, with each alapana segment followed by a few lines of a song also improvised within the constraints of the raga's scale and characteristic phrases.

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