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Melodies of the Hills: Unveiling the Soul of Khasi Indigenous Vocal Music


Khasi indigenous vocal music holds a unique and profound place in the cultural tapestry of Meghalaya, India. This study delves into the intricate techniques and structure of Khasi singing, aiming to document and preserve this rich musical heritage. By examining both traditional songs passed down through generations and contemporary compositions rooted in similar structural patterns, this research highlights the melismatic nature of Khasi music, a defining characteristic that binds various geographical regions and dialects within the Khasi community. This technique, known as kyriah, is essential to understanding and performing Khasi indigenous vocal music.


  • Analyze the structure of Khasi indigenous vocal music.

  • Classify Khasi indigenous vocal music based on structure.

  • Define the techniques of Khasi indigenous vocal music.

  • Notate the techniques of Khasi indigenous vocal music.

Research Methodology

This qualitative study was conducted in East Khasi Hills, Ri Bhoi, and West Jaintia Hills Districts of Meghalaya, India. Participants were selected through purposive and snowball sampling, focusing on composers, songwriters, singers, and music students. Data were collected using in-depth interviews and questionnaires, and the findings are presented in both text and audio-visual formats.

Review of Literature

Vocal music has been a vital aspect of human expression across cultures and eras, from ancient civilizations to modern times. The Khasi people, known for their musicality, have integrated music into every facet of their lives. Traditional Khasi music includes a variety of instruments and vocal forms such as phawar (chants), lamentations, and story songs. Despite external influences and the evolution of musical styles, Khasi indigenous vocal music has retained its distinct identity.

Evolution of Khasi Indigenous Vocal Music

Khasi music, inspired by nature, is believed to be as old as the Khasi race itself. Oral tradition has played a crucial role in preserving this music. While modern influences have introduced new styles and ornamentations, traditional tunes continue to be performed and cherished. Khasi songs are categorized into three types: those with proper lyrics, those without lyrics, and those combining both, often using meaningless syllables to convey melody.

Structure of Khasi Indigenous Vocal Music

Khasi indigenous vocal music (KIVM) is primarily melodic rather than harmonic, often utilizing pentatonic scales but not limited to them. The melismatic nature of Khasi singing, referred to as kyriah, involves singing multiple notes to a single syllable, adding a unique grace and complexity to the melodies. KIVM's rhythmic patterns, such as dum dum, nalai, and padiah ardieng, intertwine seamlessly with its melodic structure.

Classification of Khasi Indigenous Vocal Music

Based on themes, KIVM can be classified as:

  • Sur shad or sur kmen: Dance or happy songs for festive occasions.

  • Sur iam or sur tympang: Melancholy songs expressing grief and sadness.

  • Sur biria: Humorous songs.

  • Sur kyntang: Sacred songs for rituals and invocations.

Techniques of Khasi Indigenous Vocal Music

Kyriah (Melisma)

Kyriah refers to the technique of singing multiple notes to a single syllable. It includes:

  • Kyriah shi kyrwoh: Single-note decoration.

  • Kyriah ar kyrwoh: Two-note decoration.

  • Kyriah kyndup: Multiple-note decoration, often used at cadences.

Kyoh (Glottal Stop and Yodeling)

  • Kyoh rit: Glottal stop, a sound produced by the release of the airstream after the glottis closes, commonly used in Khasi language and music.

  • Yodeling: Frequent alternation between head and chest voice registers, adding a distinctive vocal texture.


The study of Khasi indigenous vocal music reveals a rich tradition characterized by intricate melismatic techniques and a deep connection to cultural identity. Documenting and preserving these techniques is crucial for maintaining the musical heritage of the Khasi people. By understanding and notating these elements, we contribute to the conservation and appreciation of Khasi music for future generations

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