Khyal and dhrupad are the two main forms of Hindustani music, but there are several other classical and semi-classical forms. Players of the tabla, a type of drum, usually keep the rhythm, an indicator of time in Hindustani music. Another common instrument is the stringed tanpura, which is played at a steady tone (a drone) throughout the performance of the raga. This task traditionally falls to a student of the soloist, a task which might seem monotonous but is, in fact, an honour and a rare opportunity for the student who gets it. Other instruments for accompaniment include the sarangi and theharmonium. The prime themes of Hindustani music are romantic love, nature, and devotionals. Yet, Indian classical music is independent of such themes. To sing a raga any poetic phrase appropriate for the raga may be chosen and the raga would not suffer.
The performance usually begins with a slow elaboration of the raga, known as badhat. This can range from long (30–40 minutes) to very short (2–3 minutes) depending on the style and preference of the musician. Once the raga is established, the ornamentation around the mode begins to become rhythmical, gradually speeding up. This section is called the drut or jor. Finally, the percussionist joins in and the tala is introduced. There is a significant amount of Persian influence in Hindustani music, in terms of both the instruments and the style of presentation.