Instrumental music has played a prominent part in the evolution of music of both orient and the Occident. Man became early conscious of the fundamental principles of musical science, through musical instruments. The monophonous voice was not of much help to him in practically working out and understanding the various musical laws and phenomena. The ancient harp helped the scholars to comprehend the nature of consonant and dissonant intervals, the frequency ratios of notes, the harmonic series and the method of deriving scales by the process of model shift of tonic.
India is perhaps the earliest country in the history of world culture to realise the value of absolute music. In the course of her long history, India evolved a very wide variety of musical instruments. These were classified under four heads, namely tata(stringed instruments), sushira (wind instruments), avanaddha(percussion in like drums) and ghana (instruments which are struck against each other). There are more than 500 of them, each with a distinct name, shape, construction, technique of playing and quality of tone color.
Ancient Sanskrit literature and treatises on the science of music commonly refer to Indian musical instruments. Ancient Indian sculpture also depicts musical instruments with an astounding wealth of detail. Numerous varieties of veenas, drums, pipes, gongs and bells are shown in the ancient sculptures of Bharhut, Mathura, Gandhara, Sanchi, Konark, the temples of southern India and the paintings of Ajantha and Tanjavoor.
The genius of India is fully reflected in the complex finger technique seen in her instrumental music. This technique is one of the gradual growth and represents the accumulated wisdom of the instrumentalists of the past. Skill in finger technique is acquired after many years of practice.