Improvisation is an important component of Indian classical music, in which the melodic framework (the raga) is explored. Only after a musician has learned extensively from their teacher will they have the understanding of how to improvise on any particular raga. Ali Akbar Khan taught these principles by having students learn numerous compositions in each raga. Each composition includes a main line (gat) and improvisations (tans). Students imbibe the compositions and draw on them for inspiration and examples of the movements characteristic to each raga.

In North Indian classical performances, the instrumentalist and the percussionist take turns improvising. The instrumentalist plays the gat, or main line, while the tabla player improvises on the rhythm cycle. The tabla player returns to the theka, or basic rhythm cycle, while the instrumentalist improvises on the raga.

Alam Khan and Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri speak about improvisation in Indian classical music: