Although there are stylistic differences, the basic elements of śruti (the relative musical pitch), swara (the musical sound of a single note), rāga (the mode or melodic formulæ), and tala (the rhythmic cycles) form the foundation of improvisation and composition in both Carnatic and Hindustani music. Although improvisation plays an important role, Carnatic music is mainly sung through compositions, especially the kriti (or kirtanam), a form developed between the 16th and 20th centuries by composers such as Purandara Dasa and the Trinity of Carnatic music.
Carnatic music is usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians, consisting of a principal performer (usually a vocalist), a melodic accompaniment (usually a violin), a rhythm accompaniment (usually a mridangam), and a tambura, which acts as a drone throughout the performance. Other typical instruments used in performances may include the ghatam, kanjira, morsing, veena & flute. The most outstanding performances, and the greatest concentration of Carnatic musicians, are found in the city of Chennai. In particular, the six week-long Music Season held in Chennai every December, has been described as the world’s largest cultural event.