Sikh music (Shabad keertan) began in the 16th century as the musical expression of mystical poetry conceived by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. Following him, all the Sikh Gurus sang in the then-prevalent classical and folk music styles, accompanied by stringed and percussion instruments. The classical style was the devotional dhrupad style, where the text was of prime significance and the music played a supporting albeit important role. The Sikh Gurus specified the raags in which they sang each hymn in the Sikh sacred scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is organized by the 62 raags that were used. Out of these, 31 are main raags, and 31 are variant raags. Several of these raags are unique to the Sikh music tradition. In addition to using and modifying traditional instruments, the Sikh Gurus developed new stringed instruments like the taus and percussion instruments like the jori.
While Hindustani music underwent significant changes in the setting of Mughal courts, and a separate stream of Carnatic music developed in southern India, Sikh music retained its original form and styles. It thus became a unique musical tradition, encompassing a variety of rich melodic forms and a well developed percussive system, with a variety of accompanying stringed and percussive instruments, such as the rabaab, saranda, taus, pakhaavaj and jori. This music flourished into the 20th century.
Major changes occurred in the 20th century. The classical style was largely replaced by contemporary popular genres often based on Indian film music. Within the remaining classical tradition, the devotional dhrupad style was overtaken by the darbaari khayaal style. The harmonium took the place of stringed instruments and the tabla replaced the pakhaavaj and jori.
Significant efforts have been under way since the 1970s to revive the rich Sikh music tradition initiated and developed by the Sikh Gurus. Various terms used to refer to this tradition include Shabad keertan parampara, Gurbani sangeet parampara and Gurmat sangeet.