Baul songs are normally sung solo, allowing considerable improvisational freedom and embellishment in their rendition.
Accompaniment may be by the singer, him or herself, on the single-stringed drone, 'ektara', with or without a small kettle drum, 'duggi'; these are the instruments which have come to be indexical of the Bauls and may even metonymically stand in for them in graphic representations.
Many other instruments may also serve for accompaniment, whether provided by the singer or by others. Please see the menu link instruments for a more complete discussion and illustrations of these.
The basic structure of most Baul melodies, like that of many song types in India, rests on a sthayi/antara or refrain/verse foundation. According to the style of song and skill of the performer, the performance may vary from a relatively straightforward strophic rendition to a fragmented and ornamentally repetitive one with a loosened structure.
The refrain structure is another link to the 10th-century caryapada texts which may be viewed as precursors to Baul songs in this respect as well. While the caryapada manuscript prescribes the raga and tala in which the texts are to be sung, Baul songs no longer carry this link to the sastric or classical music tradition.
The tunes often bear a resemblance to some well-known ragas—there is, after all, a recognized historical connection between regional musical tunes and the melody types that came to be known as ragas—but they do not adhere to their theoretical prescriptions and most Baul singers would not know these in any case. In western terms, the scales of Baul songs are diatonic though the particular position of scale degrees may not coincide with their tempered equivalents. The modes used may resemble major, phrygian, mixolydian, etc., but the manner in which the scale degrees are used gives them a more particular quality than that we usually ascribe to scalar modes.
A singer commonly begins a song with a brief unmetered introduction which calls upon the melodic material of the succeeding tune before he or she begins the song proper. Akin to the classical alap, this introduction is followed by a measured rendition of the song in one of several commonly used meters which may be simple or compound duple; in the latter case, there is frequent confusion between, or simultaneity of, 6/8 and 3/4 that resembles but is more pervasive than the usual western hemiola—more like the compound duple of some Iberian song and dance styles.
As a soloistic medium with some correlates to classical music, Baul song is a sophisticated melodic tradition which demands dedication of its performers, and these may attain a highly accomplished technique.