The overall architecture of Khayal vocalism is similar to that of instrumental music. It conforms to the modern architecture of Hindustani music, featuring a steady escalation of melodic and rhythmic density and complexity, intertwined with a cyclical treatment of melody in each phase.
In comparison with Sitar/Sarod music, however, Khayal rendition tends to have a more compressed structure. Phase I of a Khayal presentation is very short, while Phase II and III are almost equally elaborate.
Phase I of Khayal rendition is an entirely improvised prelude, performed without percussion accompaniment. It can last between 2 and 5 minutes. The purpose of this prelude is to identify the Raga being performed, and to introduce its melodic contours to the audience.
Phase II is called Bada Khayal (the major Khayal). It consists of a slow-tempo composition, performed to percussion accompaniment at 25-40 beats per minute, with mild acceleration permissible, though not always found, during the course of the rendition. Along with logically sequenced improvisations inserted into the composition, the slow-tempo composition can consume 80-85% of the duration of the rendition.
Phase III of Khayal presentation is called the Chhota Khayal (the minor Khayal. It features a brisk-tempo composition launched at 120+ beats per minute, once again with permissible acceleration as the rendition approaches its closure. Phase III can take up 15-20% of the duration of the performance.
The Tarana is a lively compositional form – generally performed in medium to brisk tempo -- which features an articulation of meaningless consonants in lieu of the poetry characteristic of Khayal compositions. A musician may choose to perform a Tarana either in addition to a Chhota Khayal (Phase III) or, in lieu of it.