The Gwalior Gharana is one of the oldest Khayal Gharanas and one to which most classical Indian musicians can trace the origin of their style. The rise of the Gwalior Gharana started with the reign of the great Mughal emperor Akbar (1542–1605). The favorite singers of this patron of the arts, such as Miyan Tansen, first amongst the vocalists at the court, came from the town of Gwalior.
Apart from the emphasis Swara, another distinguishing feature of the Gharana is its simplicity because through simplicity alone can the singer and the listener arrive at the full beauty and impact of the raga. One means to this is of course the selection of well-known ragas so that the listener is saved the effort of trying to identify the raga. Attention can be focussed on the raga and the presentation of it. While the khayal singer does include "Raga Vistar" (Melody Expansion) and "Raga Alankaar" (Melodic Ornamentation) to enhance the beauty and meaning of the raga, there is no attempt to include the Tirobhava (using melodic phrases to obscure the identity of the raga) feature in the interest of adding interest or mystery to the listener's experience.
The singing itself places Bandish (the composition) at the heart of the presentation because of the Gharana's belief that the full melody of the raga and guidance on its singing is provided by the Bandish. The Sthaayi section is sung twice before the Antaraa, to be followed by the slow tempo of the Swara Vistar (note expansion). This slow rendition of the notes is known as the Behlava, and is sung from Ma in the lower register to Pa in the higher register, following the pattern of the Aaroha (ascent) and Avaroha (descent) of the raga.
Common ragas include Alhaiya bilawal, Yaman, Bhairav, Sarang, Shree, Hamir, Gaud Malhar, and Miya Ki Malhar.