‘I’m Kuldeep back again here, with the Tanpura in my pen this time…I mean mind this time! You might have seen or attended musical concerts, where an Indian Classical singer or a soloist instrumental player is accompanied by someone droning the Tanpura behind. Such is the importance of the Tanpura for classical singers, as it helps them a lot to get set on the scale.
The Tanpura is the instrument, which is regarded as an important part of classical Indian music. A distinctive quality of the Tanpura is its sound effect that is produced by the continuous playing of all the strings. It leaves an everlasting effect on the listener. Thus the Tanpura is an ideal auxiliary for Indian Classical singing, soloist instrumental player, or modal creativeness.
A supporting plucked string instrument (or drone instrument, as it is popularly called) ‘the Tanpura’ is also called as ‘the tambura’ or ‘the tanpuri’. It has its name from the blend of two words ‘tana’ means a musical phrase and ‘pura’ means complete. However, it is neither mentioned in the historical texts nor in the ancient Indian scriptures. But by the end of the 16th century, it was probably developed in the form that we see today. This can be seen in the Moghul miniature paintings.
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Instead of playing melody, it supports another instrument or singers, both in Hindustani and Carnatic style. It has four or five (or seldom six) strings that are plucked one after another in a continuous cycle to create a harmonic resonance on the basic note or keynote. The strings are tuned to Pa or Ma or Ni, Sa, Sa, Sa (Sol or Fa or Ti, Doh, Doh, Doh). The two strings in the centre are Sa of middle octave. The Pa or Ma or Ni and the last Sa are of the lower octave. The droning helps singers to get set on the scale and it resonates to create a musical atmosphere.
The Tanpura is played without any changes throughout the whole musical performance. The richness of the sound that emerges from all the strings helps the singing resonance. Singers or instrumentalists can be supported by one or more Tanpuras.
Male singers have a tonic note (Sa) often at C♯ and the female singers usually have it at the 5th higher. However, as the Indian Classical music system has no fixed pitch-reference, these notes may change as per the singer’s preference.
The Tanpura is tuned to a singer’s pitch and thus provides an invariable reference point. It helps the musician stay in pitch. Properly tuned Tanpuras are just like heaven of music, as they help to find the pitch, the frequency. Tuning the Tanpura to the singer’s pitch is very much important, as it helps in perfecting singer’s pitch or soor or shruti. It is most important skill in Indian classical music.
There are three different styles of the Tanpura that are popular among Indian Classical singers. ‘Miraj style’ is the most favourite form of the Tanpura in Indian Classical singers. The ‘Tanjore style is the style of the tambura, which is widely used by Carnatic music singers. The ‘Tanpuri’ is a small Tanpura used for accompanying instrumental soloists. Tamburi is preferred for accompanying solo performances by string-playing artists. Some time few famous vocalist are also use tanpuri. I always observed Pandit Jasraj using this instrument for accompanying. In below photograph accompanist using this small tanpura in Pandit Jasraj’s Maifil (Program).
Sometimes, an electronic Tanpura or ‘shruti boxes’ also are used in Indian classical music, looking just like a small radio and are easier to carry around. Though these electronic Tanpuras have a high quality, some music lovers feel that the time-honored Tanpuras offer a richer sound and should not be removed. You can download digita Tanpur files for male and female here.
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