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Mark Haydon with his collection of guitars || converSAtions | part 2
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 LESSONS in Indian Music

Tanpura : Lesson 2

The tanpura is a string instrument. In structure, it resembles the sitar. It is like a sitar without frets. But it is bigger in size than the sitar and has four strings. The first three strings are made of steel and the last of brass or copper. The first string is tuned to pancham, madhyam, dhaivat or nishad depending upon the raga being rendered. The middle two strings called joda are tuned to the sa (shadaja) of the middle octave. The last string is tuned to the sa of the lower octave. Like a sitar, the tanpura has a tumba at its base and a long neck, but unlike a sitar, it has no smaller tumba on its left end. The tanpura's flat neck is carved out of a hollow wooden bar and its tumba from a hollow pumpkin or a bhopla.

The peculiarity about the tanpura is that the older the wood used in its making, the better is its sound. Africa is supposed to have the largest tumbas in the world and tumbas are specially imported from Africa by Indian tanpura makers. The top of a tanpura's tumba is called the tabli on which a bridge is fixed. The bridge is made of teakwood, ebony or sambar seeng. Four strings run over this bridge.

Some modern tanpuras have even six strings like Kishori Amonkar's and Prabha Atre's tanpuras. Traditionally four strings are used. A very important element of the tanpura is the threads, which are slipped beneath the strings on the bridge. These threads serve to adjust the instrument's tone, called jawari.

According to the liking of the singer, you can have a sharp, base or pointed tone. This is the way the world-renowned Meeraj style of tanpuras are made. The male tanpuras i.e. tanpuras used by male vocalists are bigger and longer and posses a deeper tone, while the female tanpuras are shorter and posses a sharper, high-pitched tone. The tuning of the tanpura, which entails an exact pitching of the tone calls for a lot of skill from an artist. One can only tune a tanpura after at least five years of taalim from his guru.

There are several ways to play the tanpura. It is played sitting on the floor and can be kept either horizontally or vertically. To play the tanpura horizontally, the musician keeps the instrument in front of him, places his elbow on the tumba and always plays the first note with the first finger and the rest of the three notes with the pointer finger. If the singer wishes to hold the tanpura vertically, (s)he puts it on the lap. Generally the men place it on their laps. The placing depends on the preferences and comfort of the player. In the Agra gharana, the men keep the tanpura on their right thigh and play it. Kirana gharana singers like Ustad Amir Khan saab would place the tanpura sometimes horizontally and sometimes vertically.

Usually, a dhrupadia or a khayalia prefer to sing to the accompanying sounds of a tanpura jodi, which means two identical tanpuras with the same sound and tone. Only skilled paramparik tanpura makers know how to make a jodi. A jodi is priced much higher than two individual tanpuras.

Styles of tanpura :
Generally, tanpuras are of three main styles - the Meeraj style, the Tanjori style and Tanburi.
Meeraj Tanpura : Though good tanpuras are also made in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta, it is Meeraj which is known the world over for its tanpuras. The Meeraj tanpuras are simple; they have no decoration on them and give out extremely resonant sounds. Hemraj was renowned as a tanpura maker about 50 years back.

Tanjore Tanpura : The Tanjore style of tanpuras are made in South India. They are similar in construction to Meeraj tanpuras, about three to five feet long. But unlike the Meeraj tanpura, the Tanjore tanpura's neck tapers towards the top. Its front plate is extremely flat. Even its back bhopla is flattish and not rounded. The resonators are almost always made of wood. Also, a tanpura of the Tanjore style does not have carvings on the front like a Meeraj one does.

Tanburi Tanpura : The tanburi is used for instrumental music and has become extremely popular with instrumentalists. Unlike the tanpuras, which accompany vocal music, the tanburi is small and thin; it's about two to three feet in length. It has a very shallow resonator and a considerably softer sound than the Meeraj tanpuras. It usually has four strings; it may also have five or six. The tanburi is not held vertically, but kept horizontally usually while playing. It is very portable. Because it is made of wood, it does not break easily.

Related Instruments : Electronic tanpuras In modern days, conventional tanpuras are being replaced by electronic tanpuras. The electonic tanpura is a small box-like thing, which is usually manufactured in Bangalore, Mumbai or Delhi. It's extremely portable, easy to use, and allows for a lot of variation in pitch. It is also battery operated; so people can take it for their travels. It involves only one problem. In case of a power fluctuation, the pitch may vary. This is a major complaint. Different kinds of electronic tanpuras have evolved in the last fifteen years or so. There is ongoing innovation to reproduce as closely as possible, the sound of the original non-electronic tanpura.

Tanpura : Lesson 1 Lesson 2


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