How to play Tanpura instrument

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Tanpura Playing Technique

Your Tanpura instrument can provide you a needed companion while you practice any Indian music, whether you sing Indian classical, perform regional folk genres, or perform an instrument. Because it’s such a vital instrument, I want to share the techniques to play it.

All instrumentalists, from a sitar to a sarod player to a Carnatic violin player, will have the knowledge of how to play a tanpura themselves. Before students are taught any instruments, it is standard practice to teach them how Tanpura tuning works.

Possessing a correct playing technique involves good body posture, accurate positioning of the hands, and understanding how and when to pluck the strings.

tanpura playing technique

Body Posture when Holding Tanpura

There are several standard ways to rest the tanpura. Male and female musicians seem to follow holding the instrument in the way that their Guru / Ustad or Gharana follows.

I must note that the size of male and female tanpuras differ only slightly. But, the tanpuri is much smaller. So, when singers are holding it during a performance it is easier on the singer.

One is setting Tanpura to one side of the body. Your elbow rests on the gourd. Tunning the instrument can be difficult this way, as the pegs are so hard to reach in this position. This is usually how the instrument is seen played during a performance.

The more relaxed position used when playing the tanpura is setting the stem across one’s lap. With this positioning, the pitch of each sting be re-tuned as the bridge, and the tuning pegs are both easily accessible.

Hand Positioning – Parallel to the Strings

This is actually crucial to getting the best sound. And in my opinion, this is the hardest part to master. The thumb rests on the side of the stem of the tanpura, anchoring the hand. Your fingers need to be almost parallel to the strings.

How to Pluck the Strings

The way your fingers make contact with the string is important. The sound produced should be from the flesh of your finger pushing in and plucking the string. Your nail does not make any contact with the strings.

Let’s assume that you are learning to play on the standard 4- string tanpura. The first string is plucked with the middle finger (which is tuned to the lower octave Pa). The next 3 strings are plucked with the index finger. There is a Darda (6-beat) cycle that is taught for beginners. Let’s break down what happens on each beat when playing the tanpura:

The first string of the tanpura is plucked on the 1st beat and rest on the 2nd beat.

The second and third strings of the tanpura are plucked on the 3rd and 4th beat, respectively.

The fourth string of the tanpura is plucked on the 5th beat, with a rest on the 6th beat.

The basis for tuning other instruments

Learning to tune this instrument will help you in all genres of Indian Music. The tuning of this instrument is the basis for understanding how instruments like the Sitar, Veena, Sarod, Santoor, and Swarmandal are tuned.

Riyaaz Qawwali