Essential Accessories – Tanpura


Bansuri has its origin in very early years of human history. Due to this historic origin, it is a very simple instrument. Its simplicity explains why it has such an extensive popularity in folk music. It does not take much for a village boy of North India to make it from locally available bamboo, carry it to the woods and play folk music on it all day long. Why would he require any accessories?

Well, if you want to play simple folk, light or even film music on the Bansuri, you do not need anything more than a well tuned Bansuri. However, if your goal is to learn to play Hindustani Classical music on it, you will certainly need a few accessories. Some of them are a must-have, while some others are my recommendations.

Tanpura is an essential accompanying instrument for both forms of Indian Classical music – Hindustani (north Indian) and Karnatic (south Indian). It is also known as Tambora, Tampura, Tamboora etc.

The Tanpura provides the backdrop of sound for the musician. Philosophically, it represents the cosmic sound – the sound of Om (ॐ). The sound of Tanpura serves as a reference for the musician throughout the concert. In fact, most leading musicians will tell you that the most difficult part of Hindustani music is to hit the notes against Tanpura sound all the time.

Tanpura is a simple instrument that is, in a way, a sound box. A big hollow gourd forms the resonating chamber. The gourd is of a special variety that makes is suitable for this purpose. It is dried in Sunlight and heat and hollowed. Then it is attached to a hollowed wooden shaft.


The quality of sound produced by the Tanpura depends in a big way on the “bridge”, i.e. the white piece at the gourd end where the strings rest. The angle and curvature of the surface of the bridge have a huge impact on the way Tanpura sounds. Often, to increase the microtones or Jawari, small strings are placed under the strings to lift them up a little from the bridge.

The basic traditional Tanpura has four strings to it. The middle two strings are tuned to the tonic or Sa. The fourth string is tuned to the Base Sa i.e. tonic one octave lower. The first string is tuned to Pa, Ma or Ni depending on the raga. In modern days, many other tunings are used by many leading musicians. Some also use five or six string Tanpuras with unconventional tunings such as Ga-Pa-Sa-Sa-Sa or Pa-Ni-Sa-Sa-Sa.

In recent years, a new variation of the tanpura has been created to improve portability. This new tanpura – the so called instrumental tanpura – is smaller in length. It does not have the gourd. Instead, it is entirely made up of hollow wood to act as sound box. Occasionally, to increase sustain, the strings used in instrumental tanpura are wound strings like the ones used in guitar

Tanpura is a simple instrument that is, in a way, a sound box. A big hollow gourd forms the resonating chamber. The gourd is of a special variety that makes is suitable for this purpose. It is dried in Sunlight and heat and hollowed. Then it is attached to a hollowed wooden shaft.

The quality of sound produced by the Tanpura depends in a big way on the “bridge”, i.e. the white piece at the gourd end where the strings rest. The angle and curvature of the surface of the bridge have a huge impact on the way Tanpura sounds. Often, to increase the microtones or Jawari, small strings are placed under the strings to lift them up a little from the bridge.

The basic traditional Tanpura has four strings to it. The middle two strings are tuned to the tonic or Sa. The fourth string is tuned to the Base Sa i.e. tonic one octave lower. The first string is tuned to Pa, Ma or Ni depending on the raga. In modern days, many other tunings are used by many leading musicians. Some also use five or six string Tanpuras with unconventional tunings such as Ga-Pa-Sa-Sa-Sa or Pa-Ni-Sa-Sa-Sa.

In recent years, a new variation of the tanpura has been created to improve portability. This new tanpura – the so called instrumental tanpura – is smaller in length. It does not have the gourd. Instead, it is entirely made up of hollow wood to act as sound box. Occasionally, to increase sustain, the strings used in instrumental tanpura are wound strings like the ones used in guitar.

Most vocalist play their tanpura themselves when they practice. Unfortunately, a Bansuri player has no such possibility. Fortunately, the modern technology makes available to us several electronic models of tanpura. Some of these even run on batteries. Many produce sound that is very close to the sound of real tanpura. Radel’s (www.radelindia.com) MaestroS stereo tanpura model is one of the best available. It has a very realistic sound and can be played in dual tanpura mode. It can operate on batteries too. Other popular model is Raagini Digital tanpura.

Do make sure that you buy a digital tanpura when buying electronic variety since analog tanpuras are notoriously known to change pitch as they heat up.