Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar


Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar

Neglected Pillar of Music (Tanpura Drone)

kishore_bhakta Senior Member

Joined: 27 June 2005
Posts: 505

Posted: 02 April 2006 at 10:45pm | IP Logged

Namaste and greetings everyone!

In Indian music, whether it is Hindustani or Carnatic, there are three pillars to music. THe three pillars are the rhythm, melody, and the drone. The rhythm is the tala, the melody is through the raga, and the drone is through the sur. We boast so much about ragas and talas that we tend to ignore the drone, the sur of music.

What is a drone? defines it as "Any of [the] various instruments that [produces] only a constant pitch." In music, drone has a bigger meaning that that, but the dictionary has the right idea. When we define notes, we must define them against some solid backbone. Without that solid backbone, we cannot identify the value of the sound properly. The value of the sound is more important than the sound itself. The sound is based on a person's or instrument's range.

The most famous instrument is the tanpura that provides the drone. The tanpura is a four stringed instrument that is tuned to the tonic and another note of importance. In Indian music, the tonic (the main drone or the sur) is known as Sadja or Sa. In Sanskrit, Sadja is formed by joining the words "Sada" and "aja." "Sada" means "six" and "aja" means origin of. Hence, the origin of the other six notes namely (Rsabha, Gandhara, Madhyama, Pancham, Dhaivata, and nisada) is the tonic Sa. Even in the root word "tonic" you see the word "tone" in there. Tanpuras, these days, may have five or six strings, depending on the need. Female tanpura players will have more strings, as it sounds more pleasing than a male tanpura with strings more than four. I met one female singer few years ago who had a seven string instrumental tanpura. When she was performing in Marwa, the notes were "Tivra Ma, Shuddha Dha, Shuddha Ni, high komal re, high Sa, high Sa, Sa." 

Pushing the drone a bit???

I guess

Is there a solution to get more notes without getting a 7 stringed tanpura?

Get a swarmandal! LOL

In almost all CDs of classical and semi-classical music, you will hear this tanpuira in the background. But some CDs and tapes do without tanpura. Just because tanpura is not there does not mean there is a lack of drone.

Sitar and sarod players has special rhythmic drone strings called chikaris that are tuned to the tonic and any important note of their raga of their choice. The strings are struck to help keep rhythm and empasize the drone.

Sarasvati vina players have similar strings called thalam strings. They have the same functions as the chikari.

Ektara, North Indian dotara (not the Bengali kind) mark Sa, if used in recrodings.

Tabla, pakhawaj are tuned to Sa, if the range of the instrument allows. Listen to any CD where you can find the pitch of the dayan (high pitched drum) of the tabla set. You will see that it is tuned to the Sa of the song. People in those CDs and tapes are professionals, they can afford more than one dayan to tune. One musician came to my house last fall and he had four dayans. I knew why, but he explained:

1: Females' dayan (this is the low pitched dayan. This is the same dayan that was used for the song Himani sang in Chingaari. If you listen to the original "O Duniya Ke Rakhwale", the tabla is tuned to the Pancham of the lower octave, which is why it sounded low pitched). Overall, very few people use this dayan in popular music.

2: Male's (Instrumental) dayan

This is the dayan you hear most male artists sing in, as well as most instrumentalists in music. Very very few ghazal or filmi artists used this dayan.

3: Folk dayan

Folk dayan is relatively the most common pitch you hear in filmi tracks today (any pitch from E to G#). This is those high pitched sounding dayans you hear in almost all filmi tracks. Ismail Darbar enjoys this kind of dayan.

4: Spare

Hey! It pays to keep spares!

As you can see, drone is a very important part of Indian music. Without the drone, all principles of music, whether it is the raga or tala, will fall apart. Listen to your computer make a noise. Find that pitch and sing a raga. You'll find out that the humming notes your computer makes is a perfect electronic tanpura. It'll never go out of tune!


Western musicians roughly define Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni as

(Tonic, Supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, and leading tone)

Literal translations of Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni are

(Origin of six, mode of goodness, fragrant, middle, fifth, of godly qualities, residing)

luvmusic Goldie

Joined: 13 December 2005
Posts: 1434

Posted: 03 April 2006 at 3:11am | IP Logged
Thanku very much for the informative post KBji..
soulsoup IF-Dazzler

Joined: 20 January 2006
Posts: 3489

Posted: 03 April 2006 at 3:37am | IP Logged
As usual great post Kishore_Bhakta ji

Let me upload the pictures of the instruments one by one
Starting with Ektara

soulsoup IF-Dazzler

Joined: 20 January 2006
Posts: 3489

Posted: 03 April 2006 at 3:40am | IP Logged
ab_srgmp Goldie

Joined: 12 January 2006
Posts: 1249

Posted: 03 April 2006 at 7:10am | IP Logged
Thanks. Very interesting and educational.
Sunitha.V Senior Member

Joined: 30 January 2006
Posts: 766

Posted: 03 April 2006 at 7:15am | IP Logged
As always, very informative. Thanks a lot, Kishoreji.
kishore_bhakta Senior Member

Joined: 27 June 2005
Posts: 505

Posted: 03 April 2006 at 7:23am | IP Logged
Thank you, Soul Soupji, for those pictures.

Just a special note that the ektara and dotara here are Bengali versions. The dotara shown here are in the "sarod" class of stringed instruments.

In North India, there is a dotara, which looks like an ektara, but just has two strings instead of one.
batkoor Groupbie

Joined: 12 January 2006
Posts: 38

Posted: 03 April 2006 at 10:11am | IP Logged
Thanks a lot KBJI. very informative

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