Debate: Meta Tuning of Tanpura

By Dr. Sanjoy Bandopadhyaya



I wish I knew what Prof. Ramanathan actually wrote. Let me split my observations in three sections.

Section I

I wonder if any body disagrees with the richness of tone that we get from a nicely tuned Miraj male Tanpura [may be from Naskar and made by other makers too]. When you take a couple of them and may be three and tune them nicely that create an excellent ambience -- who would deny that? But, this is one part of the story.

To tune the Tanpura at that level you require a pair of excellently sensitive and trained ears. [I am yet to see any musician taking advantage of 'good electronic tuner' to do it.] Also, the tanpura should receive appropriate maintenance like good Jawari [with fresh strings on it] by a person who knows how to do the Jawari effectively. So, the requiremens are:

1. The tanpura -- be it of right shape. 

2. The person who tunes the instrument MUST possess a 'master ear'. 

The disadvantages are transport hazards, lack of sustainability of tuning for a long time. You require to fine-tune after some time if you really want to keep it in tume in a say 3 hour long concert..

Section 2

Now electronic Tanpura.  You can get these tanpuras in more than one brands and models. There is at least one model that gives somewhat a feel of the real thing. The good point is, this is easy to carry and serves the purpose of keeping the drone. The currently produced machines are comparatively more stable [in terms of retaining the tuning] than the earlier ones and usable in a concert. This machine is good for the musicians those don't have the really 'master ears'. 

Now, the third point comes to my mind. I am yet to see any vocalist using only electronic tanpura on stage but many of them ALSO take an electronic one.  Many instrumentalists, of course, use electronic tanpura. In old days the instrumentalists even did not care to take a tanpura with them and used to play the instrument alone with the support of drone strings they have in their respective instruments [this is true for most of the India instruments].   So, taking a tanpura is not a prerequisite for them. They take electronic Tanpura because of all the good points I stated in my earlier paragraph. They do not require to take a highly resonating tanpura because this will interfere with the subtle sounds coming out of their instrument! So, I think we can excuse them for not taking a real thing as drone instrument.

Section 3

Finally, here are a few more points that come to my mind. I ask myself,  what should we measure if we want to measure a tuned tanpura? How can we evaluate tuning? I take Prof. Ramanathan's statement that a nicely tuned tanpura is not accurate enough when their frequency relationships between different strings are measured. Here is one question comes to my mind is one the audio sample that was used for this experiment. I think, ideally, the audio sample should be approved by 'high order musicians' as good samples. If I take that this was also taken care then I would like to state the issue in a different format.

Q1. What is a nicely tuned tanpura?

A1. The nicely tuned tanpura is one that creates excellent ambience for raga presentations.

Now, if we agree to this and also accept Prof. Ramnathan's statement then I can easily go for the following statements.

1. A nicely tuned tanpura does not pass the test of relational pitch and are not accurate.

So the next research should be to understand the 'band of inaccuracy' that creates the ambience. What is the band of inaccuracy that can help in 'effective tuning'

Give it a thought.


Martin's View

G Rajnarain's View

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