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Indian music instruments

Harmonium Sitar Sarod Sarangi Tanpura Santoor veena tabla Indian percussion instruments Bansuri shennai

 

Harmonium

Peti or baja are the Indian names for the harmonium. This instrument has its origins in Europe, and ever since it came to India in the 19th century it has become an essential part of Indian musical compositions. This musical instrument is a blend of the east and west. Its keyboard is similar to that of the piano and the body with its other parts creates sounds for Indian classical compositions.

The harmonium is a portable instrument in the shape of a rectangular box. The musician can sit comfortably on the floor playing it, using both his hands. One hand dances along the keyboard and the other is engaged in pumping the instrument.

The body of the harmonium houses bellows that are the pumps, which push the air through the instrument. There are external bellows that are pumped manually and the internal ones that are reservoirs for the air pumped by the external ones. This instrument has stops, which are a series of valves that controls the way in which air flows. There are also drone stops that determine the flow of air over the reeds that do not have keys. The keys, called chabi in Hindi, are controls made from wood. The keyboard, as mentioned earlier, is like that of the piano, minus the chords. When the harmonium is not in use it is protected by a cover either made from wood, cloth or glass. The harmonium is most commonly played while sitting. However, one could also sling this instrument across their shoulder and play it as they walk.

The following are the various Indian music genres that require this instrument:

·        Bhajan

·        Folk Music

·        Ghazal and qawwali

·        Hindustani music variations

 

Sitar

Sitar is said to be one of the prime musical instruments of Indian music and the most used of all the stringed instruments. It has been almost 700 years since this music instrument was introduced to India. The word sitar originates from the Persian term sehtar, which is broken into she meaning three and tar meaning strings.

According to historians, the famed musician of the 13th century, Amir Khusrao, reversed the strings of the veena, thereby inventing this instrument. Further modifications to the sitar were made in the eighteenth century with the addition of three strings.

This popular stringed instrument of Indian classical music consists of various parts, which are:

·        Tumba: This is the lower hemispherical, hollow gourd

·        Dandi: This is the stem of the sitar

·        Gulu: This is the upper gourd that is used as a balance for the musician as he or she plays the instrument

·        Kunti: These are the tuning pegs. They are of two sizes. The larger ones are used to tune the main strings and the smaller ones for the sympathetic strings

·        Tar: This is the string of the sitar. The sitar has three types of strings, which are the drone strings, sympathetic strings and the playing stings

·        Parda are frets that are metal rods tied to the stem or neck of the sitar. They are adjusted by the musician for the required pitch

Basically there are two types of sitars, which are distinguished on the basis of the number of strings they have:

·        The sitar with 13 sympathetic strings. This is tuned to the notes of the raga. It has 3 playing strings to cover three octaves; a fourth one reaching the bass octave and 3 rhythm strings

·        The sitar with 11 sympathetic strings. This smaller instrument is specifically designed high speed playing

Generally sitar is rested on the right shoulder with the right hand plucking the strings. The index finger of the left hand travels up and down the neck of the sitar. Playing the sitar may seem like an easy task to on lookers, but it does require a high degree of concentration and co-ordination. Even one string plucked out of sync will take the entire composition to a different tune.

 

 

Sarod

The sarod is a stringed instrument that is generally carved out of a single piece of teakwood. Its belly is covered with goatskin. This instrument is played with plectrum made from coconut shell. This is probably one of the oldest instruments of Indian music. Carvings of it have been found in the Champa temple that was constructed in the 1st century. One also comes across paintings and carvings of this stringed musical instrument in the Ajanta caves.

The history of Indian classical music claims that the famous musician of the 13th century, Amir Khusrao had modified the sarod, creating the sitar; and later Ustad Ali Akbar Khan modified the shape of the original instrument thereby improvising the tonal quality.

The sarod has a number of strings that are fixed onto the instrument in accordance to the roles they have to play. There are basically three types of strings:

·        Four main strings

·        Six rhythm and drone strings

·        Fifteen sympathetic strings

All the strings are made from metal.

This instrument has gone through several modifications to suit the needs of the varied musicians. Being one the prime instruments of Hindustani music, the various gharanas added or reduced the number of strings according to their musical needs. For instance the maihar gharana sarod had a larger number of strings being strung at three levels, which were the upper, middle and lower. Whereas, the traditional sarod commonly had only two levels

 

 

 

Sarangi

The name derives from Sau Rangi meaning 100 colors. Sarangi is played with a bow and has four main strings and as many as forty resonant strings. It is generally used to accompany singers but can also be a solo instrument.

A number of bowed instruments across the country base their name on this instrument. It was commonly by musicians who created folk compositions. The following are some of the varied sarangis found across the country:

·        Sarinda

·        Chikara

·        Sindhi sarangi

·        Gujrtan sarangi

·        Dhadya sarangi

·        Dedh pasli sarangi

The instruments dilruba and esraj have common physical characteristics that make them resemble the classical sarangi.

This instrument was played to the tunes of the khayal, dhrupad and thumri vocals. However, as time went by this instrument gained prominence amongst courtesans and musicians began to look towards other musical instruments. However, this instrument has not lost complete existence because of prominent musicians like Gopal Misra, Pandit Ram Narayan, and Ustad Sabri Khan, who are regarded as sarangi maestros.

This bowed instrument is not too large as far as size is concerned. It is carved from a single piece of wood. Its body is hollow. At the top and bottom end it is one-inch thick. The sides are barely half-an-inch in thickness. The sarangi has a metal bar placed along it. There are three main strings and one brass sympathetic string tuned by four pegs in the lower part of the instrument. The upper part has eleven pegs that tune the thirty-five to forty sympathetic strings fixed there.

 

Tanpura

The tanpura is a stringed Indian musical instrument that produces the drone, which is an essential background, required for all Indian music genres. This instrument is believed to have been invented either in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

The basic structure of a tanpura consists of:

·        Tumba, which is the hemispherical base that functions as a resonance chamber

·        Tabli, which is resonating plate covering the opening in the tumba

·        Dandi is the stem that has a fingerboard

·        Gulu is the neck of the tanpura that connects the tumba and dandi

·        Four tuning pegs of which two are placed on either side of the top end and the other two at the forefront.

·        Two bridges over which the strings are suspended. The one on top is called meru or ara. The bridge at the lower end is called ghodi or ghodaj.

·        Silk or cotton pieces of thread which cushion the strings

·        Four metal strings of which one is tuned to the lower pitch and the other three are meant for the higher pitch.

In north India this instrument is known by its actual name being tanpura; however in the south it is also called:

·        Ttambura

·        Tthamboora

·        Thambura

·        Tamboora 

It is also available in three distinct styles being:

·        The miraj style: This is the typical north Indian version of the instrument as discussed above

·        The Tanjore style: This is mainly found in the southern parts of India and a favorite amongst the Carnatic musicians

·        Tamburi: This is the smallest type of tanpura and is popular amongst musicians who travel

 

 

Santoor

The santoor is a musical instrument that originated in the beautiful lands of Kashmir, also known as heaven on earth. The ancient or rather original santoor had over a hundred strings and was considered the forerunner of the piano. This instrument was formerly known as the Shatatantri Veena since it had a hundred strings.

The modern day instrument has eighty-seven metal strings that are strung across a hollow trapezoidal box carved either from walnut or maple wood. The top and bottom of the instrument’s framework is covered by either veneer or plywood. The strings are clubbed together in sets of three, thus there are 29 sets of strings. Steel tuning pegs are fixed on the right side of the instrument.

While playing the santoor the musician is required to keep the instrument in a particular manner. He or she has to bear in mind that the wide side should be facing them and the narrow end should be towards the audience or listeners. Also, the musician could either place this musical instrument on their lap or on a stand, which is of comfortable length.

The Indian santoor has counterparts that are played in various parts of the world. These are:

·        Yang qin (China)

·        Zymbalon (Romania)

·        Cimbalon (Hungary)

·        Santoori (Greece)

·        Santoo (Iran)

·        Kanteli (Finland)

 

This instrument can be played solo or then can be accompanied with other instruments. Initially it was played as an accompaniment for Sufi hymns. According to archeological and historical findings this instrument was made from dried grass during the Vedic period.  

 

Veena

The veena is probably the most ancient of all the Indian stringed instruments. It basically has a large body with a hollow belly; a stem; and the neck, which is generally carved into a strange figure that resembles the head of a dragon. This instrument has seven strings. Four of them are the main strings that are attached to the pegs, which are fixed on the neck. The other three are attached to the side. They are used as rhythmic accompaniments.

The musician plays this instrument by being seated on the ground. They then place the instrument in front of them resting the neck on one of their shoulders. The right hand is generally used for plucking the main strings and the left hand for tuning the pegs as per requirement.

Above is the description of the veena in general. However, this instrument is available in a variety of modified versions, each been given a title. These are as follows:

·        Saraswati Veena: This probably the oldest of all the veena types and has been given an important stature in Indian society. This is said to have been the divine musical instrument of Saraswati, the goddess of music. Its body is generally carved from jack wood. Saraswati veena has four playing strings and three drone strings.

·        The Rudra Veena is commonly associated with the Dhrupad type of Hindustani music. The body of this instrument is basically a hollow tube carved out of teakwood.

·        The Vichitra Veena is a modified version of the rudra veena. It has a broad stem with six main strings attached to the wooden tuning pegs. A plectrum is used to string this instrument.

The veena has been mentioned in most of the Hindu scriptures, especially in the Vedas. The cave paintings of Ajanta and temple art of the sixth and seventh centuries have depictions of this archaic stringed musical instrument.

 

 

Tabla

The tabla though in the singular is the name given to the two drums that are either played as an accompaniment to other instruments or vocalists; or as a solo performance. This is one of the essential instruments of the Hindustani music forms and is also regarded as This is also regarded as the principal percussion instrument of Hindustani music.

One of the drums is made to create high-pitched sounds and the other one is used for low pitch sounds. Generally, the one with high pitch is played by the right hand and the low-pitched is played by the left hand. The right hand drum is also known as dahina and then left one is known as bayan. One can make out the difference between the two, as the dahina gives rise to a number of resonant ringing and clicking sounds. Whereas the bayan produces swooping bass sounds

Both the drums have a large black spot their playing surfaces. These spots are made from a mixture of gum, soot and iron filings. Their primary function is to bring about a bell-like resonance, which is one of the outstanding characteristics of this percussion instrument.

After the initial days of the tabla being invented, various musicians created their own schools of playing thereby bringing into being a number of tabla gharanas. Each one had a peculiar style and form, which was carried forward for generations. These include:

·        Delhi gharana

·        Ajrara gharana

·        Benares gharana

·        Farukhabad gharana

·        Lucknow gharana

·        Punjab

In general a tabla solo performance is divided into 5 stages, which are:

·        Uthan or Mohra: This is the prelude or introductory piece. It usually begins slowly and flows into a crescendo to lay the ground for the next stage of performance

·        Peshkar is the first performance of the concert. In this stage the musician is given an opportunity to warm up for the rest of the show.

·        Kaida is the central section or the part where the theme is elaborated. This word actually means ‘rule’. The musician generally begins this section with a preconceived composition and as he or she goes through it they add improvisations

·        Tukda are the small short compositions that follow the kaida

·        Gatactually means gait and this stage marks the steady movement of the rhythms emanated by the tabla player

Rela means rushing or flooding. In this section the tabla player plays rapidly non-stop till he or she reaches the finally beat. This is like the grand finale of every stage performance.

 

 

Indian percussion instruments

There are a large number of Indian percussion instruments. Some of them are known around the world such as the tabla, while a large number of them have never been heard about either in India or abroad. Here is a an exhaustive list of almost all Indian percussion instruments that has existed in the past or continues to exist even today:

·        Pakhawaj is the traditional north Indian wooden drum that is played horizontally. It has a long body and both sides are covered with skin having a long body.

·        Mridangam is mainly used as an accompaniment for Carnatic music. It looks like the pakhawaj, with the actual difference being the coverings of the ends

·        Dholak is a cylindrical side drum, which is one of the basic accompaniments for north Indian folk music.

·        Nagara is a percussion instrument made out of clay and played with mallets

·        Ghatam is a clay pot with metal shavings that create a resonance when being played. The pot’s opening is held against the musician’s body while the broad round end is being tunefully tapped upon.

·        Bhangam is a percussion instrument made from clay and has been mentioned in various Tamil texts

·        Mondai is a south Indian clay percussion instrument

·        Ubhangam is an archaic clay instrument that was used in South India

·        Bheri is a drum in a conical shape

·        Damaru is a drum in the shape of an hourglass. It has a string tied in the center and the ends knotted. When this drum is shaken the knotted ends strike the ends of the drum. It is also known as Lord Shiva’s instrument.

·        Dholki is a horizontal drum in the shape of a barrel

·        Gummati is a pot drum that was used by the rural inhabitants of Andhra Pradesh

 

 

Bansuri

Bansuri is a type of flute that is carved from bamboo. It is generally played in the vertical position. It has six to seven finger holes, and some of them have additional one or two holes for tuning. Apart from being one the oldest Indian musical instruments, it is presently used in the west too.

A large number of fusion bands as well as musicians belonging to other genres of music use this variation of the flute. The music from this instrument is soothing and relaxing. The bansuri is mainly played in north India. Venu is a south Indian variation of this flute and has eight holes. This Indian music instrument is known by varied names such as algoza, bansi, kolalu, kolavi, kukhl, murali, nar, pava, pillankuzhal, pillangrovi, pulangoil and vamsi.

According to Hindu mythological texts and certain scriptures Lord Shiva chose the bansuri to play the role of goddess of destruction. Apart from that is was the musical instrument of Lord Krishna. Radha and the gopis are known to have danced to Lord Krishna’s tunes.

There are basically two types of bansuris:

·        The vertical type is only popular as a folk instrument in the northern parts of India

·        The horizontal type is used in varied genres of music such as folk, classical and devotional

The parts of a typical bansuri include:

·        The dandi, which is its body. It is generally made from reed, cane or bamboo. They are made in a design to taper at the mouth end 

·        The mukha randhra is the blowing hole, which technically known as the embouchure

·        Swar randhra are the finger holes, which produce the tunes in accordance to the dance of the fingers on them.

·        Garbha randhra is the opening at the other end of the flute from where the tunes flow out.

·        Rassi is the twine that is wound around the bansuri to prevent it from cracking.

The technique for playing this musical instrument is basic, however you would require training in creating tunes and compositions. Basically the opening of the flute is placed on the lower lip so that you can blow through it. You hold the flute horizontally with your thumbs and three fingers of the left hand, and four of the right hand directs the sound. This is done by opening or closing the holes on the body of the flute.

 

 

Shennai

The shennai is an Indian wind instrument. This quadruple-reed instrument has a tube that widens towards the lower end. This instrument has either eight or nine holes of which the lower two are used for tuning and the upper ones are meant for playing. This instrument is considered a symbol of festivity and celebration.

For centuries the shennai has held an important position in Indian culture. Since time immemorial every auspicious function commenced to the sounds of this wind instrument. Those this maybe a traditional custom, even today, many temples begin the day by playing this instrument. It is considered an auspicious way of waking up the gods.

Though there are not to many renowned exponents in the musical field of shennai playing, going down into the deeper regions of north India, you will come across innumerable budding talents. Unfortunately they have not been given adequate formal training and minimal exposure. They are just known locally and asked to play at weddings and other festive occasions.  

Playing this instrument is not very simple. You are required to learn the basic technique in terms of the notes that emanate as you move your fingers. Apart from this breath control is an important aspect in creating tuneful compositions. Though this instrument is played solo during auspicious functions and occasions, it is also used as an accompaniment either with other instruments or a vocalist. 

Useful sites / source:

musical instruments - Site about Indian musical instruments, manufacturers & dealers

music classes - Listing of music classes in Indian cities

 

 

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