Type: Lute > Chordophone.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Many, India.
Region: South Asia.
Description: The tanpura [in Hindi: तानपूरा or tambura, tanpuri] it is a long-necked plucked string instrument found in various forms in Indian music. The tanpura is used throughout numerous forms of Indian Music. The tampura provides a constant loop, a rich pallet of timbre and colour. This is a determinant factor in the resulting sound. The tanpura played unchangingly during the complete performance.
History: Tanpura’s form the root of the ensemble and indeed of the music itself, as the tanpura creates an acoustic dynamic reference chord from which the ragas (melodic modes) derive their distinctive character, colour and flavour. Stephen Slawek notes that by the end of the 16th century, the tanpura had “fully developed in its modern form”, and was seen in the miniature paintings of the Mughals. Slawek further suggests that due to structural similarity the sitar and tanpura share a related history.
Sizes & Tunings: Tanpuras come in different sizes and pitches: larger “males”, smaller “females” for vocalists, and a yet smaller version is used for accompanying sitar or sarod, called tanpuri. These play at the octave so as not to drown out the soloist’s lower registers. Male vocalists use the biggest instruments and pitch their tonic note (Sa), often at D, C♯ or lower, some go down to B-flat; female singers usually a fifth higher, though these tonic notes may vary according to the preference of the singer, as there is no absolute and fixed pitch-reference in the Indian Classical music systems.
One female singer may take her ‘sa’ at F, another at A, sitariyas tune mostly around C♯, sarodiyas [Sarode players] around C, sarangiyas vary more between D and F♯, and bansuriyas [bansuri players] mostly play from E. The male tanpura has an open string length of approximately one metre; the female is three-fourths of the male.
The standard tuning is 5-8-8-1 [G C′ C′ c] or, in Indian sargam Pa-sa-sa-Sa. For ragas that omit the fifth tone, pa, the first string is tuned down to the natural fourth: 4-8-8-1 or [F c c C] Ma-sa-sa-Sa. Some ragas require a less common tuning with shuddh or komal NI [7th major/minor], NI-sa-sa-SA or 7-8-8-1, or even with the 6th, Dha-s-s-S, major or minor. With a five-string instrument, the seventh or NI [natural minor or major 7th] can be added: PA-NI-sa-sa-SA [5-7-8-8-1]or MA-NI-sa-sa-SA [4-7-8-8-1]. Both minor and major 7th harmonics are clearly distinguishable in the harmonic texture of the overall sound, so when the Ni – strings are tuned into these harmonics, the resultant sound will be perfectly harmonious. Usually the octave strings are in steel wire, and the tonic, 4th or 5th strings in brass or bronze wire. If a string will be tuned to the 6th or 7th, a steel string is advised instead.
Construction: The body shape of the tanpura somewhat resembles that of the sitar, but it has no frets – as the strings are always plucked at their full lengths. One or more tanpuras may be used to accompany vocalists or instrumentalists. It has four or five (rarely six) metal strings, which are plucked one after another in a regular pattern to create a harmonic resonance on the basic notes of a key
Varieties: Miraj style: the favourite form of tanpura for Hindustani performers. It is usually between three and five feet in length, with a carved, rounded resonator plate [tabli] and a long, hollow straight neck, in section resembling a rounded capital D. The round lower chamber to which the [tabli], the connecting heel-piece and the neck [dandh] are fixed is cut from a selected and dried gourd [tumba]. Wood used is either tun or teak; bridges are usually cut from one piece of bone.
Tanjore style: This is a south Indian style of tambura, used widely by Carnatic performers. It has a somewhat different shape and style of decoration from that of the miraj although the miraj and tanjore tampura of the same size. Typically, no gourd is used, but the spherical part is gouged out of a solid block of wood. The neck is somewhat smaller in diameter. Jackfruit [Artocarpus heterophyllus] is used throughout; bridges are usually cut from one piece of rosewood. Often, two rosettes are drilled out and ornamented with inlay work.