Tambura
A Tambura (Tanpura) is a classical four (or five) stringed drone instrument, which is a very important part of every Indian concert. It is plucked throughout the concert and serves as the reference point (basic pitch) for performers so as to enable them to render all the other notes in their proper relative positions. In recent times, various types of electronic Tamburas and digital discs are being used for convenience.

Tanpura introduction
It was back in the 90’s when I came up with the idea of writing a book on the tanpura. I started gathering information and writing documents on all different aspects involving the instrument. The book was never really finished and therefore not published. Instead I decided it would be a great service to my customers and anyone who is interested, to be able to read some of the basic information on the internet, and to use it for future reference. In this section of the website you can read, among other things, about the following subjects concerning the tanpura:

General information about the tanpura including:
-The function of the tanpura
-A brief history of the tanpura
-How to maintain a tanpura ( this article applies to most Indian stringed instruments)
-Tanpura construction, including information on the tanpura makers of Miraj
-Types of present day tanpuras

A tanpura manual, including:
-Playing and sitting positions
-The process of tuning the tanpura
-Restringing a tanpura, with various tables of the types of strings and their thicknesses. Also a step for step guide for replacing a string.

The main characteristic of the tanpura is the flat table bridge, known as the Jawari. The section on Jawari will also be of great value to read.

Jawari articles, including:
-An introduction explaining what Jawari is and its function within the Indian music.
-A very interesting article about the origin of the jawari and the flat table bridge.
-Maintaining the jawari
-The science of Jawari
-Other instruments using Jawari principles.

As I mentioned earlier, some of the information is old and may need updating. I therefore invite you to send me your comments and suggestions.
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Construction and Function of the tanpura: A Tambura is made of wood (mostly jack wood). It has a long unfretted neck with bone / ivory inlays. The neck has a bowl shaped resonator at the lower end that vibrates and amplifies the sound. At the upper end of the neck are tuning pegs.The Tambura has four strings that run from the bottom of the bowl to the tuning pegs over a broad ivory bridge mounted on the resonator. Fine-tuning is done with the help of beads between the lower end and the bridge. Besides, fine silk threads called "jeeva" are used between the bridge and the strings. When positioned perfectly, these threads cause the strings to "buzz" and enhance the tonal quality. This is one of the unique features of the Tambura.

Function of the tanpura
The function of the tanpura in Indian music is twofold. Firstly, the tanpura tuned to the tonic creates a drone, and it is to this drone that the notes of the raga relate. Indian classical music is modal in form, consequently giving the drone a fundamentally prominent function.

The second basic function involves the consonant and dissonant tones produced by the raga, the former suggesting satisfaction, peace and rest, and the latter tension, excitement and unrest. Furthermore, the tension or unrest caused by dissonant notes must always be resolved into rest. That rest we find in the tonic or the drone.
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Tanpura history

Historical development of the tanpura

RagamalaTanpura, tambura and many variations on the name are found from Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey, throughout North-Africa, the Middle-East and India. It is not only found as a lute but also as lyres and drums. It is therefore a little difficult to determine exactly which instrument is being discussed when doing research.

There are two main fields of thought concerning the development and growth of the Indian tanpura. Firstly, that the tanpura was a natural development from the indigenous instruments within India itself. Secondly, the fact that the Arab-Persian musicians introduced not only their music, but also their instruments, namely the tanbur.

I would also like to add that the Indian tanpura is rather special in the sense that it is actually a lute shaped instrument, played as a lyre. In my mind the tanpura could in fact also be categorized as a lyre. Even though it looks like a lute, its playing technique, stringing and purpose could easily be categorized as a lyre. However the shape of the modern day tanpura probably means the instrument did evolve from the tanbur, but was influenced by the lyre and the sound from the ancient instruments from the pre-Indus valley times (see chapter on the historical development of Jawari). What stays a mystery, is how this instrument really developed between the Indus valley period up until the 6th century.

The development of the tanpura within India can be followed back to the early stick-zithers. Sculptures from about the 6th and 7th centuries depict long lute players, only it is difficult to determine exactly what kind of instrument they are. They do however imply that the drone was used in one way or another. As far as the flat bridge is concerned (see chapter on the historical development of Jawari), we see that it is possible that as long ago as 2500 BC the basic concept concerning the sound quality of the tanpura i.e. the production of buzz and overtones was known. This was certainly true in the lyre family from Mesopotamia and later Africa.
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Tanpura manual

This is manual of the tanpura, including many aspects. Please look at the links on the left, for the different aspects.

Care and the Maintaining the Tanpura

Sitars and tanpuras are instruments which must be cared for like a baby. In fact, tanpuras and sitars are such instruments which have to be constantly monitored. Sitars and tanpuras are extremely expensive outside of India and one mishap can cost you from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

On a lighter note, here are some simple things you can do to care for your tanpura or sitar

1) Whatever you do, protect the gourd!
The gourd is made from a pumpkin! Imagine taking all the juice outside of a pumpkin, having it dried out, and then used as a sound-box for an instrument! It'll be delicate like anything. Avoid any sudden movements with the instrument and carry a carrying case. It is worth the extra money getting the case rather than wasting more money trying to repair the damaged gourd or getting an entirely new instrument! Whatever you do, protect the gourd as if it was a baby!

2) Loosen your strings!
For tanpuras, it should not be problem. For sitars, however, it'll be drag to loosen the strings and then retightened them up again when it comes time to practice or perform. But it is very important for the vitality of the instrument. Un-slacked tanpuras and sitars will loosen in the range of tuning. In addition, it'll slowly damage the bridge. In the tanpura and the sitar, the flat bridge is known as the jawari, made of camel bone. The contour of the jawari is done in such a way, that the unique buzz forms. Due to age and strings tensions on the jawari, the strings will cut grooves into the jawari which will result in dull, muffled, or off-key sounds. This is why the jawari has to be filed. Of course, if you slack your strings, the frequency of performing jawari fine-tuning is less than tight strings.

3) Change your strings every three months!
If you play your instrument every day, then change its strings every three months. If you play it here and there, you can extent that period to every six or seven months. It's just proper maintenance requirements of the instrument.

4) Avoid extreme temperatures!
Treat the sitar or tanpura as if it was a person. Better yet, treat it as if it was a baby. They will react to any weather condition you put it through. In the heat, the wood can crack and the entire instrument will be no good. In the cold, the gourd will break. In either state, the strings will slacked or loosen or just go off-key. Keep it in a room with a controlled temperature.

5) Do not leave it unsupervised!
Kids get easily fascinated with any Indian instrument. Even though it’s good for their morale, it can be potentially hazardous for the owner. Keep it away from children in such a spot where there is a controlled room temperature in a case with a lock.

Of course... mistakes can happen. One day, you might end up accidentally placing the instrument too hard on the ground and you hear a crack and created a hole in the gourd. If it has a hairline crack, don't worry about it. Just treat it a little more sensitively. If you seem holes or a huge break, then you will end up having to find all of those broken shells and have it repaired. The way tanpura and sitar repair people fix broken gourds is they take the pieces of the broken gourd and fix them together. The result is a gourd which is much stronger than before. The best bet overall is just to buy an entire new instrument. In most cases, it's cheaper to do that than to get it repaired in America.

For those insisting on getting it repaired, here is great link on how to fix gourd issues.

Keeping the tanpura in good condition is relatively simple. Besides regular cleaning there are a few
This is a tumba with water damage.
This is a tumba with water damage.
This is a large crack on the back of the neck of a tanpura
This is a large crack on the
back of the neck of a tanpura
basic tips to learn. Of course it's important to know that the room temperature where you store your instrument should not be less than 5 degrees Celsius, and it should have a very low humidity level otherwise the strings will quickly rust. If either one of these factors should prove to be a problem then it is advisable to keep the instrument wrapped in a blanket and/or stored in its box.
When cleaning the instrument use a shellac based furniture polish only. Use a soft cloth, apply a little polish, wait half a minute and rub until it shines like new.

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Tuning Schemes of the Tanpura

Tuning Schemes of the TanpuraTanpura tuning is pretty simple, as the general rule will be the same.

Every tanpura must have at least four strings. There is no such tanpura under four strings. Some people may own a five, six, or even a seven stringed tanpura, but the general procedure holds true on how to tune.

First: Decide what key you are going to tune your tanpura to. This is important, because your tanpura has a limited range of what key it can play. Over-tightening your tanpura will either result in the breaking of the string, damage to the bridge, or excessive weight that can actually puncture the tumba on a gourd tanpura. Since the bridge is the cause of the buzz on the tanpura, improper tuning methods can destroy the bridge or destroy the sound.

TUNING FOUR STRINGED TANPURAS

There are three classes of tanpuras.

Male Range: B below middle C to D# above middle C
Female Range: F above middle C to A# above middle C
Instrumental Range: B above middle C to C# one octave above middle C.

If you are planning to sing in the key of A# and you have a male tanpura, then you will have to find alternative solutions, which will be presented later. Nonetheless, identify what key you will tune to and see if it is acceptable with your tanpura.

Given that it is, look at the following chart.

The fourth string (far right) is tuned to Pa below Sa. The second and third strings are tuned to Sa on the middle range. Thus, the second and third strings should sound exactly the same. The first string (far left) will be tuned to Sa below the mid-range octave.

Depending on some models of the tanpura, the order of the strings shown above maybe reversed.

TUNING TANPURAS BEYOND FOUR STRINGS

The first three strings will follow the exact same format as the four-stringed model of tuning shows.

The last two strings on the five string can be tuned to Pa with Ma in whichever order is acceptable. More strings to the tanpura can allow combination, but it has to fit with the raga.

The rule of thumb in tuning a tanpura will remain common, that the last three strings be tuned to S, S, and 'S respectively (Sa in the mid-octave, Sa in the mid-octave, and Sa in the lower octave). However, even in the four stringed model, there will be exceptions

PA TUNING
As shown in the diagram, which most ragas will use.

MA TUNING
Some ragas like Malkauns, Lalita, and Ragesri lack a 5th note (Pa) or emphasize the ma strongly. Therefore, the first string is tuned to suddha ma.

NI TUNING: (MALE TANPURAS)
In male tanpuras, tuning the first string to suddha Ni is acceptable when
1) It is evening
2) The raga lacks suddha ma AND Pa
3) If the vadi/samvadi pair is suddha Ga and suddha Ni

Since the pitch is low, it blends well with the tonic.

MISCELLANEOUS TUNING: (FEMALE TANPURAS)

For ragas that lack suddha ma and Pa, female tanpuras should tune to the note closest to suddha ma or pa based on the raga being played. It is always good to check if your tanpura can go as high as Ni. If it can, use that. Otherwise, find the note and tune to that.

WHAT IF YOUR TANPURA CANNOT REACH THE DESIRED SA?

It is very possible that your tanpura cannot hit a certain pitch. The best solution is use Sa-Pa to Sa-Ma conversions.

Find your current Sa and current Pa notes.

Let your current Pa be equal to your new Sa
Let your current Sa be equal to your new suddha ma.

It might sound awkward at first, but it definitely works out. The frequency of your Sa and Pa are untouched, but just transposed on a more user-friendly scale for your tanpura.
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Types of Tanpuras
In the types of tanpuras that exist in India, there are generally two bigger classes: the North Indian (Hindustani) and South Indian (Carnatic) models. The North Indian types are known as the “Miraj” models as they originate from the town of Miraj. The South Indian model is known as the Tanjore tanpura.


MIRAJ MODELS

MALE TANPURA:
MALE TANPURA
These types of tanpuras are very tall. They accommodate male pitches from the key of B to D#. They have a very deep sound and hold a great deal of sustain.

FEMALE TANPURA:
FEMALE TANPURA:

These tanpuras are not as tall as the male ones. They are used to accommodate female pitches from the key of F to A#.

TANPURI: THE INSTRUMENTAL TANPURA

These small tanpuras are used to accompany an instrument, a male-ranged female vocalist, or just to use for ease of transporting the instrument around. The instrumental tanpura, also known as tanpuri, is much easier to work with as the tumba, or the sound box, is not made of gourd, like the male and female tanpuras. It is made of wood. Nowadays, ideas are being made to create fiberglass tumba tanpuras which are virtually indestructible by normal usage.

TANJORE MODEL: THE CARNATIC TANPURA
CARNATIC TANPURA

The Carnatic tanpura is known as the Tanjore tanpura. The body is made from a complete full block of jackwood. It's bridge made of bronze, unlike the Miraj models.

NEWER MODELS:

MACHINE-TUNED TANPURAS
MACHINE-TUNED TANPURAS

This model of the tanpuri is a more advanced version than most of the tanpuras shown above. Even though the sound quality will be certainly inferior to the gourd-tumba male or female tanpuras, the tuning will hold longer since the tuning pegs are machine based, rather than wood-in-the-hole method. The tuning beads below help fine tuning better than previous models.

BOX TANPURAS:
BOX TANPURA
The box tanpura was an idea that came in 2004 by a renowned and famous musician and instrument-maker, Rikhi Ram. This tanpura is to allow the maximum potential for sound to come without the need of a very big instrument or dealing with the fragile nature of the gourds. The sound emission shown here is similar to a guitar, where a sound hole allows all of the sound to escape. Like the machine tuned tanpuri, this is tuned using machine guitar peg tuners.
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Tanpura MP3s and Video

Here are lengthy loops of MP3s of tanpura.

Sa-Pa-Sa Tuning:
Listen Tanpura Audio


WATCH VIDEO

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