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Indian Classical Music……Instruments

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After some heavy articles on Raagas and Swaras, now I am going to talk about the instruments which are prominently and extensively used in Indian Classical Music.

  1. Harmonium

Most of you must have played or atleast seen the Harmonium. Originated in Denmark, Copenhagen, in the early-18th century, this instrument reached the Indian subcontinent by the mid-19th century and since then it is being used in Indian Classical music. The body of this instrument is mainly made out of teak, pine or mahogany wood.  An average harmonium consists of around 3 or 31/2 octaves i.e. about 36 or 42 keys. There are generally 15 black and 21 white keys.mzl.uyojcpms.1024x1024-65 The black key which is marked as red in the figure is generally considered to be the starting or the ‘Sa’ of the octave. In Hindi it is known as the ‘pehla kaala’ (1st black). Most of the male singers use this 1st black key as their base key (i.e. ‘Sa’). The key which is marked as yellow in figure is known as the ‘paanchva kaala’ (5th black) in hindi and is generally used as the base key by female singers.  Harmonium, unlike a synthesizer (keyboard) doesn’t use any sort of power for its functioning. It is a simple ‘organ’ instrument which works with the help of reeds. A reed is a ‘dry bamboo stick’ which is placed inside the harmonium in such a manner that when air flows in through the holes of that reed it vibrates and produces sound. Harmoniums are often seen in Classical music concerts, Qawwali festivals and also at Ghazals nights.  Harmonium can be classified as-

a. Hand-pumped harmonium

harmoniumIn this type of harmonium, air is pushed-in through the reed of the instrument with the help of a flap which is operated with the hands. I guess everyone must have seen this type of harmonium. It is the most famous kind of harmonium and is used extensively in our classical music. It is used in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in our other neighbouring countries.

b. Foot-pumped harmonium

In this type of harmonium, air is pushed-in through the reed of the instrument with the help of a peddle which is operated with the foot.  This is a very old type and is not used so often nowadays.

2. Tanpura/Tambura

A Tanpura is a string instrument which is regarded as the most important instrument in Indian classical music. Before harmonium was introduced, we used Tanpura and the tabla as instruments for daily practice (Riyaaz) and in concerts.Tanpura-Male The base of Tanpura is generally made out of a hollow pumpkin or different other gourds. The structure of a Tanpura is similar to a sitar but unlike sitar it doesn’t have any frets. A Tanpura has 4 or 5 strings (very rarely 6 also) and the strings are plucked in a particular rhythmic manner which produces sound and doesn’t let the singer to go ‘off-key’ or ‘besura’ in hindi. The strings of the Tanpura are tuned generally in the pattern pa-Sa-Sa-Sa or ma-Sa-Sa-Sa. The 1st string is tuned to the ‘Pa’ note of the octave. The 2 strings after that are tuned to the same note i.e. the ‘Sa’ and these both collectively are known as the ‘jodi ki taar’. The 4th and last string is also tuned to the ‘Sa’ but this is the corresponding ‘Sa’ note of the lower octave. Playing a Tanpura is very easy but the posture in which the player has to sit in is a very difficult job in itself. Nowadays electric Tanpura is used by many musicians. An electric Tanpura is a small electrical device which produces a sound similar to an original Tanpura but as the quote prevails ‘original always remains original ’it is not as natural as the original one is.

In the next article I’ll talk about the each and every part of the Tanpura individually as it is a very important instrument for classical musicians.

I hope that knowing a few details about these instruments was interesting.

There are further lots and lots of things that we need to discuss. Many more instruments, many new concepts about raagas and also I’ll tell a little something about ‘Taal’ (rhythm) in my upcoming articles.

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