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Tanpura Playing Technique

Holding the tanpura

Tanpuras are usually played whilst holding them in an upright position in the lap or whilst standing on the ground. They can also be played put across the lap or placed on the ground lengthwise.

Position of hand and fingers

The classical style of playing aims at producing a continuous drone sound as rich in overtones as possible. For this purpose, the thumb supporting the hand, is positioned in such a way at the neck of the tanpura that the fingers are placed not across but if possible parallel to and approx. over the centre of the strings.

wrong position

How to pluck the strings

In the described position the first string is plucked with the middle finger, the second, third and fourth with the index finger, one after the other. The strings are plucked with the soft part of the finger tip, and the action itself is more like a striking or rolling of the string than actually plucking it. By playing in such a way, the strings should sound as softly as possible, without making a striking or build up noise.

The two images above show the plucking index finger directly before and after plucking the second string.

Rhythm of plucking

A regular rhythm is kept to where every string is struck in approx. the same tempo, except the fourth has some more time to fade away. The rhythm is not monotonous, machine-like or metrically fixed but a free floating organic vibration.

In conclusion

The sound of the tanpura is for Indian Music like the earth for us humans: she carries us most of the time without us noticing it. Every movement we make within the bounds of her gravity, she defines our understanding of space. If she has too many cracks or rocks we stumble and move only with difficulty. We are tied to her and at the same time she is our base for excursions into infinity.