Journey of the Tanpura

Written by Chaitra Sontakke on 22 November 2017

Journey of the Tanpura

For a student it takes time to procure a good Tanpura and more importantly tune the instrument perfectly in order to practice. For children this may be a difficult task to perform. Hence the electronic Tanpura was innovated by Radel Electronics. Though the reception to this instrument was slow initially, the idea picked up among the students who travelled for work or studies. They found it as an easy replacement to carry around. Practice could be done anywhere, anytime!

In this era of Smartphones and apps, the idea of electronic Tanpura took no time to upgrade into the app. These apps are auto tuned, hence demand no skill from the student. Students only need to choose the right key and they can find a perfectly tuned Tanpura playing for their practice. The Tanpura is in one’s pocket and using earphones and playing it to oneself could be a good option to practice sometimes. Though apps cannot replace the feel of the original Tanpura, the apps are used at concerts and sometimes in order to maintain an accurate reference even to the real Tanpura. Real instruments are often affected by weather and strong lights, but the apps perform accurately.

Tanpura Playing Technique

  1. Be seated in a cross legged posture on a mat.
  2. Place the Tanpura on your lap
  3. Rest your right arm in parallel to the stem of the Tanpura. Thumb rests on the stem. Your fingers need to be almost parallel to the strings.
  4. Strum using the left edge of your fingers. For Pancham, use middle finger. For the three Sa strings use fore finger.
  5. For Hindustani style play all four strings at equal intervals.
  6. For Carnatic style play Pancham for 2 counts.
  7. You could also play the Tanpura keeping it horizontally. The seating would be cross legged position.

Tanpura tuning Technique

There are different Tanpuras available to suit a male voice and a female voice. The male voices are generally in the Shrutis between C, C#, D. The female voices are in the range of G#, A, A#. Children’s voice is in the same range as  female voices. The male Tanpuras are larger in size and the gauge of the strings used is suitable for the male Shrutis. The female Tanpuras are constructed with strings suitable for specific Shrutis ranging from G# to A#. Tanpura string can be customized to one’s Shruti. Using different gauge strings.

  1. Choose the Tanpura of your Shruti
  2. Use a reference of a standard tuned Harmonium/Shruti box/Electronic Tanpura/Tanpura app for tuning the Jodi strings.
  3. Tuning is done by tightening or loosening the strings using the knobs or Khoonti. Tighten the string to increase the pitch. Loosen the string to reduce the pitch.
  4. Use the beads or Mankas provided at the bottom of the strings below the bridge. Pulling the Manka down, tightens the string. Pushing it up loosens the string. Adjust the placement of the Mankas simultaneously playing the string.
  5. Notice the threads placed below the strings on the bridge. These threads can be slided up or down till you achieve the desired tone. Do this as you are continuously playing the string.

Using the Radel Tanpura

The electronic Tanpuras by Radel or any other company are auto tuned. To use the device follow the steps give below after switching on the device:

  • Choosing your pitch

Select from G, G#, A, A# for a female voice and C, C#, D for a male voice. A child’s voice could range from G# to B. Use the increase and decrease arrows to choose your pitch.

  • Setting Octave

Make sure that your Tanpura is in Octave 3, this is presented by the suffix - A3 . In a real Tanpura the strings of different gauge are used for a female voice Tanpura and a male voice Tanpura.

  • String Selection

For the first string of your Tanpura – 3 options are given - Pa , Ma , Ni. By default the Tanpura is in Pa. You may change it to Ma or Ni when you are required to sing Ragas which do not include Pa in the Aaroh Avaroh. For general purpose, make sure that your first string option selected is Pa.

  • Hindustani and Carnatic Pluck

In the Hindustani pluck style, the Pancham is played for a shorter duration of one count sustain. The four strings are played at uniform intervals. In the Carnatic pluck, the first string Pa is played for a longer duration of 2 counts sustain. The Sa strings are played for one count. Choose your pluck style by pressing and holding 2 arrow switches as indicated on the device.

OM Riyaaz with the e-Tanpura

The OM Book (Online Music Book - learning material for Shankar Mahadevan Academy students) has an inbuilt electronic Tanpura  for practicing, it helps in acquiring clarity of voice, focusing on the stability of the note and matching student’s pitch perfectly with the Tanpura. Here’s an image of the OM Book showing the tools:  e-Tanpura and OM Riyaaz:


The e-Tanpura allows you to select the scale you’d like to practice in.  

OM Riyaaz Recorder in the OM Book is an integrated practice tool which allows students to:

  • Record their voice
  • Play back and listen to the recordings
  • Submit the recordings for expert feedback.

The infographic below shows how to use the OM Riyaaz Recorder.

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Want to sing in perfect pitch? Find out about it in our next post. Stay tuned!