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Reply with quote  #1 
A client eMailed me just now asking how to best noodle the strings of a tanpura for optimum sound. My response was a bit lengthy but pretty thorough. Thought I'd paste that response here. It worked very well during those glorious road years.

Here we go !

Assuming the instrument has 4 strings, is in tune and threads set for optimum ( not necessarily maximum ) buzz.

Assuming you're right handed, do the following:

Wash hands.

Clip fingernails real short, particularly the bird and index fingers of the right hand.

Hold tanpura upright and with the strings facing forward or maybe slightly to the right of forward. It will usually be placed on the floor in front of you or if the instrument is small enough - on your lap.

Set right elbow on the instrument on the gourd ( gulu actually ) so that the right forearm is snuggling the side of the neck.

Right hand thumb goes behind the neck. Your hand is now approximately at the middle of the string length. This is ideal for getting the first harmonic going after plucking and therefore the best fundamental sound for all the strings.

Reach around the front of the neck with the right hand. Hand must be well clear of all the strings. Bird finger goes for the first string ( the one on your left ). Index finger will engage the remaining strings. Make it pretty by keeping all four fingers reasonably close together and form an Emily Post graceful curve to the fingers. Looks good and sounds good. Also very important - try to keep the right hand fingers almost parallel to the strings. This will reduce the "Hard plucking" element and promote the "smooth stroke" element.

Plucking order is :

1, 2, 3, 4, silent 5. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. For a true professional touch, stretch the pause between strings 1 and 2 just a tad. This will force you to NOT get into a lock step beat with or without the tabla. With this potential percussive effect now in check, a drone wash element is more easily achieved.

Finger technique on those strings:

Three definite motions MUST be applied in a smooth and seamless manner.

Press each string down toward the front of the neck. DO NOT lift and pluck the strings.

Rub the string in a downward motion. That is - down toward the bridge ( floor ). Think " Nice kitty kitty ".

Gently roll the string off the SIDE of the finger. With the hand well clear of the strings, there should be zero palm damping.

Doing these three motions together in an almost rolling manner will do wonders for getting that wall of sound.

Note here how well the instrument can sustain a vibrating string. Gauge the best tempo for the individual string / finger hits and also each pass of the playing pattern.

Note also how heavy you are hitting the strings with the finger. Gauge the weight of the finger attack and maintain optimum string ADSR ( attack, decay, sustain, release ). End result should be that solid wall of sound.

While playing, come back to the real world periodically to verify tuning and if you're playing backup for a vocalist or instrument, check that the feature artist isn't wanting an adjustment from you regarding volume, speed of playing or outright silence.

Be comfortable while playing. As one who suffers from the "Anglo-Saxon Curse" ( legs losing circulation while sitting on a floor ), rock your body discreetly from left to right as needed. Think of this as the "one cheek sneak". A small rolled up towel can be placed so that your tailbone rests on it rather than the floor. Works for me. Might for you.

Enjoy the instrument while playing. That feeling will be transferred to the instrument and finally to the audience ears.

Hope that helps ! ! !



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Posts: 162
Reply with quote  #2 
Great post. Thanx Tony.

Posts: 490
Reply with quote  #3 
absolutely spot on description of how to do it RIGHT. I'm amazed how few people know how to play tambura correctly.makes a HUGE difference in the overall sound when stroked as described, you get a rich, almost 'bowed' sound and after a few minutes of play, a good tambura almost starts playing itself.
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