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Bansuri

Welcome to indianflutemusic.com, your gateway to the classical music of northern India. Enjoy!

Bansuri: The Bamboo Flute of Northern India

The bansuri is a transverse (side-blown) bamboo flute from northern India. It is one of the world's most ancient instruments, having existed in more or less its current form for about 4,000 years. This site is dedicated to the bansuri, and to the classical music of northern India (Hindustani Sangeet: the raga), as the two in combination can produce music unparalleled in its beauty.

 

 

You are now listening to Kerry Kriger playing alap in Darbari.

Your first bansuri lesson

This video is a good start for those new to the bansuri. See more of my videos on the indianflutemusic YouTube Channel.

 

Website updates

-- New video lesson added June 14th, 2014: watch me give a flute lesson in Jog.


Compositions for Bansuri

My brand new 205-page book "Compositions for Bansuri" will soon be available exclusively at indianflutemusic.com! It features 195 pages of compositions that were taught to me directly by India's great flute master Pandit Vijay Raghav Rao. The book is an invaluable resource for anybody interested in Indian Classical Music, regardless of instrument or experience. Please sign up for the Indian Flute Music mailing list so I can keep you informed when it becomes available.

Bansuri Basics - Getting a Sound

Bansuri MusicThis is the most important aspect of playing the bansuri, and the one that makes 99% of potential bansuri players quit on day one! It may take several days before a new player can get a consistent sound, but once you have it, you have it forever, so fight through the first few days! To get a sound, touch the mouth hole to the point half-way down your lower lip, and blow air basically across the top of the hole, almost as if half the air is going into the hole and half over it. Do not attempt to cover more than the first couple holes, for if any hole is not entirely closed you will get no sound whatsoever! I recommend covering only one or two holes at first, or none at all. To balance the flute when no holes are closed, use both thumbs and your right pinky. Your mouth serves as the 4th point of balance.

Notes in Indian Classical Music

Indian music does not used a fixed tonic. Thus while the pitch of "A" in western music is ALWAYS set to 440Hz, the first note of an Indian scale can be any pitch, and all other notes in the scale will be relative to that note. Two benefits of this system are that (1) one can play a given melody (raga) using the same fingerings on any size (pitch) instrument - the entire melody shifts up or down in key, but the feeling produced is the same; and (2) it allows the notes in Indian Music to be based on "just temperament" as opposed to the "equal temperament" scales employed in Western Music. In essence, Indian notes are based on naturally occuring overtones and are thus "pure", while the key changes required by Western Music, require scales with notes that are somewhat compromised.

Thus the notes of the chromatic scale are:
S - Sa (the tonic, 1st note of any scale; played from any pitch!)
r - komal Re (the flat 2nd; "komal" means flat, or literally sweet)
R - shudd Re (natural 2nd; "shudd" means natural, or literally pure)
g - komal Ga (flat 3rd)
G - shudd Ga (natural 3rd)
m - shudd Ma (natural 4th)
M - teevra Ma (sharp 4th; "teevra" means sharp, or literally strong)
P - Pa (the 5th)
d - komal Dha (the flat 6th)
D - shudd Dha (the natural 6th)
n - komal Ni (the flat 7th)
N - shudd Ni (the natural 7th)
S - high Sa (an octave above Sa; would be written with a dot over it to denote high octave; conversely, notes in the low octave are written with a dot underneath them.)

Notice that each note has only one name! This is as opposed to Western Music (where a C sharp is the same as D flat for instance), and it makes things far less confusing. Notice also that the higher version of each note is capitalized. There is another method of writing note names, which is to capitalize all notes, but denote flats by underlining the letter, and to denote a sharp (teevra Ma is the only sharp note), with a vertical bar above the note.

"Kerry, you play beautifully! Listening to this music transforms time and space...it is a very useful tool for reaching other dimensions." -- Karen Roddy

Bansuri Basics - Playing the Notes

The first note (tonic) of any scale in Indian Music is called "Sa". Sa is played by closing the first three holes of the flute. Higher notes are produced by successively lifting fingers (and blowing slightly harder), and lower notes are produced by successively closing fingers (and blowing slightly less forcefully). Thus, the next note higher in the major scale (Bilawal), "Shuddh Re" is played with the top two fingers down, and "Shuddh Ga" (the natural 3rd) is played with only the top hole covered. "Ma", (the natural 4th) is played by closing only (roughly) half of the 1st hole, as it is only a half step above Shudd Ga. "Pa", (the 5th note of the major scale) is played with all 6 holes closed (conceptually: in reality, low Pa on the flute requires 6 holes covered, but the middle and high Pa usually sound best with the very top finger open, and the bottom 5 holes closed!). "Shuddh Dha" (the natural 6th) uses the top 5 holes closed, and "Shuddh Ni" (the natural 7th) uses the top 4 holes closed. Finally, "High Sa" is reached by again covering the top 3 holes; notice however that now you are blowing with much more force than when you played low Sa.

Bansuri Basics - 6 holes or 7

Bansuri - IndiaThe bansuri is made of a hollow piece of bamboo that is cut so as to lack the internodes, which would interfere with the instrument's tuning and tone. A piece of cork is placed a few millimeters above the mouth hole to force all the air to go in the opposite direction, past 6 to 7 finger holes. Most bansuri players currently use only 6 finger holes, as that is the style employed by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the most well-known bansuri player, and the one with the most students. I use a 7th hole (played with my right pinky finger), which enables me to play a half step lower than on a 6-hole flute. With the 7th hole closed, I get as low as teevra Ma (the sharp 4th), which is extremely useful in ragas like Yaman or Puriya. The 7th hole combined with a roll in the flute and reduced force in my breathing enables me to play shuddh Ma (the natural 4th), which is useful in ragas Malkauns or Darbari Kanhra. The 7th hole is also useful for ornaments such as PMDPMP, as the entire ornament can be played in a single register, producing a more fluid sound between notes. Other bansuri players who use the 7th hole include Pandit Vijay Raghav Rao and the late Pandit Panallal Ghosh, who pioneered the style and brought the bansuri to the forefront of Indian Classical Music. In addition to the finger holes, some bansuris have an additional hole that can be played with the area of the leg just above the knee. This allows for yet another half step lower to be played; however, it is rare to see anybody use this hole in a concert, as it is difficult to aim using your knee, and the consequences of a missed note, especially during a slow alap, would be severe.

The Raga - Scales

Each melody in Indian Classical Music is called a raga. Literally translated, raga means "that which colors the mind". Ragas differ based on their scales and their important phrases and notes. Their are thousands of ragas, which are derived from the 72 possible combinations of heptatonic (7-note) scales (known as melakartas in southern India), as well as hundreds of possible combinations of hexatonic (6-note) and pentatonic (5-note) scales. Further, there are ragas that use 5 or 6 notes going up, but 7 notes coming down, and there are ragas that have notes in their natural form on ascent, but in their flattened form on descent. Some ragas use scales that are "vakra", which means crooked: one cannot simply go straight up or down. Finally, there are ragas that are "mishra" meaning they are mixed, and use notes in both their natural and their sharp or flat form, often resulting in more than 7 notes being used in the raga.

Examples of ragas with different types of scales:
-- 7 notes: Kirwani, Simendra Madhyam, Vachaspati
-- 6 notes: Gujri Todi, Janasamohini, Malaya Marutan, Mohini
-- 5 notes: Shivaranjani, Bhoopali, Hansadhwani, Durga, Madhyamad Sarang, Megh
-- 5 notes up, 7 down: Bhimpalasi, Bhairavi, Madhuvanti
-- 5 notes, with some shudd in ascent but komal in descent: Jog, Brindavani Sarang
-- Vakra: Tilak Kamod, Hameer
-- Mishra: Kafi, Sindhi Bhairavi, Piloo

Raga development

Indian Classical BansuriRagas are based on improvisation. The slow introductory section, called "alap", lacks rhythm and is entirely improvised. Occasionally a "jor" follows, which has rhythm, but no composition, and is not accompanied by percussion. Next comes the "gat", a short composed piece, generally of 4 to 6 lines, that serves as the basis for improvisations that can last as long as the musician desires. The gat signals the percussionist to join in, so if you listen for the tabla (the most common drum of northern India) to begin, you'll know when the gat is being played. In a full length classical piece, there are usually two gats, the first is slow to medium tempo, and when this finishes, a fast gat is played, usually using a different composition and a different rhythm. Again, the fast gat can be played for as long as the musicians like, with the compositions serving as the skeleton of the raga, from which improvisations begin, and to which they return. Often, a "tihai" (a short phrase repeated three times) signals the return to the gat. Generally the tabla player plays "theka" (a relatively fixed rhytmic pattern) while the instrumentalist improvises, and the tabla player solos when the instrumentalist returns to the gat. By repeating the "asthai" (the first line of the gat), the instrumentalist signals the tabla player to solo. The raga often culminates with a fully improvised crescendo called "jhala", which for bansuri players is a fast staccato section using a lot of tonguing to break each note. An interesting aspect of the raga is that the compositions used in each raga are not fixed, and anybody can compose their own gat for a raga, given that the main framework of the raga (its scale, important phrases, important notes, etc...) remain. Thus popular ragas like Yaman or Bhairavi have thousands of compositions in use today, yet when any of them are well played, an experienced listener can quickly determine what raga they are hearing.

Tanpura

Bansuri MusicAs there is no key change in a raga, it is possible (and preferable) to have a drone in the background that repeatedly plays the tonic and one or two other important notes in the raga. The drone serves several purposes: (1) it creates an ambience and fills empty spaces between notes; (2) it allows the musician to determine the correct pitch of the notes they are playing, and adjust accordingly; and (3) it serves as the sound against which each of the musician's notes are based, and thus brings out the feeling of each note: a note in and of itself has no feeling; it is only its relationship to another note that allows it to produce feeling.

This drone is most often produced with a "tanpura", a 4 to 6 stringed instrument, whose strings are repeatedly plucked for the duration of the performance. The drone is most often using the notes "low Pa - Sa - Sa - low Sa", though if the raga in question lacks Pa, but has shudd Ma (i.e. Malkauns), the Ma is used instead of the Pa. If the raga lacks both Pa and shudd Ma (i.e. Marwa or Puriya), one could use Sa, Ni, or Dha as the first note, depending on their preference. Another drone instrument is the swarpeti, a rarely heard pump organ that repeatedly plays "Sa".

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Working on my home recording studio

Most of my recordings have been made on my Zoom H2(n) handheld recorder, or even minidisc or iPhone. While those are all better than Sony Walkmans, I'd rather be recording with higher tech gear! I recently started setting up a real home recording studio, so I can start producing lots of awesome recordings for your listening enjoyment. If anyone wants to financially contribute to my recording gear bill, it would be much appreciated, and would result in more and higher quality bamboo flute recordings and lessons that would spread the music and the knowledge. Please let me know if you can help, thanks! Also, if you own a recording studio and want to record me, let's talk!

Working on upgrading the IndianFluteMusic.com website

I am working on converting the www.IndianFluteMusic.com website from Dreamweaver to Joomla 2.5. The new website will allow users to register, log in, upload and share their own music; and have far more compositions, mp3s, videos, tutorials, forum, social networking ability, etc...in short, it will rock! If you are a web designer and know Joomla and you would like to volunteer your skills to further the flute, please let me know!

What is IndianFluteMusic.com anyway?

It's a website I built in 2008. Everything on the site is free, and I have never made a dollar off the site. Right now I am working to upgrade all my musical and web technologies, and turn the site into a membership site (though I would leave all the current site materials free). The membership area would have significantly more flute recordings and resources. The funds raised through memberships would allow for the production of more and higher quality flute recordings, concerts and educational materials, so we can spread the sounds of the flute to the distant corners of the planet. Thanks for your support and stay tuned for IndianFluteMusic.com 2.0!

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If any aspect of this website brings you knowledge, pleasure, enlightenment, peace, tranquility, enjoyment or wealth, please consider supporting SAVE THE FROGS!, the nonprofit organization I founded and direct. Did you know that 1/3 of the world's amphibian species are threatened with extinction and may not survive the 21st century? Learn all about playing Save The Frogs Day benefit concerts for the frogs on the SAVE THE FROGS! Musicians page.

"Beautiful effort to propagate Hindustani music!"
--Nagarjun Bhat