A – Raga CDs of the Months (08/2015): They define the tone! – The Drones in Indian Classics.
Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on August 9, 2015
IMC OnAir – IMCRadio.Net of the promotion initiative “IMC – India meets Classic” presents @ Radio FRO (Upper Austria) and worldwide as webradio in August 2015 the topic “They define the tone! – The Drones in Indian Classical Music“.
In the musical world the term “drone” describes a harmonic effect and a musical accompaniment, in which a note or a chord is sounding steadily during the period of a music piece, repeating and constantly on a continuous pitch.
IMC OnAir presents examples of original Indian Classical music, with the Swarmandal and Tanpura, the Bauls (Indian bards) on the Ektar and Dotar, the vocal styles Dhrupad, Khyal (Hindustani) and Thumri of Indian light classics.
dates of broadcasting…
In Indian music the drones are used “functionally”. A tonality is set by these instruments on which a musical work (e.g. raga-s) is based, creating a relationship between sound, notes and chords.
To identify the Tonika (basic tone / 1st pitch) in the modal structure of Indian Raga-s is almost impossible for the human ear without existing chords (intervals) of whole and half-tone steps. For a raga interpretation the drones take over this function. The structure of a raga scale will be more understandably and with this reference (melodious orientation) complex modes can be developed.
This important effect of the drones can be led back on an acoustic phenomenon of the harmonics. Different levels of consonances and dissonances arise, a result of the physical interaction of the melody (raga scale) with the sound of the drones.
The drones in Indian Classics exist in different designs of construction, equally in music of North India same of South India. A multiplicity of different drones is used. There is the tanpura (or tambura), ottu, single stringed ektar, two stringed dutar (dotar or doutar), surpeti, the swarmandal (or surmandal) and shank, a snail shell.
The simplest drones only have a single note (e.g. one stringed ektar) only, which is constantly repeated. The tone is tuned on the 1st pitch of the piece of music or Raga scale, the SA (Shadaj). With two notes (e.g. two stringed dotar) harmonious and more complicated effects can be produced. In the singing of North Indian Classics (Hindustani Sangeet) same in South India (Carnatic Sangeet) the tuning is on 1st and 5th pitch (SA – PA).
Ektar and Dotar both can be understood as drones and as rhythm instruments, illustrating in their design and playing techniques both functions. Referring music and percussion instruments the number of pure drones (e.g. tanpura or surpeti) is smaller than those which can cover both functions.
In Indian Classics the tanpura (or tambura) is the dominating drone. – It’s the instrument, which defines the tone!
Typically for North Indian Classics the Tanpura is made in the Miraj style. It’s deep sound embodies the male and is used to accompany male vocalists. One finds the smaller execution in South Indian Classics in the Tanjore style as Tambura (lute with a length of approx. 3-5 foot). Due to their higher pitch the tambura-s are preferred accompanying female singers.
The smallest design is the Tamburi. Nowadays the tamburi with a length of 2-3 foot is very popular as drone. With four, five or six strings (even with more) it can be played instrumentally.
Regularly the tanpura is four stringed and can be tuned very differently. Male vocalists tune the tonika as 1st pitch “SA” corresponding to C# (C sharp). Female singers are tuned around 1/5 more highly. For all regular raga-s one further string is tuned on the 5th pitch “Pa” (G). The remaining two strings are resonating to the Tonika one octave more highly (Pa – sa – sa – Sa).
For raga-s without 5th pitch in the tuning of the tanpura the “Pa” it is replaced by the 4th pitch “Ma” (Ma – sa – sa – Sa). In the following example 2 tuned “D” as tonica.
hearing example 1: basic tone (pitch) C# | Pa – sa – sa – Sa (G – C#’ – C#’ – C#)
hearing example 2: basic tone (pitch) D | Ma – sa – sa – Sa (F – D’ – D’ – D)
Even some of the Indian percussion instruments are tuned in a way to strengthen a drone effect. With the play on the Mridangam and Tabla continuously the tonica is resonating.
The drones are used also in Indian folk music, in Filmi Sangeet (songs of Hindi films), in Indian Light Classics, in Maharati or Rabindranath Sangeet, thus the songs in the Indian Federal State Maharastra and compositions of India’s universal genius Rabindranath Tagore.