Electronic Tanpura: Prioritizing Practicality

The tanpura is an Indian string instrument that provides a supporting acoustic sound.

Playing the tanpura requires a certain amount of grace and skill. The electronic tanpura, on the other hand, makes tanpura music accessible to even the most rudimentary player – by turning it into a machine resembling a boom box.

From Musicality to Practicality

The traditional tanpura is a large instrument that is generally played from a seated position. It requires a skill to position the instrument and pluck the strings in the appropriate rhythms. It provides the backbone of much Indian classical music.

The electronic tanpura makes it much easier to keep the beat. This instrument was first invented by G. Raj Narayan in the 1970’s. The device was first demonstrated at the Music Academy Chennai in 1979 and manufactured by Narayan’s company, Radel Advanced Technology.

Technological Transformation

The electronic tanpura has evolved with the technology of the time:

  • In the 1970s it was made using discrete components and transistors;
  • In the 1990s it used sampled recordings on a chip;
  • In the 2000s, mobile apps were created;
  • In 2016, the Sonic Arts Research Center of Queen’s University Belfast created a mathematical model representing a physics-based synthesis of the instrument; and
  • In 2018, the mathematical model was developed into the Android app Pocket Shruti Box whose reviews indicate it is a very useful app for students learning Carnatic music.

The consistent innovation around the instrument show that it serves a valuable purpose for the Indian musical community. While it isn’t a match for the art of the original tanpura, prioritizing convenience over quality, it continues to offer a number of benefits, including its lower cost, easy portability, and straightforward use.

If you’d like to try your hand at one of the many electronic variations of the tanpura, you can test your skills with the Tanpura Drone Generator.