Maddale: The Perfect Percussion Back-Up Singer

Karnatak and traditional South Indian music have a heavy emphasis on the beat.

With a great selection of drums all coming from the mridangam family of percussion instruments, there are a lot of options to choose from.

Maddales are double-sided drums that are similar to other popular drums in the region like the pakhavaj. But this one is special because players can hit the right tone regardless of where they hit on the surface.

Who Plays Maddale Drums?

Maddales are the primary percussion instrument in Yakshagana ensembles. Yakshagana ensembles play music in a form of traditional theatre from India’s Kannada districts. The musical ensemble in Yakshagana performances are called the himmela, and they play as the mummela dance or talk. Himmelas include the lead singer, or bhagawata, and people playing various instruments including the maddale, a pipe called the pungi, and the harmonium. Some groups also play chande, or loud South Indian drums.

What Do Maddale Drums Look Like?

Maddales are double-sided drums that look like barrels. Made from jackfruit wood like a lot of their cousin percussion instruments, maddales also have drum heads made from goatskin and are covered in leather straps that can adjust and tune the maddale. Each drum head is shaped slightly differently so one produces a deeper sound than the other. The left-hand side produces the deeper sound, and the right-hand side includes a circular disk — called a karne — that produces harmonic sounds when the drum head is tapped.

What Makes Them Different from Mridangam?

If you’ve been researching different types of drums from South India, a maddale might sound a lot like a mridangam. The difference is the tonality: maddales can produce more complex sounds. The karne harmonic disc also makes the maddale sound very different from the mridangam. Maddales are also specifically tuned to align with the bhagawata’s, or the Yakshagana singer’s voice before every performance.

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.