11. TEACHERS, styles and tradition - bansuri past, present and future

Once a bansuri has been purchased and the decision to learn has been made, the next obvious step is to find a teacher, preferably to travel to India, settle in one of the big cities and become the shishya of one of the great bansuri pandits. This is fine if it can be done, but it not necessarily the best option.
The student should realise that there is no such thing as flute music, there is simply music, Hindustani classical music, which is played by all musicians in the tradition, singers and instrumentalists alike, so the student can just as easily learn the ragas and their elaboration from a vocalist, sitarist or any other instrumentalist. Of course it is highly desirable, if not essential, that some initial instruction should come from a bansuri player, but after the basic techniques have been learnt, many more learning possibilities can be sought out.
The history of the bansuri is quite different to that of long-established instruments such as the sitar, which has a long tradition, established styles of playing, where students learn only from other sitar players, the gurus who rigorously maintain the purity of their style and pass it on to their students. For the bansuri, there is no purity of style, not even any tradition. Since the time of Pannalal Ghosh, the great pioneer, who had to teach himself, create his own style from zero, and even make his own flutes, the tradition, if it can be called as such, is to learn from players of other instruments or vocalists. In those days, in any case, they had little choice in the matter. Thus, Pannalal Ghosh studied with Alauddin Khan of Maihar, Hariprasad Chaurasia with the sitarist Annapurna Devi, and Raghunath Seth from the vocalist Ratanjankar, Vijay Rhagav Rao from Ravi Shankar etc. There is much to be recommended from this. When one learns from a different source than the flute, one has to find one’s own individual way to produce the music on the bansuri, thus laying the foundation for one’s own individual style of playing.
One could say that the bansuri is still at an evolutionary stage. It just has not been long enough on the classical stage, or had the input of enough players for a definitive style or styles to be created. It is open to both vocal and instrumental approach to raga, and both styles have been successfully realized, but there must certainly remain many areas of musical expression and technical innovation to explore.
One deficit is very evident: the limited range of raags that form the bansuri players repertoire. All players have, up to now, restricted their range of raags to a handful of the easier options.. Bhupali, Yaman, Jog, Chandrakauns, Desh, Bageshri and a few others. It is very rare to hear any bansuri present in concert those more difficult and challenging raags that are the basis of the Hindustani classical repertoire... such as raags Asavari, Bahar, Bhimpalasi, Bilaskhani Todi, Deshi, Gaud Malhar, Hamir, Jaunpuri, Jogya, Kedar, Hamir, Multani, Nayaki Kanada, Puriya, Puriya Dhanashri, Purbi, Shahana, Shankara,, Shri, Tilak Kamod, and many others.
No doubt these raags present a formidable musical and technical challenge, but only when this challenge is met, hopefully by the next generation of bansuri players , that the bansuri will able take its place alongside the older established instruments like the sarod and sitar with equal authority and prestige.


All bansuri players should have have basic skills in maintenance and tuning. It is not only that shop flutes are usually out of tune -- but even the best professionally made instruments can sometimes over a period or time slowly drift out of tune and need to be corrected. If a bansuri is to be completely stable, the bamboo from which it is made needs to be well seasoned, and not all bansuri makers, under pressure to produce instruments are willing or able to wait the required time.

1. Adjusting and tuning flutes
Pitch can be altered in two ways: by altering the position or the size of a hole. Making the hole larger will raise the pitch, and this can be done either by burning, carving or sandpapering the hole, but by far the easiest and quickest is to burn with a hot iron, which will also make a perfectly round hole (very difficult to achieve by carving). Drilling is also possible, but it carries the risk of cracking the bamboo. Holes can be made smaller by lining the circumference of the hole with glue, filler or resin. These adjustments are suitable only for small adjustments of pitch. For larger adjustments the hole has to be moved further up or down the flute. The simplest way to do this is to draw a rectangle around the hole, with the difference in the distances between the hole and the two ends of the rectangle being equivalent to the distance the hole is required to move up or down the flute. The rectangle is then cut out and reversed and glued back into place.
For example, supposing that one needed to move a hole three millimetres up or down the flute it would look like this:
The cross cuts should be made first, with a fine blade hacksaw, and the long cuts along the grain of the bamboo can be made by inserting a sharp knife (Stanley knife) and the bamboo should split fairly easily. The rectangle is then reversed and replaced with a wood glue. It may be necessary to mix the glue with a little bamboo sawdust to fill up any smail gaps.
An alternative method to moving a hole is to fill the existing hole with patch of bamboo and make a new hole where required, but this demands considerably more advanced carpentry skills.
These procedures are for putting individual notes in tune, but if the flute is already in tune with itself and the aim is to tune the instrument to a certain note of concert pitch, this can only be done by moving the blowing hole. This in a very limited operation, where only small adjustments can be made. If the blowing hole is moved more than a small amount, say 2 mm. the entire flute is affected, higher and lower notes lose their pitch, tonal quality and volume is affected.
2. Making flutes
It is essential is to get good bamboo, which is not easy. The bamboo used to make a bansuri should well seasoned (with no green streaks or patches showing) hard, even, regular and with the bamboo wall not too thin or too thick. There are too many variables to design a flute by calculations; it is best to use an existing flute as a model, and even this poses problems as it is not just the length that counts but also the diameter of the bamboo and the thickness of the bamboo wall. As no two pieces of bamboo are identical, when marking the places where the holes are to be made, small adjustments have to be made by intuition, guesswork and eventually by experience. The beginner will have to accept that mistakes will probably be made, holes wrongly placed, which then can only be corrected by the surgical procedures described above.
Generally, it is easier to tune and adjust existing flute than starting from scratch.
3. The stopper.
The stopper, or whatever means is used to stop the air escaping from the other side of the blowing hole, is usually a cork. However, in many flutes that are made in India, they are often made from other materials, sometimes soft spongy materials. It is better to replace them with a cork, suitably trimmed to the diameter of the flute, then sealed by holding a lighted candle over the end until the cork is completely covered with molten wax.
The placing of the cork is critical to the tuning of the flute. There in general tendency in most flutes for the top notes, from top Sa upwards to sound progressively flatter as one advances towards the top notes of the flute. This can be corrected by placing the cork close to the blowing hole; with many flutes it is necessary to push the cork right up to the edge of the blowing hole.
4 The Blowing hole
There are many variables in the blowing hole that will affect tonal quality and volume: the size, shape, whether the edge of the bamboo wall is vertical or cut away to leave a sharper edge, and if the bansuri is made of particularly thin or poor bamboo, the blowing hole can be cut out and replaced by a piece of thicker, harder bamboo. The bansuri player needs to experiment with these possibilities to discover what kind of blowing hole produces the particular tonal quality the he/she is striving for.


Paltas are the exercises that develop both technical skills and the create the foundation that allows a the Indian musician to elaborate, to improvise and create the variations and permutations that are an essential part of raag delineation. They are much more than the equivalent of the scales and arpeggios that form the technical basis of western classical musical practice. They are repeated patterns, ranging from the simplest to the most complex, in twos threes fours fives sixes sevens etc and the idea is not only to create technique but to stock the mind of the student with a great fund of musical material which the player can draw upon when playing and performing.
The question is, at what stage of studies should paltas be introduced? The traditional response is, at the very beginning, and many teachers still follow this tradition, making their students begin with weeks or months of paltas, the argument being that one should have an adequately developed technique before playing any piece of music. This was also the approach followd in the west many years ago, but now, the general perception is that the student should begin with music, with melody from the very beginning, not only because it is more enjoyable and less alienating, because it encourages an immediate engagement with musical expression and values,
Following this line, the student of indian music should not then begin with an emphasis on technicalities, With the bansuri, that starting point ishould be just to able to produce a sound and cover and uncover the holes with sufficient ease, a stage usually reaches after a few weeks at most, sometimes a few days. Then immediately begin to play music,... not necessarily just raags, but also bhajans, folk songs and for children, the popular childrens songs that every child learns at school.
Learning indian music is invariably of two stages, first where the student plays and memorises materials given to him by the teacher and the second stage is the gradual substitution of the given material by the student’s own variations and the development of his/her improvising ability. It is at this point that the study and playing of
paltas becomes an essential part of the student’s practice.
Large amounts of mechanical repetition are less useful than a following a progam of palta practice with the challenge of a continuous change of palta type--- shape, notes, articulation, speed etc. Paltas should span the full range of the flute, and the player should develop the discipline to reproduce in every segment of the palta with the exact reproduction of every detail of pitch, speed, expression, speed, tonguing etc This is as much an exercise of concentration and mental focus as a physical exercise. The student will find that this palta material can then by incorporated into all areas of playing and performance which involve a rhythmic pulse, whether, jhor, jhalla or tanas.


The use of the tongue in articulating notes is as much an integral part of bansuri playing as it is in the western concert flute. The frequency of its use does vary considerably from one musician to another, for some tonguing is scarcely noticeable, while for others such as HP Chaurasia, passages of rapid tonguing, and the very rapid repeated notes of Jhalla are one of the hallmarks of his style.
The use of the tongue is important for an instrument that has no other form of percussive approach to its notes. the use of tongue at regular intervals such as every four notes while playing tanas helps both the rhythmic consistency as well as a way of counting the number of beats, an essential ability for improvisation. Apart from playing in the basic fours of teental, practice should also include phrases of different length---, twos, threes. fours, fives , sixes.
For example:
It is important also not to break the tonguing pattern, especially in the higher
register in order to articulate notes more clearly, or facilitate the move from low to high register but to keep rigorously to the patterns so that practice of regular pattern-making becomes second nature, whatever notes or scales played. Once this discipline is established it will be possible to make spontaneous tanas and sequences using a great variety of note combinations.


Half notes is the term usually applied to the finger positions used to produce the komal notes and shuddh Ma.
It is something of a misnomer, as the amount of space that is open above the hole is considerably less than half, more like a quarter, down to as little as perhaps, five percent. It is for this reason these notes are difficult to play; the beginner has a tendency to play these notes too sharp. With the finger so close over the hole there are other problems as well; with less air passing through, both volume and tonal quality will suffer, until the player learns to compensate with stronger and more focussed blowing.
There is no mechanical formula for producing these notes; different fingers of the hand have different flexibility and response, each komal note has its own and different aperture, which will even vary slightly from one flute to another. The ear is the only guide. The player must have a very clear picture of the intonation required if these notes are to be produced accurately.
The bansuri player will find that komal Dha and Re are more difficult than komal Ni and Ga; the aperture needs to be smaller, and moving from one komal note to another is generally more difficult than moving from a komal note to a shuddha note. Every note combination has its own particulars and dynamics, and the bansuri player needs to know exactly what is needed to, for instance, move from from Komal Ga to Re, From Komal Ga to Komal Re, or to Sa, to Ma , to tivra Ma, to Pa etc. It is important for the bansuri player to play a range of raags wide enough to cover all possible melodic combinations if there are not to be gaps in the player’s technique. The relationship between embouchure and finger work is not always obvious, but a player will find that only when all melodic combinations are mastered with all the adjustments of embouchure that are needed to produce them, that a full maturity of tonal quality and expression can be realized.


The bansuri has six (sometimes seven ) holes for the fingers, which produce an octave when from hole six the fingers are opened one after the other. There are no cross-fingerings that could inhibit the smooth transition from one note to another. Sa, the starting note, is produced with the first three holes closed, to allow at least three notes below Sa to be played. When and how this was decided is not known, but with the Carnatic flute Sa is made with two hloes closed, thus allowing extra notes in the bass. It is difficult not consider that this as a better choice; to sacrifice one note on the top to be able to play Ma or Tivra MA in the bass would add a great deal to the full expression of many of the raags of Hidustani music. However Sa at three holes it is, and is unlikely to change.
Half of the third register can also be played on certain flutes, depending on the diameter of he instrument. Generally, the smaller diameter in relation to length, the easier it is to reach and sustain the higher notes. Bansuri players rarely venture into this area, as it is unstable and unpredictable, there being no consistency of pitch, volume or tonal quality, as well as having no smooth transition from one note to another.


There are two distinct finger techniques for the bansuri. One, from Pannalal Ghosh and his disciple Devendra Murdeshwar, is to place the fingertips over the holes, in a technique similar to the way western concert flute players place their fingers on the keys. It is a difficult and demanding technique that creates its own inimical style of playing, with its own dynamic with clarity and precision in the tans, but it is rarely to be heard these days.
The other technique, by far the most common, is to keep the fingers straight, and close the holes from the middle of the first joint of the fingers, the joint itself resting on the flute, just at the edge of the hole. The fingers are not curved or bent in any way, but lie flat over the instrument, the left hand (i.e. nearest the blowing hole more in a vertical position so that the fingers open outward, whereas the right hand is in a more horizontal position so that the fingers open upwards,. This is only a generality, of course. Every bansuri player needs to make adjustments according to the size and shape of his/her hands. Hopefully, no aspiring player will have to manage these initial stages without the help of a teacher or an experienced player to help position the hands in the best and most effective playing position.
Not everyone’s fingers are ideal for the bansuri; sometimes the little finger of the right hand cannot reach the instrument, sometimes the thumb cannot bend sufficiently for it be placed under the flute. Compromises have to be made; but the most important point to remember is that in finding the right position for stability of the flute and ease of movement for the fingers, that the hand and fingers need to remain as relaxed and tension-free as possible. Even small areas of tension can accumulate to produce stiffness and pain.
Economy of finger movement
Economy of finger movement will aid the player in finger responsiveness, fluency. precision and general ease of expression. Beginners often lift their fingers off the holes far more than necessary. Fingers should not have to lift more then 2 cm off the holes, except for the index finger on the first hole when playing Tivra Ma, when it must point directly upwards or lift off the flute altogether, in order for that note to be played in tune.
There are actually two finger techniques; one for playing slow and another for playing fast. When playing slow, all proper finger positions need to be maintained for reasons of intonation and tonal quality. When playing fast, especially in tanas, various short cuts in fingering can be made to aid fluency. (Not to be confused with the adjustments made to the ascending-descending scale of complex raags to facilitate fluency in fast passages... altogether a more controversial practice) Some examples of faster tempo abbreviations...
(Reference: holes number from one to six, first hole nearest the blowing hole)
Pa Ma Pa - When moving from Pa to Ma and back again keep holes 4,5,6 covered all the time, and keep hole 1 fixed in Ma or tivra M position throughout, so that the only fingers that move are over holes 2 and 3.
Dha Ma Dha or Dha Pa Ma Dha - Keep holes 4 and 5 covered during the whole
movement, so that the movement from Ma to Dha only three holes, 1, 2 &3 need to be closed.
When moving from fully closed hole two notes up to a half hole such as from Re to Ma, Sa to Komal Ga, Pa to Komal Ni and back, open both holes to the same half hole position, instead of taking the finger on hole two off the flute altogether. Two fingers moving together facilitates an easier operation, and also helps to keep Ma in tune.
Ma to Komal Dha. As Komal Dha is difficult to reach effectively [for the lower register], prepare by keeping sixth hole on Dha still playing Ma.
Ma Dha Ma - keep 6th hole fixed in Dha position


Intonation on a non-tunable instrument has its own special problems and challenges. The best moment for a bansuri to get into tune is of course during its making., but even the best made flute can have its problems. If the bamboo used has not been properly seasoned, the flute will slowly season by itself and therefore shrink somewhat over the years. That means that the entire instrument goes up in pitch, although it may remain in tune with itself, or it might go completely of tune. It is often the lowest note Pa that is affected, sounding too low, because the distance between the sixth hole and the end of the flute is far greater than the distance that the other five holes are from each other, and in shrinking the original proportions are lost.
Even when a flute when first played in a shop sounds well tuned, the real test is when it is played against a drone, when inaccuracies of hole placement become much more obvious. Bansuris can be tuned, by making holes bigger or smaller, or moving them altogether to a different place (See chapter 10)
Getting into tune on the bansuri requires s long and meticulous practice taking (for most students) several years. Although the Indian scale system is the same as that used in the west, i.e. the octave divided into twelve semitones, equal temperament is not used. It is the one area of learning that much guidance is needed, firstly from a teacher, then by following a regime of regular listening to recordings of classical music, especially vocal. In that process of continual listening that the ear finally begins to discern exactly what the intonation of notes should be, not just to understand exactly what is Re, Ga, Ma etc, but later as the student goes more into the depth of the music begin to hear the slight differences of a certain note but played or sung in different raags. This brings one the subject of shrutis, the microtonal variants.
The basic principle of 22 shrutis can be explained as follows:
The total number of semitones in an octave is 12. Sa and Pa are considered to be immutable, the other notes have 2 possible versions of each, slightly higher or lower. That makes 20 altogether and adding on Sa and Pa make 22. This is a somewhat simplistic view of shrutis, but for the practising musician any deeper theoretical knowledge is not necessary. In India the world of musicology and that of practical music making run on parallel tracks which meet only on occasions. The student will find that his teacher will rarely talk about shrutis or even acknowledge the fact that there are any significant variations in pitch for a given note. The most that he will probably say is something like ‘Komal Re in this raag should be a little lower, or Ni a little higher etc.’ and sometimes not even in words but indicating pitch to go up or down simply by waving the hand appropriately.
The aspiring bansuri player then, is faced with the task of rendering this subtle tonal world, on an instrument of six fixed holes. There are three methods of altering pitch:
1. to tilt the flute towards or away from the lips,
2. to press the flute closer to the lips or pull it away thus altering the distance from the lips to the blowing hole [or how much the lips cover the blowing hole]
3. by increasing or decreasing the volume.
All these techniques need to be used, often in combination, to place the correct pitch, even from the first note played (for in example when playing the first Sa against the drone, when fading the note the pitch drops and needs to be compensated by employing either technique one or two.
The komal notes, or half notes as they are often called, but are in fact mote like 5% or 10% holes rather than half, require a well-defined prior concept of the pitch plus a steady hand if they are to be played correctly. Every hole on the bansuri has its own particular problems. The 4th hole, for instance, is nearly always too low to produce Ni properly in tune. It happens because Ni, the seventh note of the scale is only a semitone from the tonic Sa, and therefore needs to be much closer to the third hole if it is to be in tune, but this is not possible because it would create an uncomfortably big gap between the fifth and six holes. Therefore compensations have to employed, especially on top Ni. Another feature of most flutes is that the top few notes, from Sa upward to Ma often do not correspond exactly in pitch to the lower octave: More compensatory techniques need to be employed. Although it might not be evident to the observer the bansuri is in continuous compensatory adjustment and movement whilst played, There is no mechanical formula for these adjustments; the ear and mind are the only guide, and eventually , with practice, the adjustments become an automatic and unconscious process.
Mastering the above techniques is of the greatest importance but, even then, there are pitfalls for the inexperienced. When playing with a drone/tampura it is essential to keep a balance in volume between the flute and the drone, especially as the sound from the flute is so close to the ear, and the drone must be some distance away
The imbalance of volume can play tricks with intonation, so that when listening to a recording of one’s playing it can be disconcerting to find that the entire tonality is a little too high or low. Recording one’s practice or performance is an invaluable self-monitoring and should be employed by all students. The tampura, or electronic tempura, needs to be kept as near as possible to the performer and for this (unless it’s battery powered) it is essential for all performers to bring an extension cord with them to any perfomance, or run the risk of being separated from their tampura/drone by some distance, a sure recipe for a besura (out of tune ) performance.


Embouchure, which is the author of tonal quality, is the personal signature of the bansuri, the individuality of the player which can often be recognized by the playing of a single note. It is the part of flute-playing which is, by its nature the most self-taught and developed, and the least susceptible to instruction given by a teacher. The student needs to develop it by his/her own efforts and experimentation. It takes time. Many students, especially these who already play western concert flute, quickly gain control over the mechanics of the bansuri, and play pieces quite comfortably and fluently – but they are disappointed to find that at first, their playing of Indian music doesn’t actually sound like Indian music.
All that can be said here is, that if they know the sound they aspire to (not necessarily of a bansuri, it could be a vocalist) and they strive to reproduce this sound, then eventually through a mysterious and subtle process the embouchure will develop and adapt to produce this sound - but it is a lengthy process and can take years. It is not tho product of mega-practice routines or crash courses.
The main difference between a metal flute and a bansuri, is that the bansuri demands a highly focussed embouchure, to produce the tonal quality, the expression and the intonation particular to indian music. It is a gradual process to develop this sound, and listening to classical music on a regular basis is an essential part of a students practice.
The other reason to develop this kind of blowing is that bamboo by its nature produces a much more breathy sound than metal. Unlike bamboo flutes of some other musical traditions where the sound of breath actually constitutes part of the musical expression, in indian music it is not considered attractive and should be reduced to a minimum. There is a tone-to-noise(breath) ratio which can only be kept to its maximum by powerful blowing, and a concentrated and focused embouchure.This ratio can be controlled or exploited by adjusting the angle of the blowing hole to the mouth. There are basically two kinds of tone available to the player, and the bigger the flute, the more this contrast is evident. They are the open sound and the closed sound. The open sound is produced by turning the blowing hole away from the mouth. The sound produced, is broader, louder and breathier. The closed sound is produced by turning the blowing hole inwards. The sound produced, is softer, sweeter, more focused and much less in volume. Both kinds of sound require very different-and contrasting kinds of embouchure, and both kinds of sound can be employed by the player for expressive purposes. Another reason why the two extremes of embouchure should be part of a players regular practice is that the bansuri, not being a tunable instrument, always needs embouchure adjustments to be made when playing with other musicians, even when the other instruments can be tuned, and even more so when they cannot - as with the harmonium.

Some practice routines for flexibility of embouchure:
1. Practice on different size flutes. The bansuri is not one instrument but many, and by playing daily practice pieces and exercises on different size bansuris will improve both breath control and embouchure flexibility.
2.Play not always in optimum lip position , but sometimes with the instrument tipped away or closer than normal blowing angle. This will make it much more difficult to play effectively, and the students embouchure will need to work hard and make adjustments to produce a good sound.
3. Remember that each hole has an optimum pressure for the best sound. Difficulties often arise during rapid passages from one register to the other when the embouchure is unable to adapt in time. A useful practice to play scales or tanas at speed, going from high notes to low or the other way around . Problems occur when the embouchure is unable to adapt quickly enough , so that when playing a rapid passage from (for instance) Sa to high Ga ,the last note loses quality, or breaks up, or the opposite effect when descending to the lowest note, there is a lack of depth of volume in that note. When practicing these movements the student should play slowly at first paying attention to both breathing and embouchure.
4. The student will find that when playing the half notes, at first there is a considerably less of both volume and tonal quality. There is no specific exercise to correct this; equalization of tone and volume will come of itself in time, with practice. The student will find the particular embouchure needed to produce half notes of quality, and only when this is achieved it will extend to the full range of the instrument. Good tonal quality and volume on the half notes is the key to producing a good overall bansuri sound.


This constitutes the very heart and soul of bansuri playing. Through good blowing and breath control all the essential qualities of the instrument manifest; tonal quality, intonation, dynamics, rasa and bhava (the sentiment and emotional atmosphere of the raag) . Powerful blowing and stamina are must be developed. From a position of strength and power all the essential elements of bansuri playing can be expressed. The bansuri is, after all, only a simple length of bamboo with seven or eight holes, but through the power of breath it can be bought to life, coerced by the intention and will of the player to express all essential qualities. Poor and weak blowing will, only produce a thin, dry one-dimensional sound, unable to project the essentials of the music. Blowing and embouchure need priority attention, as flutes by their nature do not have the tonal contrasts and range of expression of other wind instruments.
Points to consider...
1) Exploiting full lung capacity. It is easy to fall into the habit of breathing only from the top of the lungs. Diaphragm breathing is essential in order to exploit the maximum capacity of the lungs, and also to control the dynamics of playing. Loud, soft, crescendo, diminuendo, the shaping and moulding of musical phrases are expressed and controlled by the movement of the diaphragm.
2) Posture. The basic position for the Indian musician is to sit cross legged, and yet this not an ideal position for wind instrument players. In most other traditions, wind instrument players either sit in a chair or stand, which greatly facilitates the breathing process. But for cultural and practical reasons the bansuri player always sits in cross-legged position during performance, but at other times it does not have to be this way. It is advisable to develop a flexible practice routine, sometimes practlse in the traditional position, other times sitting or standing. When sitting cross-legged, posture can be aided considerably by sitting on a cushion of about 6 cm in height, placed under the buttocks so that the knees reach down to the floor and the back then straightens, allowing the diaphragm to function more efficiently. Another way of sitting on the fleer is to kneel, sitting back on the heel (the position used by Japanese shakuhachi players), then during very long playing sessions to alternate between the two positions.
3) The development of stamina is essential. In all other traditions of flute playing, such as western classical music or jazz, there always times when the flute player can rest while other instruments play; even in carnatic music the flute player is usually accompanied by a violinist, so that he has moments to rest and recover his breath. In the hindustani tradition, the bansuri player is expected play seamlessly for long periods, of an hour or more. This is only possible when a perfect balance of intake and expenditure of energy and breath is established, Much practice of stamina building must be done. One test is to repeat a sequence, which could be , for instance, the first line of a composition followed by a tana and then returning to the line, and repeating the same without a break for up to 20 times, taking breath at the same places, and then observing any deterioration in the quality if one’s playing, increasing breathlessness, etc. If so, this will indicate that the breathing rhythm is not in balance, and more attention will need to be given to where one breathes, and how much is needed to keep the lungs full. In general, one should never continue playing until the lungs are nearly empty. oxygen deprivation will affect both physical and mental processes.
4) A general rule for all wind players of any instrument or tradition is to play long notes. Absolute steadiness, without vibrato is essential. Both low and high notes should be played, both straight and also with crescendo and diminuendo. The latter is particularly important, as in Indian music, notes rarely step suddenly, but tend to fade out and disappear into the background drone or tanpura.
5) Students frequently ask whether yoga breathing exercises are useful, to improve a players breath control, the answer being, not in any evident way. The fundamental difference between yogic breathing and that of a wind player is that in yoga, breathing involves bath the nose and mouth and the underlying principle is of regular breathing in and out. The flute player can only breathe through the mouth, and the rhythm is entirely dictated by musical necessities. However, one great advantage that Indian music has over western classical music is that it is not fixed, and the musician can adopt musical phrases and sequences to suit his/her own capacity. For a teacher writing tanas for students, it is always possible to tailor musical materials with breathing gaps, according to whether the student is a child. or adult.
6) The natural characteristic of the bansuri and all flutes is for the higher notes to have more volume and power and the lower notes to be softer and quieter, and yet the characteristic of the bansuri is to exhibit the greatest beauty and expressiveness when the player can achieve the opposite; to play strong powerful notes in the base, and soft ,delicate notes in the highest register.


The bansuri, this simple instrument made of bamboo, most ancient of instruments, has only recently come into its own in recent years. For this reason there is no tradition of making quality instruments. Only a generation ago, the bansuri players of India, if they wanted a quality in-tune instrument had to make their own. More recently there has been a great increase in the quantity and quality of instruments available commercially. There are individual makers who produce professional-standard instruments, not only in India but also in America and Europe. However, most of the flutes available, especially to the beginner, are to be found in music shops. These mass-produced shop flutes are almost invariably somewhat out of tune, and sometimes very much so. They are made to formula, and why they are not accurately made is that makers only take into account the length of the instrument, and not the diameter of the bamboo or its thickness, all of which can vary considerably. Thus it is possible to find shop flutes which are of the same length, with the same-spaced holes, labelled with the same letter and yet not it tune with each other. Another confusion for the first time buyer is the labelling system . For instance, a flute where Sa is D, can be marked B, or it also be marked A, as some makers indicate the scale of the flute from Pa instead of Sa. And yet there is another older system of indicating scale which can still be found, where, for instance a D-flute can also be labelled ‘white 2’ This is taken from the colour of the keys of the western keyboard, where Sa is equated with middle C Therefore C is ‘white 1’, Csharp is ‘Black 1’, D is ‘white 2’, D sharp is ‘black 2’, E is ‘white 3’ etc.
In fact, these shop flutes are fine for beginners, while they are still getting to grips with the mechanics of playing the bansuri. It is only when the student begins to play with a drone or tambura background that the inaccuracies of intonation become evident. Even then, it is possible to tune a flute (see chapter 10) . It is often worth doing if from every other aspect the flute is a good one (quality bamboo, good tone).
The first time buyer will also notice that there are some bansuris with six finger holes and others with seven. This last seventh hole is situated at angle to the other six so that it can be reached with the little finger. From it, another note, Tivra Ma can be played, and in the main playing scale, the use of the seventh hole ensures a smooth transition between the upper and lower registers, that is from Pa to Ma. The addition of this extra hole is no particular indication of overall quality. There can be 6 hole flutes that are excellent and seven hole flutes which are of poor quality, but where possible it is always better to purchase a flute with a seventh hole. This hole is always difficult to cover, as it can only be done with the tip of the small finger, and even then only on small flutes. As flutes get bigger in size the distancebetween the six and seventh hole becomes too great for the finger to reach. Only with base flutes does the seventh hole become again accessible.Recently bansuri makers have bean putting a seventh hole on the underside of the flute, so that the player, sitting in a cross-legged position, can tip the flute down to close the hole against the knee. It is an awkward procedure, and can only be done in the slower parts of performance, i.e. the alaap. The other method of reaching theseventh hole is the addition of an extension key.

The bansuri is not one instrument, but many, ranging in size from Sa on middle C to very small instruments up to an octave and a half higher. These different sizes are used for different musical purposes, for accompaniment, recording, solo etc. For the professional who engages the full variety and scope of bansuri playing, a full range of instruments is needed, a flute in every semitone , i.e. a flute C, one in C sharp, one in D one in D sharp, one in E etc. The beginner is recommend not to attempt the bass flutes, (the accepted standard concert bansuri in now generally accepted as being in E) but to begin on a much smaller flute, and work their way down to bass flutes in stages. It takes time to for the hand and fingers to achieve the stretch needed.