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.

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