Episode 4 : How to Play Sargam on Your Bansuri

Episode 4 : How to Play Sargam on Your Bansuri

Episode 4 : How to Play Sargam on Your Bansuri

Episode 4 : How to Play Sargam on Your Bansuri

Welcome back to Chapter four of bansuri gurukul. Today’s article explains in detail on how to play sargam on your bansuri. “Sargam” is the term used for playing all the notes in the raag in ascending and descending in it’s designated order. To be able to make today’s lesson effective, it is very important that students have reached a satisfactory level in being able to produce a clean sound and play “sa” that we have talked about in detail on the last chapter. If not, it is strongly advised that it must be done first.

A 23-inch-long bansuri bamboo flute for concerts.

Before actually starting to play the sargams, we need to understand what notes are. In any language, expressions are made using sentences, made up with words which are made up of letters. Every letter has a different pronunciation and various combinations of these letters make up a word with a meaning. All of this, requires the use of sound to express.

Vibrations in the vocal cords produce sounds which we control through various muscles to alter and develop sounds to express. The range of the vibrations, is called “frequency”. The language of music is not very different. Likewise, music also has notes which are differentiated in standardized frequencies known as pitch.

These notes are pronunciations of sound, all having their signatures pitch, which are stitched together to make music. In terms of sound, the term “tone” is also important. The “approach” to sound, is called a tone. Just like audible differences in characteristics (harsh/soft) in the human voice while speaking can very well change the inner meaning of a sentence, the approach to the tonal characteristics of music can also have huge impact on the overall picture.

All scales of Bansuris in a set

Indian classical music works with 7 notes. Contrary to the western understanding of music where scales are changed throughout, classical musicians pick a scale of choice and use 7 main notes chronologically under their designated “ragas”. These 7 notes are called “suddha” or “pure” notes. In addition to these notes, 5 of these notes have a “flat” or “sharp” versions called “komal” and “teevra” respectively. Therefore, the total number of usable notes in this kind of music, is 12.

The names of these notes have been shortened down for ease of pronunciation. The names of these notes are as follows :

1. Sa – Saraj.
2. Re – Rishabh/rekhab ( has shuddha/natural and komal/flat)
3. Ga – Gandhar ( has shuddha/natural and komal/flat)
4. Ma – Madhyam ( has shuddha/natural and teevra/sharp)
5. Pa- Pancham
6. Dha – Dhaivad ( has shuddha/natural and komal/flat)
7. Ni – Nishadh/Nikhad ( has shuddha/natural and komal/flat)

Most Indian classical instruments, are under heavy influence of vocal music. Generally, the human voice can achieve 2.5 to 3 octaves of range. These three octaves are named “mandra saptak” or lowest octave, “Madhya saptak” or middle octave and “ taar saptak” or the highest octave.

Flute, Bansuri, বাঁশি, बांसुरी

Time to play the “sa” : You are now required to choose any of the finger styles that we discussed in the last chapter and cover the first three holes ( counting from the blowing hole) with your index, middle and ring fingers, keeping the rest 3 holes open, blowing gently into the blowing hole.

In this case, a tanpura (recommended) or a tuner should be used to gain accuracy on the correct pitch of the notes. It is also important that students play a constant sa till their breath runs out and later repeat with lungs full of breath. This process will increase lung capacity and help with accuracy of the pitch.

Flute, Bansuri, বাঁশি, बांसुरी

Re :

The ring finger of the first hand ( 3rd hole from the top) should be lifted to play re. To exercise this, the previous note Sa and Re can be played one after the other in long breaths.

Ga :

To play ga, ring and middle fingers of the first hand must be lifted. Once a clean sound is achieved, play sa, re and ga in long breaths one after the other.

Ma :

To play ma, first hand index ( first hole after the blowing hole ) needs to be half lifted ( or half pressed ) to reveal the 1st hole only partially. Ma in the flute can be a little tricky, which can be achieved easily through regular practice. Keep repeating this note until it is satisfactory and then play from Sa in order, using long breaths on every note.

Pa :

To play pa, close all the 6 holes with the index, middle and ring fingers of both hands and gently blow into the blowing hole. Once satisfactory, repeat the practice process same as above.

Dha :

To play, lift only the ring finger of the lower hand ( 6th hole after the blowing hole ), while all the other holes are blocked. Once satisfactory, repeat practice.

Ni :

To play, lift middle and ring finger of the lower hand, while keeping all other holes blocked.

SA : ( Taar saptak/Highest octave ) :

To play the Taar saptak Sa, the finger movement is the same as Madhya saptak sa like the 1st note. The key to achieve this pitch is in the blow technique. The opening of the lips should be tightened along with a comparatively greater force of air from the mouth to change the octave of the same note. This can take some time to get used to but eventually be tamed with regular practice.

Once the technique of playing all these notes have reached a satisfactory level, the notes can now be played in ascending and descending order in long breaths maintaining a very slow tempo. A video representation of this lesson is available on Bansuri Gurukul’s YouTube channel and Facebook page for further learning assistance.

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