by David Courtney working tools

Tuning the Dilruba

Westerners are constantly confused about the tuning of Indian instruments.  Interestingly enough the source of this confusion is more cultural than musical.

In the West, there is a basic principle of standardization.  One can take virtually any instrument and refer to any string and declare down to the very number of vibrations per second what the tuning is going to be.  Presumably this cultural predisposition is a result of the symphonic tradition (i.e., the only way that you can have 50-100 musicians playing together is if there is standardization).

We must not forget that when we stand apart from the Western tradition, we find that such standardization is an aberration.  It is not a part of most of the world's musical traditions.

The Indian approach to tuning musical instruments is basically similar to that of the guitarist who adopts open tunings.  In this fashion, a guitarist may adopt any tuning that is appropriate to the particular piece he/she is going to play.

Even though standard tunings for Indian instruments are rare, standard approaches to tuning are the norm.  Let us look at these approaches.

Key - An unmodified instrument will play from one pitch only.  If you have to change the key, you will have to either retune the instrument, change the playing string, or change the entire instrument.  Indian musical instruments are not designed to change keys in the middle of the piece (although the people in the film industry have developed workarounds).

Mode - Many Indian stringed instruments such as sitar, sarod and sarangi, have a number of sympathetic strings and/or drone strings.  These will be tuned according to the rag that is being played.  Since the number of strings generally exceed the number of notes in the rag, this leads to different approaches to their tuning.  As a general rule, as long as you adhere to the notes of the rag almost any approach to tuning these strings will work.


Tuning Specific Instruments





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For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at david@chandrakantha.com