by David Courtney working tools

Part 1 - Sarangi: An Overview
Part 2 - Parts of Sarangi
Part 3 - Tuning the Sarangi - This Page
Part 4 - Fingering the Sarangi

There are as many variations on the tuning of the sarangi as there are players.  (Can yous say "hyperbole" boys and girls?)  This is typical of the philosophy of tuning that one encounters with most Indian stringed instruments.


Standard Tuning - The most common approach to tuning the sarangi is shown below:

Tuning the Sarangi

There are a number of different sets of strings.  There are three playing strings, one drone string and two sets of sympathetic strings.  The tuning of Sa, lower Pa, and low Sa, would be the most basic for the main playing strings.  The drone string will usually be tuned to Sa, but even Ma or Pa is frequently found.  The tunings of the sympathetic strings are so numerous that it is impractical to even attempt to describe them all.  However, one normal approach is to tune one bank of the side sympathetics chromatically, the other bank of side strings to the rag, while the upper sympathetics may also be tuned to the notes of the rag.

Tuning the Sarangi

Tune one bank of tarfdars to the rag, and tune the other chromatically

There are a number of alternative tunings that we should probably be comfortable with. However for a frame of reference, let us return to our common tuning.


Alternative Tuning #1 (Sa Ma Sa Sa) - Our common tuning works well for rags which have the Pancham; unfortunately, many times Pancham will not be present.  In such cases it is fairly common to find Shuddha Ma used in the rag.  Although you can still tune the sarangi as per the common tuning, you will probably find the tuning below gives a much better sound:

Sarangi Sa Ma Sa Sa tuning

There are rare cases where Pancham is not present and the Madhyam is Tivra.  It does not follow that the second string should be tuned to Tivra Ma.  This sort of thing is just not done in North Indian music.  In such rare cases, you will probably just revert to the common tuning.


Alternative Tuning #2 (Inverted Tuning) - Let us examine the previous tuning in a different light.  If we just think of it slightly differently it assumes a totally different character.

Think of all the times you have had a tanpura tuned to Ma (e.g. to accompany Malkauns, Chandrakauns or any similar rag), and after a while, it starts to sound a little confusing.  It starts to sound like the Ma is Sa, and the Sa starts to sound like Pa.  However it is all in a different key.  It is interesting to note that this is not just an illusion; it really has changed, if we choose to define it as such.  This process is known as an "inversion".

Now let us apply the concept of inversion to alternative tuning #1.  We do not change any of the tunings, we will only change the way we define it in our mind.  If we take the 2nd string (Ma) and redefine this so we now consider it to be Sa, then our other strings are also redefined so that the reflect the diagram below:

Sarangi inverted common tuning

This approach has some very practical benefits.  Sarangi is primarily known as an accompanying instrument for the voice.  Unfortunately the numerous strings of the instrument make it ill suited towards this task.  People sing in a a variety of keys, while a common tuning of the sarangi is limited to just a couple of steps.  There is always the option of switching the strings out; but sometimes this is just too awkward.  Our inverted tuning allows us to shift the key of the sarangi down by about half an octave without changing any strings at all.  So just as the concept of inversion allows us to extend the usable range of a tanpura, the same inversion allows us to extend the usable range of our sarangi.


Alternative Tuning #3 (Folk Tuning) - Sarangi is often played in a folk style; in such cases the drone is especially important.  When I talk of drone, I do not mean the resonance from the sympathetic strings, but I mean the simultaneous playing of two strings.  Ram Narayan was particularly fond of this approach.  In the common tuning, the only real way to affect this drone is to play the second and first string simultaneously, but use the second string to play the melody while the first string (Sa) provides the drone.

This sounds nice, and is workable as long as you confine the range from low Pa to Pa in the middle octave: however this is just a temporary work-around.  If you play in a folk style, you will probably find that this stringing and tuning just does not give you that heavy drone which is so characteristic of the folk style.  In which case you may wish to consider the following tuning.

Sarangi Sa Sa Pa High Sa tuning

This allows you to use the first string as your main melody string, and constantly play the second string as your drone.  Should you need to go into the lower octave, then your third string becomes your melody string, while your second string remains the drone string.  Notice that the third string only allows you to reach down to Pa in the lower octave.  In the rare situations that you must play the lower tetrachord of the low octave (i.e. Sa, Re, Ga, Ma) then you can reach down and bow the fourth string and play that as your playing string.  You would probably not attempt to give any drone when playing off the fourth string because it would necessitate shifting the drone from the Sa down to the Pa of the third string.  An interesting effect admittedly, but generally not within the musical culture of Northern India.

This tuning is a very good way to allow your sarangi to play the folk styles, but it does have some very significant drawbacks.  The instrument must specifically be restrung to use this type of tuning.  You can't just switch back and forth without changing the strings.  Furthermore, since you are shifting the fourth string up to the top of the bridge, this will necessitate some very significant modifications to your bridge.  These modifications are not for the faint of heart!


Alternative Tuning #4 (Folk Tuning) - One may consider a hybrid between the last tuning and our common tuning.  This is shown below:

Sarangi Sa Sa Pa Sa tuning

We see that in this tuning, we retain the thin metal string (usually brass or bronze ) of our common tuning; but our 1st 2d, and 3rd strings, are like our previous folk tuning.  This tuning only requires us to switch out a few strings; it requires no work on the bridge.  However, It does have the disadvantage that we lose half an octave of usable range of the instrument.  Never-the-less, many may find this a more accessible way in order to get the drone string in close proximity to the main playing string.

I must emphasise that these last few tunings are only to be used if we wish to play a sarangi in a folk style.  For most people the common tuning which was illustrated at the top of this page, is the best approach.

Part 1 - Sarangi: An Overview
Part 2 - Parts of Sarangi
Part 3 - Tuning the Sarangi - This page
Part 4 - Fingering the Sarangi - Next Page



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Part 1 - Sarangi: An Overview
Part 2 - Parts of Sarangi
Part 3 - Tuning the Sarangi - This page
Part 4 - Fingering the Sarangi - Next Page

© 1998 - 2018 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

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