Learn to play bansuri or Bamboo Flute

Bansuri  is a bamboo flute of varying length and diameter. Its been used since ancient times as a musical instrument. It can play all the 12 notes. Here in this blog post I would like to share my experience with learing bansuri. It is better to start with a smaller size bansuri then the larger one, primarily because its easier on your fingers. As you get comfortable you can move higher towards

Types of Bansuri

Bansuri various types, leftmost FF, middle B, right C

more bass sound bansuri. Personally I would say start with C-scale bansuri, then move towards G-scale and then go for bass ones according to one’s choice. Also, don’t buy an expensive one, just go with the cheapest as it takes long time to develop into a good bansuri player. A road side bansuri should cost you a couple of hundred rupees, which should be fine for the moment.

The scale of the bansuri depends upon the length, the thickness of bansuri, the size of holes, the size of blow-hole and the type of wood used.

Bansuri is a tonic instrument, the basic swars/notes are Sa, Re, Ga, ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa(next octave).The tonic of the bansuri is the note sounded when 3 finger holes are closed, 6 holes closed determines the key. Any position can be the starting position, i.e it can be Sa. Sa represents the lowest frequency and Ni the highest. The traditional position is to keep first 3 holes closed and that represents the Sa. If you play the natural scale then all the holes closed is considered Sa.

Here is the example of my bansuri in natural scale, which is a B-scale bansuri.

Sa (B4)   Re(C#5)    Ga(Eb5)    ma(E5)   Pa(F#5)   Dha(G5)   Ni(A5)   Sa(B5)

The same example in Indian sargam scale will be like this

Sa(E5)    Re(F#5)    Ga(G5)    ma(A5)    Pa(B5)    Dha(C#6)   Ni(Eb6)  Sa(E6)

Training to become a bansuri player : Initially practice for 20 mins a day, as it takes time for various muscles to develop. Also, as you play regularly your lung capacity will increase, you will feel dis-oriented due to excess intake of oxygen. Also, your lip muscles, face muscles, throat muscles needs to be developed. Try to develop breathing by stomach. All this development takes time, and gradually it will increase your capacity to play various notes. You will find that every week you would become better in getting the tone right.

Blowing technique : If you have never used a wind instrument before, chances are you would have difficulty in getting any sound from the bansuri. There is no single way to produce a right tone from the instrument, it depends from individual to individual. The blow-hole should point skywards, one must place the lower lip such that it covers the 1/3rd part of the hole and then try to blow air into the hole, so that more air goes in the hole, than outside. If you are still unable to produce sound then try to wet your lips and also try to stretch your lips, practise to yawn, take a deep breath before you start blowing. Also rotate the bansuri such that the blow-hole becomes smaller or larger till you find your right spot. After a considerable effort and technique you will find your sweet spot from where you can get the required tone.

Blowing depends upon the lip hole also called embouchure, bigger lip holes are useful for low notes and smaller lip holes for higher notes. It is the speed of the air which determines the note which will be played.

Tuning : As bansuri is tonic instrument, its required to be tuned properly. You  need to have a bansuri which can help you identify 12 notes in ascending and descending order. You require tuning for playing western music on your bansuri. You can use the following tuner to find the exact frequency of your notes. It can be used to produce a better and more accurate tone. Also, the website has tons of other useful information and tunes.

Length of the bansuri I have : B-scale 35 cm, FF-scale  52 cm.

How to hold bansuri: Playing a bansuri is a balancing act. If you are a right-handed person then the left hand first 3 fingers should be used to close the first 3 holes, the thumb should be placed on the lower side of the bansuri. The right hand first 3 fingers should close the lower holes and the little finger should also be placed on the same side of the bansuri. The right hand thumb should be on the lower side of bansuri. It’s vice versa if you are left handed person.

When all the holes are opened, the bansuri should be balanced by your lips and right hand little finger on one side and the thumbs of your both hand on the opposite side. It takes time to balance properly, especially going from all holes open to all holes closed because of this balancing issues.

Notes on bansuri (X – Closed Hole, O – Open)

XXX OOO – Sa

XXO OOO – Re

XOO OOO -Ga

OOO OOO – ma (The first hole should be half closed)

XXX XXX – Pa

XXX XXO – Dha

XXX XOO – Ni

Half notes are produced by partially closing the hole. They are called komal swar in indian classical music. Half notes can be played in two ways. First way is you just move your fingers so that the hole opens partially and you get the required note. Another way is to lift the finger completely and hover over the hole to get the requited note.

Learning Steps and approximate time required.
1. Try to produce sound (Week 1)
2. Try playing all the notes in one go. (Week 1)
3. Try balancing the flute. (Week 1+)

Play single notes for long duration, try up to 30 secs per note, it will help in playing indian classical music.

4. Upper and Lower octave notes.(Week 2 and 3+)
5. Work on lip hole or embouchure. (Week 3+)
6. Work on half notes.(Week 4+)
7. Play exercises examples.(Week 3+)

With time, patience and hard work will make you a better bansuri player.

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