Have you ever tried making a bansuri on your own?
I know the question that bothers you most while attempting to make a flute is : How to tune flute?
How to tune a flute is one of the most crucial aspects of crafting a bamboo flute or bansuri.
This is because all your hard work goes in vain if the tuning isn’t accurate.
Tuning a flute requires a precise understanding of basic scale theory. Beyond this, you should have well seasoned and trained ears to feel the actual Shruti and the ability to sense when the pitch deviates from its actual position.
The most popular methods of tuning a bamboo flute or the bansuri are :
- Indian Classical (Shruti) Based Tuning
- Western Equitempered Tuning (ET)
In this article, we will discuss in detail the difference between these tuning methods. We will also guide you through the process of how to tune flute using these two methods.
Distinguishing Indian Classical and Western Equal Tempered Tuning
The major difference between Indian Classical Music and the Westeren Music lies in the spacing of each notes from each other on a particular octave.
In Indian Classical Music, the octave is divided into 22 “shrutis.” Shrutis are microtonal intervals appearing in a particular scale. Shrutis are finer and do not appear at a regular interval from each other.
On the other hand, Western music is based on an equal-temperament tuning system, a fundamental aspect of its musical tradition.
This system involves dividing the octave into precisely equal intervals. These intervals are commonly known as semitones.
The above information can be tabulated as below
|Aspect||Indian Classical Music||Western Music|
|Approach to Note Spacing||Octave is divided into 22 “shrutis,” (microtonal intervals) with uneven spacing |
|Octave is devided into equal intervals known as semitones|
|Note Interval Spacing||Shrutis are finer and don’t have regular, equal intervals between them||Semitones are evenly spaced, providing consistent intervals between notes|
|Tuning System||Utilizes microtonal “shrutis” |
to create detailed and subtle musical expressions
|Relies on the equal-temperament system, allowing for ease of modulation between keys|
How to Tune Flute
As mentioned in the introduction of this article, a flute can be tuned either to the Indian Classical Shruti-based scale or the Western Equal-tempered scale.
In the following section, we will provide guidance on how to tune a flute to the Indian Classical Shruti-based scale.
Indian Classical (Shruti) Based Tuning
Before getting into Indian Classical (Shruti) based tuning of a flute, it is important to take a note of the format of the flute (Bansuri) and the notes produced when all the holes of a flute are open.
The Indian Classical flute (North Indian Bansuri), in its default format, produces the following swaras (tones).
- Sa (सा) : Upper three holes closed
- Re (रे) : Upper two holes closed
- Ga (ग): The top hole is closed
- Ma’ (म॑): All six holes are opened
- Pa (प) : When all six holes are covered and air is blown with a relatively stronger force (if blown gently, the lower notes will be produced)
- Dha (ध) : When the last finer hole is opened (relatively stronger blow)
- Ni (नि) : When the last two finger holes are opened (relatively stronger blow)
- Sa‘ (सां): The Last three finger holes opened (relatively stronger blow)
These swaras belong to Kalyan Thaat in which (म॑) तीव्र मध्यम/Tivra Madhyam is used instead of (म) Suddh Madhya/सुद्ध मध्य . It just means that a bansuri in its default format sounds swaras in Kalyan Thaat
So, when you tune a flute, you need to tune the top hole to its तीव्र मध्यम/Tivra Madhyam.
It is a well known fact that when the तीव्र मध्यम/Tivra Madhyam is properly tuned, Suddh Madhya/सुद्ध मध्य naturally sounds accurate.
Tools Required to Tune a Bansuri
To tune a flute on Shruti Based Indian Classical scale, you will invariably need a tanpura.
For this, you can use a good tanpura application available in your mobile phone. Alterntely, you can buy a digital tanpura from online store.
Recommended Tanpura Applications
If you want to use a tanpura application, we strongly recommend the following:
Please note both of the above mentioned applications are paid applications.
We would recommend you to go for a digital tanpura instead as you might need them for a longer time.
You can find the best and affordable digital tanpuras from the link below :
How to Tune Flute : 2 Methods
Please ensure you have read and understood the previous lesson on finger holes placement.
Before proceeding further with tuning the flute, I would like to suggest you go through all the lessons and make sure you are ready for the next step.
So far, you have covered all those aspects of flute making which involve information based tasks.
The next and final step in making a professional flute is tuning the flute, which is a task that requires the skills of an artist rather than just an enthusiast.
If you haven’t explored the instrument as a player and lack the ability to identify musical notes, tuning the flute would be a challenging task for you.
Do not worry. There is a way to overcome this problem.
If you are a trained bansuri player, it is assumed that you understand the use of a tanpura and how to play the flute in tune (sur).
But if you have never played flute and have no idea as to how you play it with the help of tanpura, you have the option to visually identify the musical notes! Happpy?
Hence, we will cover the topic How to Tune Flute in following two possible ways:
|With Tanpura||Hindustani Shruti Based Tuning|
|With Chromatic Tuner||Western Equitempered Tuning|
Tanpura : Introduction (Contextual)
There are two type of tanpuras:
- Male Tanpura
For both types of tanpuras, the tuning of strings is different, as shown in the image below:
Since we are going to use an electronic tanpura for tuning our flute, we can use its default tuning. It does not make the difference.
Method 1 : How to Tune Flute (Shruti Based Tuning)
You might be eager to dive directly into the steps of how to tune the flute, but please remember that unless you are familiar with all the aspects I am trying to explain, you may encounter difficulties.
I do not want to leave any stone unturned in an attmpt to teach you how to tune flute.
Therefore, I would like to clarify that I am covering all the relevant aspects to ensure your complete understanding of the topic of how to tune a flute.
In this section we will cover how to tune flute in Hindustani Shruti Based Style.
While Shruti is a vast and subtle topic which we will cover later, it is enough for you to understand that if you tune a flute with the help of a tanpura, the flute is shruti based tuned.
Understand the Notes From Tanpura
Let us tune the tanpura to E Scale (Remember from the earlier lessons we are making E Natural Bass flute).
The most complicated aspect of tanpura is to sense all the notes Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni Sa‘ listening to the tanpura.
You know from the previous section that a tanpura sounds Sa and Pa notes only.
At this point, let me try to explain how you can make mout all the 7 notes out of the sound of tanpura.
Let us consider the string tuned to Sa.
- When you pluck the string tuned to Sa, the sound you will be able to hear are Sa, Ga and Pa. This is a natural phenomenan. We will cover this topic separately later.
The notes we get from the first string tuned to Sa : Sa, Ga and Pa
- Next when you pluck the string tuned to Pa, the notes you will be able to hear are Pa, Ni and Re
Let us put together all the notes we have got from the tanpura : Sa, Ga, Pa from the first string and Pa, Ni, Re from the second string.
Hence, we get the following notes naturally from the tanpura.
Sa, Re, Ga, Pa, Ni
Now, remaining notes Ma and Dha are so subtle that it is very difficult for moderately trained ears to sense.
Hence we can sense Ma and Dha notes as under:
- Ma : We have to consider the sambad (interaction) between any nearby note and the Madhyam (Ma). For this you can take Pancham (Pa) and try to make sense of Madhyam (Ma).
- Dha : Similarly you can take Pancham (Pa) as the referance and sense Dha.
In this way you will have the sense of all the notes viz. Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni from the tanpura.
I am trying to explain this seemingly complicated concept in my own experience based knowledge, you can also have your own studies in this regard.
Please note that my understanding and explainination might not be 100% true, as sur is a subtle sensation and understanding sur is a complicated thing.
Tunign the Flute
Once you allow the flute to cool down, you can start tuning the flute.
Step 1 : Set the tanpura to E scale
It is advised to start tuning your flute from Mandra Pa (Lower Pa).
Do you know which is the Pancham hole on flute?
7th hole which is placed offset from the line of finger holes is the Pancham hole. Sometimes it is also called as tuning hole.
Hence, while tuning the flute, we will do adjustments to the 7th hole to get Pancham note in tune.
Step 2 : Next, you need to blow into your flute with all the finger holes closed.
Note : Throughout the flute tuning process, you should not change the intensity and angle of your blow. Otherwise, you will have unevenly tuned notes.
When you blow into your flute with all the six finger holes closed, the sound you hear, as said before, is Lower Pancham (Pa).
Remember, the sound of an untuned flute may be a few cents flat. If you use FluteMate to mark the holes and employ the correct size drill bits or rods to create holes on the flute you are making, the flute you create will sound a few cents below accurate tuning before it is properly tuned.
So, if the frequency of B3 (Lower Pancham) is 246.94 Hz (440Hz) then the Pacham note will be sounding below 246.94 Hz.
So, how can you attain precise tuning for the Pancham note?
By gradually enlarging the size of the hole with the help of a sandpaper roll. We recommend you to use 180/220 grit sandpaper to achieve this.
In your effort to tune the Pancham note to its correct pitch, the hole gradually enlarges, and eventually, the black burnt area around the hole will disappear.
I hope your question about the ideal hole size is addressed with this.
Likewise, you can tune all the notes of the flute.
We hope you have understood the steps explained thus far.
Alternative to Tanpura
It is a fact that to master the art of listening to the tanpura, it takes time. You have to practice listening to it to make out the sense of various notes as discussed above.
Meanwhile, we realise that you need an alternate tool that might help you to tune your bansuri in Hindustani Style.
We have developed a tone generator for E Natural Bass in which you will have all the notes of E Natural Scale. You can hear those notes if you click on them.
You just have to play the note and tune the respective note on your flute.
So here is the E Scale tone generator. You just have to click on the notes to play the corresponding notes.
E Scale Tone Generator (Hindustani Style)
Click on the notes to play the corresponding tones:
If you need such tone generator for any other scale, you can leave a comment below.
Method 2 : How to Tune Flute (Western Equitempered Style)
To tune a flute on Western Equitempered Style, you just need a chromatic tuner – Either a mobile application like PitchLab or DaTuner or a device like we have discussed on Lesson 4 (Flute Making Tools).
As you know when you make all the holes of a flute, the flute is overall flat (playing notes lower in pitch than they should be).
In the previous section you also have learnt that you should start tuning a flute from the last (7th hole) holw i.e Lower Pancham.
So what note is the Lower Pancham of E Natural Bass?
B3. Isnt it?
So the first action you should take is to set your chromatic tuner to its default settings (A440 Hz).
Now play the flute closing all the holes exept the 7th hole which is usually open unless you have intentionally covered it.
The dispaly on the tuner will show somewhat like the image placed below.
The first image shows that the B note is flat ( its value is lower than 0). Here the colour of B note and the margin around B is yellow which means that the note is not accurately tuned.
The second image, on the other hand shows B note tuned accurately. Here, the value of the note is exactly 0.
Please remeber that while tuning each note, your aim is to get the value (frequency) remains at the spike of value 0 like displayed on the second image.
To accurately tune all the notes, you will need to gradually enlarge each hole using sandpaper.
Note : If a note is flat, it’s relatively easy to bring it to its accurate frequency by gradually enlarging the hole. However, if the note becomes sharper, it becomes impossible to lower the frequency to its accurate position.
To achieve accurate tuning of each note, you need to continuously check the frequency while enlarging the hole until you reach the correct pitch.
Once you complete tuning the 7th note, you can move on tuning all the foles one after onother until you tune the first hole (Tivra Madhyam).
In this way, you can tune you flute on Western Equitempered Style.
With this, your lessons on flute making are complete.
It is important to understand that with practice and passion, you can achieve your goal of making your dream flute.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask by leaving comments below.
We kindly request you to review FluteMate’s effort in sharing flute-making secrets with those who want to learn.
All the best!