This is Part 2 of bansuri student Akshay Sachdeva’s article series documenting his bansuri learning journey. See all of Akshay’s articles right here.
The bansuri sounds really nice when you play it with rhythm. Rhythm is something that’s both innate within you, and all around you. And playing in rhythm is great practice!
In this insightful, entertaining, soulful and enlightening lesson with Dr. Kerry, I learned the importance of playing the bansuri with a sense of rhythm. In the world of Indian classical music notation, you use various symbols to denote the rhythm.
For instance, the “+” symbol on the first beat; a small “o” symbol on the 9th beat (if you’re playing teental, which I learned is the most common Indian rhythm); a numerical sequence like “1, 2, 3, 4”; and a vertical bar "|" to separate each rhythmic division. This is how you follow the rhythm when reading music! Making sense yet?
Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think I have it nailed 100%, but the whole idea is to know how to play your bansuri in an interesting way, which feels intuitively rhythmic. To make it simple for you to grasp, think of playing the bansuri the same way as you’d think about walking.
When you walk, you can walk rhythmically, in a number of different ways. You could put your left foot in front of the right, and then the right foot in front of the left and walk normally. Or you could put the left foot ahead, twice, and then the right foot ahead twice so it looks like you’re enjoying your walk and almost dancing to a certain beat.
That’s exactly the purpose of an alankar, which is an important type of scale exercise. You learn to play a set of notes, rhythmically, in an interesting sequence so it starts to feel like real music! It’s when walking becomes dancing, it’s when rain drops become a shower, when links become a chain and when ingredients become dessert. Feel like you’re getting it now?
(1) Play With A Tanpura
Before you start playing any Indian classical music, you should ‘tune’ your tanpura to Sa of your bansuri. You can use the iOS app “iTabla Pro” to play the tanpura in the background, so you have a drone to compare your pitch with, throughout your practice. It also gives you some Indian music to enjoy in the background. I used to think of it as quite boring, but I guess I’m learning to see the purpose of it!
(2) Sum is the first beat of the rhythmic cycle
The “+” sign I spoke about earlier signifies the first beat in the rhythmic cycle. Now with the tanpura playing in the background, turn on your tabla so you can hear this beat and start to get a feel for it. The tabla provides the rhythm you need to match, or pace yourself with on the bansuri. Think of it like your dancing partner who you need to dance with, or your ‘rhythm guide’.
(3) Khali is halfway through the rhythmic cycle (in teental)
“Khali” is the 9th beat of the rhythmic cycle in teental (which has 16 total beats). That means it’s the halfway point! You’ll see a small “o” sign in the Kalyan alankar below; that’s what you call ‘Khali’, implying a certain emptiness in the tabla rhythm. We can think of it as being empty of the tabla’s bass drum (dagga)...even though it’s actually the four beats immediately after khali that lack the bass.
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"Thanks Kerry. This will help me understand your approach and style to raga presentation."
-- Sharad Moghe, bansuri, sarod & mandolin player
Now the interesting part is that you can play alankars as fast or as slow as you’d like, just as long as you play in rhythm. The faster you are, the more ‘beats per minute’ you play; the slower you are, the less ‘beats per minute’ you play. Naturally, playing faster requires advanced playing abilities, combined with biologically expanded lungs! Ha.
Kalyan is a great scale to start with, due to its relatively easy fingering on bansuri. I also learned that the purpose of an alankar or any scale exercise is to ingrain these musical sequences in your head, and your fingers, so it becomes natural for you to play certain phrases.
You might use these alankars, rhythms and sequences later on to produce your own music, or while improvising your own unique sequences. That’s when things become exciting! Dr. Kerry recommended listening to some Hindustani classical music to get used to the feel of the music.
Even though I haven’t been a huge fan of classical music in the past (as I find it quite monotonous), I learned in this lesson that learning about it, and enhancing your musical base will only act to empower you to produce magical musical concoctions that get your creative juices flowing!
So put your bansuri to your lips, and enjoy the melodious melodies you play!
Dr. Kriger has created a multitude of alankars and other scale exercises for various ragas. These are written out in easy to read notation and downloadable inside the Bansuri Bliss Membership Site. Most of the exercises are accompanied by video tutorials so you can hear how they are intended to be played, and get extra tips on the important aspect of each alankar.
This was Part 2 of bansuri student Akshay Sachdeva’s article series documenting his bansuri learning journey.
See all of Akshay’s articles right here.
Akshay is a new flutist, and loves the sound of the Bansuri. He's learning the Bansuri to create magical, soulful melodies that blend eastern and western music, and make him a versatile flute player, for the love of Lord Krishna. He finds the flute to be a very meditative, spiritually fulfilling instrument. Reach out to him and talk to him about anything!