When I first saw my dad’s E-scale bansuri, I was barely 6 or 7 years old, and I thought I’d learn it in one night. However, when I tried to play it, I found that the flute itself was ¾ of my height. Not only could I not make a sound, my fingers couldn’t even reach all of the holes, which is when my dad opened his trove of bansuris and gave me one more suitable to my size, and that’s when I learned about its different types and sizes.
The bansuri is a bamboo flute originating from ancient India that comes in various sizes, styles, and variations. Each type of bansuri has its own unique tone and musical capabilities, making it a preferred choice for different musical genres and styles.
Additionally, the size of the bansuri directly affects the tone and pitch of the instrument. Larger bansuris generally have a deeper, base tone, while smaller ones have a higher tone. The material used to craft the bansuri is always bamboo. As a result, bamboo results in a more vibrant sound compared to many metallic instruments.
Two main varieties of bansuris include the fipple and the transverse bansuris. The fipple bansuri, sometimes called the palla bansuri, is primarily used for folk music, and looks like a classical bansuri with a whistle mouthpiece attached to it. The transverse bansuri, which is more commonly used in classical Indian music, is a side-blowing flute that allows the musician to play a wider range of notes. It also gives them the ability to play different ornamentations, which personalizes their music.
Note: Although the bansuri is played in South India, a more popular flute is a Carnatic instrument called the venu, which is typically also made of bamboo. However, the bansuri is also sometimes used to play Carnatic music.
A bansuri's range of notes is determined by its size. Therefore, it is capable of producing notes in the bass, medium, and high octaves. The bass octave produces deeper and lower tones, while the high octave produces sharper and higher tones. Within these octaves, there are different flutes, from the A-G tuning system, A being the deepest, and G being the highest. These are somewhat comparable to the sharp (♯) and flat (♭) symbols in Western music.
In conclusion, the bansuri is a flexible instrument that has been around for centuries. Its unique characteristics, including the different types of bansuris, the impact of size on tone and pitch, and the use of bamboo as the primary material, allow it to produce a distinct sound and offer a wider range of musical possibilities compared to many other instruments.