In Indian music, drone is an important element. Often, drone is provided by a tanpura player, especially for vocal performances, and those of the sitar, sarod, and sarangi. The electronic tanpura was created as a marketable, practical solution for instrumentalists who cannot readily avail themselves of able tanpura players for their long hours of private practice.
Since the late 1970s, "little white boxes" (electronic tanpura-s) appeared, first privately, then gradually coming openly to the stage as the technological sophistication of the models advanced.
In Indian solfège, called Sargam, Sa is the tonic, Ma, Pa and Ni are 4th, 5th and 7th tone degrees within the octave. Generally, the electronic tanpura has one or more dials to control the tone and volume, and may have other switches and buttons that allow a certain pitch and volume to be saved and used again at a later time. The range is usually one to two octaves.
To many, the electronic tanpura is a practical commodity. It delivers a passable substitute for a real, 'live' tanpura. Certainly, it is much easier and less expensive than maintaining a live tanpura player. However, some claim that the electronic tanpura is an inferior substitute for the actual instrument as the tones it creates lack the dynamics of a live musician, producing a mechanical, 'dead' sound.