The tambura (Hindi: तानपूरा) is a type of stringed instrument found in different versions in different places around the world; most are plucked lutes. The New Grove Dictionary of Music assigns the term to the Eastern European variety of the saz, and to the Indian fretless drone lute.
The tradition of playing the tambura has lasted for centuries in Croatia and Serbia. Until the Great Migration of the Serbs at the end of the 17th century, the type of tambura most frequently used had a long neck and two or three strings (sometimes doubled). Similar string instruments are (tambura,Czech bratsche, saz, sargija, çiftelia, bouzouki, lute and oud). The movable neck frets are arranged to allow the playing of modes according to Pythagoras’ theory of intervals. The body of the instrument is made of a hollow gourd.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, especially their Pannonian parts Slavonia and Vojvodina, and in Hungary the big part of country, the tambura (often referred to by the diminutive tamburica) is the basic instrument for traditional folk music. This is usually performed by small orchestras of three to ten members, but large orchestras capable of playing even classical pieces arranged for tambura also exist.
The orchestral claims suiting it took shape newly tambura variants where the stringed Hungarian Gypsy-band, where though from the brass band's musical instruments their name was taken over ("kontra", "brács", "cselló", "basszprím", "prím").
There are several types of tambura, with three to four strings. The basic forms are samica (three double strings), bisernica (two double strings and two single strings; four tones), prim (one double string and three single strings; four tones), bas-prim or brač (from a Hungarian brács) (two double strings and two single strings; four tones), čelović (two double strings and two single strings; four tones), čelo (four strings) (from a Hungarian cselló), bas or berda (four strings), and bugarija or kontra (from a Hungarian kontra) (two double strings and one single string; three tones). The names of the instruments and method of playing them depends on the tuning of the strings.
Actually this type of tambura is something between mandolin and baglama. It has a higher pitch and stronger, sharper sound perfect for solos, but the instrument is not very common since it does not really sound good if played alone. All the members of the tambura family have no ribs. The body is normally made of single piece hardwood and is pear-shaped, but also there are old examples of luteback tamburas made with the technique of bending and gluing thin pieces of wood together. * The Bulgarian tambura is played in two ways. As an accompaniment instrument, it is tuned similarly to the first four strings of a guitar and played as such. As a melodic instrument it is tuned in fifths, with the strings that are not being played for melody sounding as drones.
Tanpuras come in different sizes and pitches: bigger "males" and smaller "females" for vocalists and yet a smaller version that is used for accompanying sitar or sarod, called tamburi or tanpuri. Male vocalists pitch their tonic note (Sa) to about C#, female singers usually a fifth higher. The male instrument has an open string length of approx. one metre, the female is sized down to 3/4. The standard tuning is 5881, sol do' do' do, or in Indian sargam: PA sa sa SA. For ragas that omit the fifth, the first string will be tuned down to the natural fourth: 4881 or Ma sa sa Sa. Some ragas require a less common tuning with shuddh NI (semitone below octave sa) : NI sa sa SA. With a five-string instrument, the seventh or NI (natural minor or major 7th) is added: PA NI sa sa SA (57881)or MA NI sa sa SA (47881). The name 'tanpura' is probably derived from tana, referring to a musical phrase, and pura which means "full" or "complete". Both in its musical function and how it works, the tanpura is a unique instrument in many ways. It does not partake in the melodic part of the music but it supports and sustains the melody by providing a very colourful and dynamic harmonic resonance field based on one precise tone, the basic note or key-note. The special overtone-rich sound is achieved by applying the principle of jivari which creates a sustained, "buzzing" sound in which particular harmonics will resonate with focused clarity. 'Jiva' refers to 'soul', that which gives life. What is implied is that an 'animated' tone-quality is the idea which the tanpura embodies. The principle of jivari can be likened to the prismatic refraction of white light into the colours of the rainbow, as its acoustic twin-principle at work.
To achieve this effect, the strings pass over a wide, arched bridge-piece, the front of the bridge sloping gently away from under the strings. When the string is plucked, it will have an intermittent periodical contact with the bridge at a point close to the front edge. This intermittent grazing of string and bridge is not a static process, as the points of contact will gradually shift, being a compound function of amplitude and the curvature of the bridge and string tension. When the string is plucked it has a large amplitude, moving up and down and contacting the bridge on the down-phase. As the energy of the string's movement gradually diminishes, the contact point of the string with the bridge slowly creeps up the slope to the top of the bridge toward point zero when the string has finally come to rest. (depending on scale and pitch, this can take between 3 and 10 seconds) This dynamic sonic process can be fine-tuned using a cotton thread between string and bridge. By shifting the thread minutely, the whole dynamic process of the grazing contact is also shifted to a different position on the bridge, thus changing the harmonic content. Every single string produces its own cascading range of harmonics and at the same time builds up a particular resonance. Evidently, this generates a diversity of harmonic possibilities. According to this refined principle tanpuras are most attentively tuned to achieve a particular tonal shade in function of the intonation-related qualities of the raga.
These more delicate aspects of tuning are directly related to what Indian musicians call 'raga svaroop', which is about how very characteristic intonations strengthen the tonal impression of a particular raga. The particular set-up of the tanpura with the adjustable sonic-prismatic function of curved bridge and thread made it possible to explore a multitude of harmonic relations produced by the subtle harmonic interplay of four strings. Theoretically, at least, this is what the instrument was designed to do. However, it seems that this degree of artistry is slowly being eclipsed by the common use of the readily accessible electronic tanpura, which is not capable of this natural diversity as it produces one 'standard' sound per setting.
Tanpuras are designed in three different styles: