A selected list of the musical instruments of India

Bin (Rudra Vina)

The bin, which is the vina of the north Indian music is the oldest of indigenous instrument and is still used in classical music. The first visual evidence the instrument appeared in the 6th Century A.D., however there are references in texts to a bottle-gourd vina, back as far as 500 B.C.. This instrument has dominated Indian music nearly 2000 years.

The modern bin features a hollow wooden tube to which are attached 24 high frets. There are two large gourds in the back of the tube, which act as resonators. Most bin have 7 or 8 strings 4 which are fretted and 3 or 4 strings which are used as open drones. Typically the bin is 5 to 8 tones lower than its younger sister the sitar. The bin was extremely important in Indian the classical music in the past, but it is rarely heard today because of its rather quiet tone, and difficult technique.


The harmonium is also known as peti or baja. This instrument is not a native Indian instrument. It is a European instrument which was imported in the 19th century. It is a reed organ with hand pumped bellows. Although it is a relatively recent introduction, it has spread throughout the subcontinent. Today, it is used in virtually every musical genre except the south Indian classical.


The santur is the eastern relative of the hammered dulcimer of Europe. In fact it is likely that the dulcimer originated in Central or South Asia. The origins of the instrument in Kashmir are still shroud in mystery. The santur consists of a finely finished trapezium-shaped box, with metal strings run across the top. The strings are usually grouped in three strings per note, called courses. Each of the courses is surported by a small wooden bridge, which alternate on either side of the top. Each course is sounded by striking it with a pair of light wooden mallets. Used for over a 1000 years in the Kashmir valley, it has since been introduced into North Indian Classical Music.


The sarangi is the most popular bowed instrument of north Indian music. In the mid-17th century it became the favorite accompaniment for vocal music. It consists of squat, truncated body. Like the sarode, it has a sound board of goat skin. It has three main playing strings of heavy gut. These are the ones which are bowed. It also has an addition 30-40 metal smypathic strings, which give the instrument it characteristic sound. Unlike the violin, in which the strings are pressed down on a fingerboard,the playing strings of the sarangi are stopped with fingernails of the left hand.


Probably the best-known North Indian musical instrument, was made popular in the West by Ravi Shankar. The sitar is a long necked lute with 20 curved metal frets. It is plucked by the index finger of the left hand fitted with a plectrum made of wire. Sitars generally have 6 or 7 main playing strings which run above the frets, and an additional 12 or more sympathic strings,which give the instrument an shimmering echo when played. The bridge of the Sitar which is retangular gives the instrument its characteristic sound. The sitar evolved from the vina of the north probably sometime in the 13th Century. Changes in the instrument are attributed to the famed Sufi poet Amir Khusrau.


The shehnai is a north Indian oboe. Although it is referred to as a double-reeded instrument it is actually a quadruple-reed instrument. This is because it has two upper reeds and two lower reeds. The instrument has a wooden body with a brass bell. The reed is attached to a brass tube which is wrapped in string. The shehnai has eight holes but it is common to find some of the holes partially or completely occluded with wax. The sound of the shehnai is considered particularly auspicious. For this reason it is found in temples and is an indispensable component of any North Indian wedding. This instrument is a close relative of the nadaswaram found in south Indian music.


The sarode is a fretless lute, with a fingerboard faced with metal. It has a soundboard of goat skin. Generally it has 8 to 10 main playing strings and 11 to 16 sympathic strings. It is plucked with a pick made coconut shell. It evolved from the ancient rabab, sometime it the 19th century. The sarode is shorter than the sitar in length and has a clearer, rounder tone. The sarode is capable of both long slides and fast percussive phrases.


The Tabla is the usual drum in north Indian music. It is actually a pair of drums played with fingers and wrists of both hands. The right hand, smaller, high-pitched drum is called tabla, and the left hand one the Bayan or Dagga. [Virtuosi} drummers produce a wide range of different pitches and tone colors. The Bayan in particular is reconizable by it low, swoops of sound and colorful pitch effects.

Tanpura or tambura

Tanpura is a drone instrument. It resembles a sitar except it has no frets. It has four strings tuned to the tonic. The word "tanpura" (tanpoora) is common in the north, but in south India it is called "tambura", "thamboora", "thambura", or "tamboora". The tanpura is known for its very rich sound. (A personal aside, I played a tambura in a classical Indian music group at Johns Hopkins University. It doesn't take much skill to play, but you have to be able to sit in one position on the floor for almost an hour.)

Vina (Carnatic1)

The Carnatic Vina is the main instrument used in South Indian music.It is directly related to the Bin. The carnatic vina orginally had the tube with two gourds, but musicians introduced a series of refinements. It now has a deep hollow neck attached to a round, hollowed resonating body and a soundboard of wood, something similar to the sitar body. It has 4 main playing strings and 3 drones. There are 24 metal frets. The vina's tone is not as brilliant as the sitar's, but is extremely sweet and fluid. It has greater projection than the bin of the North.
1 The music of south India is called carnatic, the music of the north Hindustani.

References: http://www.khazana.com:80/et/music/instrum1.asp?mscsstcid=

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