: literally, "snake voice
." The nagaswaram is an instrument
of South Indian Carnatic music
used primarily as the leading instrument of a periya melam
(literally, big band
). It is a long (generally 60-90cm), double-reed
instrument similar to the Western saxophone
. The nagaswaram has a loud, penetrating, nasal
tone that instantly recognizable and very suited to a leading position.
The nagaswaram consists of a conical wooden tube with seven finger holes, corresponding to the seven tones of an octave, and a flaring wooden bell. There are also five additional holes at the bottom used to control the tonal center by applying wax to them. The nagaswaram is always played using circular breathing, in which a constant source of air is supplied to the instrument by inflating one's cheeks and then pushing the air out of them while breathing in; this allows the musician to play continuously without pausing for breath. The nagaswaram has a range of two and a half octaves, like most woodwind instruments; however, as there are only seven finger holes, semi- and quarter-tones are produce by modulating the pressure and strength of the air flow.
The nagaswaram of the Carnatic music and the shehnai of the Hindustani music are of the same family and in general appearance they look similar. Other names of the nagaswaram include melam and olaga.