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Tanpura has 4 strings which play : Pa/Ma/Ni(1), Sa(2), Sa(3), Sa(4); want to know more about these notes. Such as, "Pa/Ma/Ni" being played on Tanpura are of Mandra or Madhya Saptak, then following "Sa Sa" are of Madhya Saptak (please correct if its not true) and finally "Sa", is that of Taar Saptak.

3 Answers 3

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Yes, you have it: the first, Pa, string is lower than the others (Mandra). The next two are tuned to Sa (Madhya), the fourth string is tuned to the Sa an octave above the other strings (Taar).

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  • The fourth string is mandra Sa, not taar. This answer is wrong.
    – verbose
    Jan 17 at 7:29
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The four strings of the tanpura are typically tuned to: 'Pa, Sa, Sa 'Sa, or:

  • First string: mandra Pa.ncham, or lower fifth
  • Second string: madhya Sha.Daj or tonic
  • Third string: madhya Sha.Daj or tonic
  • Fourth string: mandra Sha.Daj, an octave down from tonic—not up!

From "A Comprehensive Guide to Tanpura: It's [sic] Construction, Significance, and Relevance in Indian Classical Music" at baithak.org:

The two middle strings, called Jod / जोड are tuned to the Sa (षड्ज). The last string is tuned to the Sa of the lower octave (खर्ज). The first string is usually tuned to Pa (पंचम). The tuning of first string depends on the Raga and the musical preferences of the musician. Based on these considerations, the first string can also be tuned to Ma (मध्यम) or Ni (निषाद).

As this quote, the question, and the other answers have noted, the first string can be tuned to Ni or ma if the raga omits the perfect fifth but has a major seventh or a perfect fourth. But it is never the case that the fourth string is tuned above the other three, to taar Sha.Daj. It is unmistakably the lowest-pitched of the four and is invariably tuned to mandra Sha.Daj.

Even construction-wise, the fourth string is thicker and made of a different material, so it cannot resonate with a higher frequency than the first three strings. On my tanpura these are the strings and their gauges:

  • pa.ncham (first string): #8 steel, .020" gauge
  • jo.D (two middle strings): #7 steel, .018" gauge
  • kharaj (fourth string): #21 brass, .032 gauge.

So the answer to your question about whether the final Sa is of the taar saptak, is a definite No.

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  • 2
    I realize this question was asked nine years ago, but the accepted answer is incorrect (as is the second, more recent one), so it seemed worthwhile to provide a more accurate answer.
    – verbose
    Mar 20, 2023 at 0:51
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    The website Carnatica.in also mentions that the fourth string is tuned to the mandara Sa: "Of the 4 strings that the Tambura usually has, the middle strings are tuned to the tonic note, Sa. The first string is tuned to the fifth perfect, Pa and the last, which is the bass string, to the tonic, Sa, an octave lower."
    – user77458
    Mar 21, 2023 at 16:54
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First, in response to your main question, the strings of a four-string tanpura are tuned to 1st string: 'Pa (mandra saptak), 2nd string: Sa (madhya saptak), 3rd string: Sa (madhya saptak), 4th string: 'Sa (mandra saptak).

Alternatively, the 1st string could be tuned to some other note, such as 'ma or 'Ni, depending on the raga.

Ragas in which Pa plays a strong role are generally tuned to Sa-Pa, and most ragas fall into this category.

Ragas that either omit or sparingly use Pa, but have a strong shuddha ma instead, are tuned to Sa-ma. Examples are Raag Malkauns (S g m d n S'/S' n d m g m g S), which does not use Pa, and Raag Bageshree (S g m D n S' / S' n D m, P D m g, m g R S), which only uses Pa in some phrases.

Ragas that omit or sparingly use both Pa and shuddha ma, but have a strong tivra ma instead, can be tuned to Sa-Ni. Examples include Raag Marwa ('N r G M D N S' / S' N D M G r S) and Raag Poorvi ('N r G M d N S' / S' N d P M G, m G r S). In these ragas, tuning the tanpura to Sa-tivra Ma would be too distracting, but tuning it to Sa-Ni is less distracting while giving subtle tivra Ma overtones, because Ni and tivra Ma are in a Sa-Pa (1-5) relationship.

The different overtones produced by different tanpura tunings are illustrated here.

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