How do I find out my Flute’s scale?

How to find out the scale of Flute?

It is a very common dilemma of many who are new to Flutes. Picking up a flute is easy, blowing it correctly to get the right sweet tone is a bit challenging, but then, playing your flute in sync with a particular scale is the most daunting task for those flutists who have not taken formal flute lessons from any Guru or Teacher.

So, if you want to know the scale of your flute, do the following:

1. Download any ‘Tuner’ app on your mobile phone. There are hundreds of free digital tuners available on ‘Google Play Store’. I use ‘Swar Meter’.
2. Go to a noise free location around you, Open the app
3. Pick up your flute. Close the first three holes from top and play “Sa”…
4. Hold “Sa” steady and look into your tuner app which will indicate which scale of flute you have

So, the “Sa” that you play on your flute is generally the scale of your flute. It can be a ‘C’, or ‘A’, or ‘B’ and so on depending upon the shape, size, and the quality of your flute.

Does the scale change the sargam?

To find out answer to this question, you can do two experiments:

  1. Sargam will change with the scale of flute.

Pick up your flute and play some song on it. After that, keep your flute aside and listen to that same song on your music player.  Now try to play the same song on your flute again while listening to it.  If your flute sounds good with the song that is playing on the music player then you are doing well, otherwise you’d be sounding ‘out of scale’. Suppose, you played the first note of the song on your G Scale flute with “Sa” (Closing the top three holes). But, when you tried to play along the song on your music player, you find out that the song is not sounding good at “Sa”. Rather, it is sounding better when you’d start at “Re” on your flute.  Then, you would either have to reshuffle your fingering taking “Re” on your G Scale Flute as “the first note” or you’d rather take another flute to match the correct scale of the song.  So, yes, if you choose to play that song on your G Scale Flute, then the whole Sargam would change.

2. Sargam will NOT change with the scale of flute.

Pick up a song which includes Sa Re Ga Ma as its lyrics, for example, the song from old Hindi movie Chupke Chupke sung by Kishore and Rafi that goes like, “Sa re ga ma, ma sa re ga, ga sa re ma, ma ga re sa”, or the song from a new Hindi movie Wazir sung by Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal that has lyrics in between like, “Pa pa papa, Pa pa papa, ga ma pa sani sani sani…”

Now, for the time being, without worrying about the scale of your flute, play the song “Saregama” on the top three holes of your flute; or play “Papapapa” on the last hole of your flue. Pick up another flute and play these songs. You will sound good on any flute, if you follow this in-lyrics sargam.  So, in this experiment the Sargam will not change with the change in scale of flute.  However, you may sound offbeat if you play along these songs, if the scale of your flute does not match with the actual scale of the song.

Similarly, when you play Raagas, you play them as per their fixed notations.  So, it does not matter on which scale of flute you are playing a Raag.  Hence, the sargam does not change with change in scale.

What is the importance of playing in scale?

Unlike other String or Key instruments like, Guitar or Keyboard, where you can easily set those to a particular scale, Flute is one instrument which does not need to be tuned. But this feature of Flute is both good and not so good for a flute player. How? Good, because you do not have to ‘wait’ to play your flute.  Bad, because if you do not sound in sync with other instruments or vocalists then your flute will sound awkward.  So, it is important to understand which scale of flute you are playing.

Playing in scale is especially important in such cases where you have to play along with other musicians or with Karaoke tracks.  Otherwise your flute, or any instrument for that matter, will not produce the magic that one would expect you to do.  For example, suppose you are accompanying a vocalist who is singing in C scale and you are playing a G scale flute then the harmony will be missing from your music and you will miss out on appreciations.

To practice this aspect of playing your instrument in scale, it is advisable that you always practice your flute playing along with a Tanpura, either an electronic one or an App-based one.

Good luck!

How to produce SARGAM or notations of a song?

I have been asked by many that “How to produce SARGAM or notations of a song?”

Well, I will be answering this question purely based on my own experience of “trial and errors”. Since I am not a trained musician, I may be technically wrong while letting you know how do I produce SARGAMs, but the way I do it has so far helped me in understanding how one may find out the SARGAM of any song or tune on flute.  I will not call it a technique, but a ‘Trick’.

So, the first thing first. You will have to have a good understanding of Sa Re Ga Ma…, that is, how to produce notes correctly. Proper posture and good blowing technique are most important in this aspect. Then, your ears must be trained to differentiate between notes. So much so that you should be able to tell a komal Dha from a Shudh Dha instantly. (I have reached this stage only after about 3 years of practice on my own).

Now, coming to the point. Let’s learn it by an example of producing notes/sargam for the song “Bheege Honth Tere” from the movie ‘Murder’. I will explain below how I’d do it.

Step 1. We must listen to this song carefully untill we are able to hum or sing it fluently.

Then, the next step of producing Sargam of any song is to find out the very first note of it. In this example I have to find out how to produce “Bhee” on flute. So, singing or humming at a scale that matches the original song I hold on to “Bhee” and then try and match that sound by blowing on my flute. I may have to try out several times by opening or closing the flute holes in different combinations before my ears can finally certify that yes, this sound is the right match for “Bhee“.

I find “Ga” on my flute to be the exact match for “Bhee“. That’s it. Now that I have found the very first note of the song, the rest of the song will not be difficult for me to convert into Sargam on my flute.

Then I have to find the sound on my flute that matches “ge”, then “Ho”, then “nth”, then “Te”, and then “re”

I do it by blowing GG for Bhee-ge | RS for Hon-th | SS for Te-re

This way I have now produced the sargam of the first line of the song.  With similar technique,  oops! trick, I can produce sargam for rest of the song.

Hope this trick will be useful for you to understand how to produce Sargam or notations of a song. Give it a try and enjoy!

Also read this case study, which will give you another insight on how to experiment while producing notations.

Do not stop experimenting – A case study

WHILE PRODUCING SARGAM/NOTATIONS DO NOT STOP EXPERIMENTING

There are two versions of a song called “Har kisiko nahi milta, yaha pyar zindagi me“.  One from a movie called “Jaabaaz” (1980) and other from a movie called “Boss” (2013).  This is one of my favourite songs, and the only song till now which I love to hear in both the versions.  The basic tune of this song, in both the versions, remains same.

When I produced Sargam for this song (2013 version), I took the first note on my G scale flute, as “Sa” and went on to develop the entire Sargam for this song.  It took me about one and a half hour!

Do lafz ki hai baat ek hi hai
S | RS | G | (R)G | G | RS | S | (.P)D

THE PROBLEM

Next day when I heard the song again, I found that I missed the famous interlude or the signature tune of this song (listen to it at 1:22 timeline of the above video) . Now, going by the Sargam which I produced (taking “Sa” as first note), I started playing the Sargam for this interlude, with “Pa” as the first note.

The Sargam which I had produced earlier for the antara in the song was like:

Pyar na ho to zindagi kya hai
GM | P | P | P | SSP(D’) | P | P

But, however hard I might try I was unable to come back to the correct note for the start of the above “antra” immediately after playing the interlude piece.  I realised that something has gone wrong.  Because the beauty of Indian music lies in the fact that an entire song is weaved perfectly around notes which supplement and complement each other, generally, without a change in the scale.

THE SOLUTION

I was getting frustrated, because with these notes I had to change the scale from its interlude tune, which was not sounding good. I tried different things on my flute for about half an hour trying to find out the missing link.  I took a break for sometime before I resumed my effort in placing that interlude into the rest of the song’s notations. And, then I thought why not play this tune at one note above.  I knew that if I did so, I had to start from the scratch and that might take me another hour or so.  But, being a finicky person when it comes to correct notes, I began re-writing the notations for this song. So, this time instead of starting this song from its first line, I took the interlude to begin with and that too at one note above, i.e., “Dha” instead of “Pa”.  The notations for the interlude, thus, came out as:

DSRg | RS | RgM
DSRg | RS | RSnD
DSRg | RS | RgM
DSRg | R

And, that was it.  After this interlude piece, when I played “Do Lafz ki hai…” taking “Re” instead of “Sa” as first note, the entire song sounded even better on the flute.  The new Sargam, came out like this.

LESSON LEARNT

Producing Sargam/Notations of a song or tune is difficult, sometimes.  But it is not impossible, if you have patience and a good ear to hear the correct tone, pitch, beat and note.  Sometimes, you may have to experiment with one or even a half note below or above the one that you are already playing, to get that ‘perfect’ sound.  This particular song has taught me this lesson.  And, I hope this will be informative for you also.

Please do drop a line of what you think about this experience.

Thank you!

How does a Bansuri (bamboo flute) produce sound

The flute is a relatively simple instrument in terms of its design which is primarily a long tube with holes. Technically the flute belongs to the woodwind family of instruments. According to wikipedia – A woodwind instrument is a wind instrument in which sound is produced by blowing through a mouthpiece against an edge or by a vibrating reed, and in which the pitch is varied by opening or closing holes in the body of the instrument. As the name suggests these instruments were made of originally made of wood. In order to understand how a flute works we must first understand a few things about sound.

What is sound?
By sound, we commonly mean the vibrations that travel through air and can be heard by humans. Sound is perceived through the sense of hearing. Humans and many animals use their ears to hear sound, but loud sounds and low frequency sounds can be perceived by other parts of the body through the sense of touch. Sounds are used in several ways, most notably for communication through speech or, for example, music.

Sound is a disturbance of mechanical energy that propagates through matter as a wave. When an object vibrates in air, it will vibrate air molecules around it. Those air molecules will vibrate other molecules around them and so on. This way a mechanical wave is formed. When this wave reaches our ear it vibrates our ear drum slightly and these vibrations are interpreted by the brain. This is how we perceive sound.

Not all sounds are perceived as musical. So what is the difference between an ordinary sound and a musical note? The sounds that are perceived as musical are generally ones that are dominated by periodic or regular vibrations rather than non-periodic ones (called a definite pitch). In a very simple case, the sound of a sine wave, which is considered to be the most basic model of a sound waveform, causes the air pressure to increase and decrease in a regular fashion. Sound waves that are close to ideal sine waves can be produced by tuning forks or whistling.

Characteristics of sound
Any simple sound, such as a musical note, may be completely described by specifying three perceptual characteristics: pitch, loudness (or intensity), and quality (or timbre). These characteristics correspond exactly to three physical characteristics: frequency, amplitude, and harmonic constitution or waveform, respectively.

• Frequency and Pitch
When a sound wave travels, particles in the medium are displaced by the wave and oscillate. The number of oscillations of a particle per second is known as the frequency (f) of the wave. It is measured in cycles per seconds or Hertz (Hz).

Pitch is a subjective quality, often described as highness or lowness, and is something perceived by the human ear. This is almost entirely determined by the frequency of the sound waves. So a sound with higher frequency is perceived to have a higher pitch whereas a sound with lower frequency is perceived to have a lower pitch. However, the relationship between the frequency of a wave and the perceived pitch is not linear.

• Amplitude and Loudness
The amplitude of a sound is represented by the height of the wave. When there is a loud sound, the wave is high and the amplitude is large. Conversely, a smaller amplitude represents a softer sound.
A decibel is a scientific unit that measures the intensity of sounds. The softest sound that a human can hear is the zero point. When the sound is twice as loud, the decibel level goes up by six. Humans speak normally at 60 decibels.

• Color/Timbre and Harmonic constitution
In music, timbre or color is the quality of a musical note or sound which distinguishes different types of sound production or musical instruments.

You might ask yourself why the sound of the flute is different from the sound of say a violin and it is very easy to distinguish between the two sounds even when both the instruments are playing the same note, for the same duration and with the same loudness. This is because the color of their sound is different.

It is not possible to produce a perfect sine wave or a sound wave that has only one frequency. In fact the sounds of all musical instruments have multiple frequencies but there is one dominant frequency. So the color of any instrument is its characteristic set of frequencies and their harmonics. This depends on many factors but mainly on the material of the instrument and its shape.

How the flute produces sound
Producing sound from a flute is similar to playing a note by blowing over the top of a bottle. A flute produces sound when a stream of air directed across the top of a hole bounces in and out of the hole. The stream beats against the air in a resonator, usually a tube. The player changes the pitch of the flute by changing the effective length of the resonator. This is done either by closing and opening holes. The sketch below shows a cross section of the embouchure.

The flute is an open organ pipe. This means that air can flow in and out from both the ends of a flute. The regular vibrations produced in a flute are due to resonance caused inside its body.
The characteristic sound of the flute

A lot of people believe that the characteristic sound of the flute is also affected by the material from which the instrument is made. For instance, instruments made of wood are usually less bright than metal instruments. Different metals are also thought to influence the tone. But this is debatable and has not been proved scientifically.

Frequenty Asked Questions on Bansuri?

“How to play perfect shudha madyama. I failed to play it with half hole open.”

Shuddh Ma is always a tricky note to play on flute. However, practice can make you perfect. The most common mistake one does is to become over conscious on opening (or closing) the top-first-hole on the flute. In the process what happens is that your fingers on the other holes on the flute may get slightly misplaced and thus let some air pass out from any of those other holes. See if you are making the same mistake or not. Close all the other holes fully and firmly except the first one which has to be half-closed and then blow gently to produce Shuddh Ma.


“I am new to the Flutes and Practicing for last 1 month. I don’t know the Sound which I am making out of the flute is correct or not and some time when I close all the holes I get a very good sound but immediately when I open the very 1st hole I lose the sound just the air noise comes. Not sure what mistake I am doing, can you help me on that.”

Don’t worry, it happens with everyone. Just keep practicing one note at a time. Take a deep breath and blow for Sa for as long as you can, repeat 10-15-20 times and then move to next note Re in same manner and so on. Then practice ‘Alankars’ which are avaialble on this website. Even better if you can practice with ‘Tanpura’ (App which can be downloaded on your smart phone).


“I dnt get it ..in some of your notes like dis one(hum tere bin ab reh nahi sakte) G is being played by closing 4 holes from the top ..nd sa is being played by closing all 6 holes…it means the sargam is from the bottom to the top ?? Where as in some songs for example – main tenu smjhawan ki. the G is being played by closing the 1st hole from the top ..it means in this the sa will be played by closing top three holer..just as mentionf in the key sheet ? So m very confused ..how and what is the real sargam? Please help!”

Bansuri can be played in two ways – one, by closing top three holes for Sa, or two, by closing all holes for Sa. However, technically playing Sa by closing all holes is not correct. The notes that I post are always to be played by closing top three holes for Sa. Therefore, here also G is obtained by closing the topmost hole.


“I know how to play all the sur separately, but as i am new to flute, i dont know much about various techniques. Basically i dont know anything about except sa re ga ma.. Please guide me what to do further.”

Start practicing ‘Alankars’ to get the speed on your flute. Some Alankars are available on this website itself. Or else, you can search for alankars on You Tube or Google.


“Which bansuri I should purchase for myself as I am a beginner.”

As a beginner, you should go for a medium size bansuri (12 – 15 inches long) of scale C or G.


“How do i know the scale of flute”

When you buy a flute, its scale is generally mentioned (printed) on its body. Another way to find out the scale of your flute or any other instrument is to use ‘Shruti Tuner’ mobile app, which can be downloaded from Google Play Store.


‘Can you give some idea for playeng higher notes.  I did search lot of webside but still could not find proper way to produce high notes.”

Practice is the only thing which can make you proficient in playing flute. Keep practicing daily even if it is for 10 minutes, but daily. Higher notes are played by blowing with a little more force than you would normally blow into your flute. You may have to pull your lower lip towards you and push the upper lip towards the blowing hole, just like you would blow into your hot soup to cool it down.
Good luck!


“Sir actually m confused that which notes m playing on bansuri.. those are correct or not…For example… if m playing swar dha thn how I get to knw that m correctly producing sound of dha.”

playing bansuri is like typing. with practice, one is able to type correctly even without looking at the keyboard. similarly, when you keep practicing SARGAM on bansuri, your ears will be able to differentiate between correct and incorrect notes. Keep practicing daily even for 10 minutes, play alankars as much as you can. You doubts will soon be gone. Good luck.


“Kesi gane ko me basuri sargam m kesy converte kr skata hu?”

sabse pehle apko us gaane ka pehla swar (note) pata karna hoga. Jaise ki, agar apko bansuri par “Tujhe Dekh Dekh Sona” bajana hai to sabse pehle “Tu” ko baar baar gaiye aur fir us swar ko bansuri par dhoondiye, wo swar S bhi ho sakta hai, P bhi, G ya R bhi. “Tu” ka sound jis bhi note par apke kaano ko sabse achha lage, bas wahi se baki ke notes bhi aap isi tarah pakad sakte hain. Karke dekhiye, aur bataiye. Good luck.


“I am a pianist .. Trained in western music system.. But like to play flute now.. Which flute should I buy … Want to know if flute playing causes high b.p. … As it is known to hold and blow breath for long…. I have a high b.p.”

Good to hear that you are interested in playing flute. You can start with ‘G’ scale flute.
As far as my knowledge goes, I have not heard any instance where flute as caused any harm. These are all baseless speculations which one must not pay any attention to, especially, if you love music. Flute playing is completely safe, in fact, it improves the health of your lungs and digestive system.

Indian Sargam Vs Western Notes

Following chart may come handy while translating western notes of any tune or song into Indian Sargam, and vice-versa.

ScaleCDEFGAB
IndianSaReGaMaPaDhaNi
WesternDoReMiFaSoLaTi

The letters in all the above rows (column wise) generally follow a sequence.  For example, if we start the scale at F, then the sequence would be FGABCDE, or when at B, it would be BCDEFGA, and so on.

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni and Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti remain constant.

Every musical instrument can be tuned to a certain scale.  With the above example, we would be playing Sa at C scale.

Following table [suggested by Vikram Jamwal] can be used as a key to play Sargam on Western Instruments and vice versa:

Scale ↓SaReGaMaPaDhaNi
AABC#DEF#G#
A#A#CDD#FGA
BBC#D#EF#G#A#
CCDEFGAB
C#C#D#FF#G#A#C
DDEF#GABC#
D#D#FGG#A#CD
EEF#G#ABC#D#
FFGAA#CDE
F#F#G#A#BC#D#F
GGABCDEF#
G#G#A#CC#D#FG