european musical instruments in India

J.Napier J.Napier at unsw.EDU.AU
Wed Apr 2 00:46:26 UTC 1997

On Thu, 27 Mar 1997 22:22:52 GMT,
  Vidyasankar Sundaresan writes:
>Of course, the answer to the second question is yes, but there was a niche
>into which the violin fit admirably - namely, that of accompaniment to
>vocal music. Although Carnatic instrumental music revolves around vocal
>music conceptually, none of the south Indian instruments (barring
>percussion ones) is really suited for an accompanying role. The wind
>instruments like the flute and the nadaswaram are too loud and can be
>fickle in their pitches, the Veena is not loud enough, and in the hands of
>an average player, can be quite staccato. 

I am quite interested in the last point. One assumption often made is that 
because the accompanying instrument ideally today blends with the voice, 
that the aim of accompaniment has always been to do so.

The North Indian rudra vina or bin previously accompanied dhrupad. Though 
built to have a very long decay to its sound, it still remains a plucked 
instrument. We must also remember that Zia Mohiuddin Dagar seems to have 
introduced the idea of playing without plectra (the absence of which 
will produce less attack) only in the second half of this century. Add to 
this the low volume of the rudra vina relative to the voice, which suggest 
that if the instrument was to make any contribution to he total sound of 
the performance, it must have been played quite assertively ie plucked very 

In addition, several North Indian musicians have suggested that the use of 
an instrument (even the sarod) with a strong, crisp attack for accompanying 
certain types of performance, such as the nom-tom of dhrupad, and tarana. 

In searching for a blend with the voice, and a perfect legato (sorry to use 
the Italian/European word, please provide Indian equivalent!), two other 
factors may have been underplayed in searching for the ideals of 
accompaniment: the idea of timbral contrast, and the idea of comparable 

Is it possible that the aims of accompaniment have changes over centuries, 
and such changes might be causally linked to choice of accompanying 

john napier
university of New South Wales
Sydney Australia

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