If there is pain, use it as an awareness, as meditation, as a sharpening of the soul. And when pleasure is there, use it as a droning, as a forgetfulness. Both are ways to reach God. One is to remember yourself totally, and one is to forget yourself totally. ~ Osho
Several months ago I spoke with the fantastic jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen about practice. She mentioned that one thing she liked to do was practice with drones, using an Indian instrument called a tanpura (also tampura). She said that playing against a drone was a great way to train your ear/horn coordination. Practicing with a drone allows you to really feel how it sounds to play every note against the tonic, throughout your range. It’s meditative.
When I hear a great practice idea, I try it, and I’ve been using this one for a while and absolutely love it. I almost immediately noticed a greater ability to match pitch (my fellow musicians mentioned it in rehearsal), and a deeper awareness of sound in general. Part of the reason for this is that playing with the drone makes me aware of where the horn is naturally out of tune, whether because of the way a horn is made or because of the quirks of the harmonic series. But doing this has made playing just one note a meditative experience, even more so than it usually is. And by meditative, I mean it makes it easy to lose the “self” in the sound. Hard to explain, but a fantastic feeling.
I decided to buy the iTabla Pro app for iOS systems. It’s a full version with drones on the Tanpura, but adds many tabla rhythms. All future updates are free. Check the comments for more information about the developer of this great app, Prasad Upasani. He’s also created iTanpura Lite, a free app. I used that for a very short time before I knew this was a great thing to have, so I upgraded to the $25 version.
Might seem like a lot, but oh, man do you get some great stuff. It’s been a boon to help me learn more about Indian music, especially the taals used for tabla, which fascinate me (sixteen beat patterns, 5 beat patterns, 7.5 beat patterns….). You can set it to tell you the syllables used for the tabla and this is helping me learn tabla, too. The app is remarkably tweakable on many different levels.
Here’s a tanpura (you can see a set of tabla in the lower left):
You can set the Tanpura in the app to any pitch (the tabla match it) and can change those pitches by cents (there are 100 cents in a half step). This is wonderful as it allows me to tune the device to my didgeridoos, none of which are close to standard tuning. It’s a fantastic program and has given my practice a real shot in the arm. I’m incredibly grateful to Ingrid for sharing that information. You can hear the interview in the link below. Anyway, here are a couple demonstration videos of the software. First is the iTanpura (with just the drones and you can get it for free) and then a demonstration of the iTabla pro:
Have fun, and good luck with your meditation, er…, practice.
iTanpura Pro (with Tabla)
- Interview: Ingrid Jensen on Practice (talkingtrumpet.wordpress.com)
- Photographs : Pt. Ravi Shanker alongwith Tabla player Pt.CHATURLAL IN USA : DECEMBER 1956 (kps0715.wordpress.com)
- Fire and Light… Sangeet Natak Akademi award for young performers (imcradiodotnet.wordpress.com)