My journey with the bamboo flute so far

September 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm (Uncategorized)

EDIT: I found that Subhash Thakur is selling flutes at a decent price on http://www.craftsvilla.com/e-natural-base-scale-flute.html

I picked up the flute about 2 years back when I saw a friend of mine in Gurgaon playing it. I had tried some other instruments earlier (tabla, drums, guitar) but the simplicity of the flute moved me. It was just a bamboo with holes. All you need is practice! I liked the idea.

I was encouraged by the fact that I could produce a clean sound right away. I knew I could make progress.

I started playing by ear. That means I could listen to a song and then slowly reproduce it on a flute, note by note. I can do this probably because I have had musical training in childhood (being from a Bengali family). The way to play an instrument is to learn how to play the lowest note and then the highest note. All songs lie somewhere between these two places 🙂 For people who can not do this right away it only requires some practice, patience and sometimes a good teacher.

The best way to start is to play sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa on the flute. Watch YouTube for lessons on how to do it. Then play more complicated permutations and combinations of the same sargams. Later you can look for notes for popular songs. It is best though if you can play songs just by listening to them but it may take you some time to reach there. You brain needs some time to learn which note lies where on a  flute.

I loved the fact that a decent flute can be bought for no more than 400 – 500 Rs in India. Other instruments are way more expensive. If you are in Delhi you should head over to Daryaganj, Netaji Subhash marg. There are several music instrument shops there. Saskhi Musicals is the one shop known for its flute collection. You should just walk up to the shopkeeper there and tell him you are a novice and your budget. He will help you accordingly. You should initially purchase a medium size flute, like a G medium (would not recommend very small flutes) on which you can cover all the six holes with your fingers comfortably. Then move up to larger flutes gradually.

The best quality flutes are not available in shops. They are sold to foreign customers in dollars and Euros. That is quite a tragedy. There are a handful of shops like Sakshi Musicals who do keep excellent quality flutes as well. The shopkeeper there will only show them to you if you can first show him that you can play well 🙂

After I moved to Bangalore recently I started looking for better flutes. You will find any flute player’s house full of flutes because we are addicted to buying flutes, wherever we go! I found a flute maker’s advertisement on olx.in. I met him. He showed me some concert quality flutes which cost about Rs 5000 on an average. Generally the E natural scale flute is played in concerts and it requires a few months of practice to be able to close all the holes properly. This is the flute that I normally play today.

There are 2 shops in Bangalore that I know keep good quality flutes. One is in JP Nagar 1st phase and the other in MG Road.

In general larger flutes have a deeper sound (good for serious, sad, haunting songs) while smaller flutes have sharp/shrill sound (good for folk). You should look for something in the middle.

Gradually I felt that I had reached my own limits of playing and I needed a teacher. My search for a teacher was made difficult by the fact that I was in South India but I wanted to learn Hindustani Classical on the flute. That is the intersection of 2 sets, hindustani classical and flute. My primary criterion was that the teacher must not attach religious practices to his teaching. I absolutely hate that.

After much searching I found Vaman Joshi who satisfied all my requirements for a teacher perfectly. He shared much of my views on music and its direction and I love talking to him in general. (Found his listing on olx.in as well 🙂 )

The first day I went to his place I told him my grip is wrong and I need to learn music theory. He asked me to play a few songs and identified the basic problems. Then he started giving me exercises so I could adjust to the new grip. I am still working on those exercises.

The first 30 minutes of the class we practice the exercises. Then for 15 minutes we talk about music theory and life in general. Then last 15 minutes we play some songs from Indian cinema together.

It has been an amazing experience so far.

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5 Comments

  1. Navin Kumar Verma said,

    Great journey. I have watched your video uploads. Recent one (Sun raha hai na) is impressive. Even one of my colleague was mentioning it. Nice that you found a good teacher. I too love flute for its simplicity and connection to nature. 3 years ago I bought a flute to experiment. I first tried producing clean sound and gradually started playing simple songs by ear. A year later I found that I am holding the flute wrong way – right to left! For that reason I can’t use the 7th hole. I face difficulty playing higher notes. Lots of hisses. I lack some technique which I feel only a teacher would tell. I thought to pursue it bit more seriously and bought good quality flute from famous Delhi based maker Subhas Thakur ( http://www.punamflutes.com ). I got in touch with him and got two flutes at reasonable price. Much below what was mentioned in Euros. I started playing on a local Rs 100 flute. Upgraded to C Natural Medium. I like these flutes but they produce shrill sound. Now planning to get E Natural Base.

    My current limitation is that I am able to play only 3-4 notes clearly on higher scale. Also, sound amplitude is pretty flat. When good artists play the flute there is lot of variation in loudness. Also my transition between notes is sudden. More like 0-1. Good players have very gradual transition. After practice I could achieve it to some extent on my current C Natural. I guess larger flute with more air momentum will assist it. Anyway I am having fun.

    Share if you have some pointers.

  2. debayan said,

    Naveen,
    Nice to learn about your progress. We should meet sometime and discuss this in person. Would like to look at your flutes as well, and show you mine.
    I did not understand what you meant by holding the flute “left to right”.
    If you want to find a teacher in Bangalore (I assume you are in Bangalore) you can go to olx.in and look for one.
    The sudden 0-1 transition you are talking about is a common early problem in flute players. The process of smoothly moving from one note to another is called “meend”. Search for how to apply meend on a bansuri on youtube. You basically have to move you finger over the hole in a wave like manner.
    The way to play higher notes more clearly is 1) make your lip aperture narrower 2) try to stretch your lips a bit as if you are smiling a bit 3) blow a bit harder 4) tilt the bansuri in towards your body, so that your lips are closer to the front edge of the hole.
    And yes, Subhash Thakur is renowned. I am planning to purchase 2 flutes. One from Anand Dhotre (a neo flute) and from Subhash Thakur.

    • Ranadive Neelenchery said,

      Good piece of info here ,, unfortunately i ddnt find any videos of ‘Meend” in youtube,, can you link me some, if you dont mind 🙂 Thank you

      • debayan said,

  3. Amit Singh Sethi said,

    This is great if I one could apply the same to other instruments. I love the flute and tried it couple of times however it seems to require a lot of control on breathing. Interestingly a couple of other people have talked about a similar experience learning by following notes from songs. So perhaps ots essentially about struggling with an instrument for a while and slowly you develop the skills with practice.

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