Bansuri and Western Notation – Let’s use F!

Here I show you the advantages to ether transpose your sheet music, or choose an F-Flute to have the easiest time to read music written in western notation.

First of all, the standard flute in Hindustani Classical Music is the E base flute. This choice is made by most professional players because of the most balanced sound. Further, this E flute is very good for tonal expression and the higher register are better playable than on small flutes.

When not playing any half notes (holes half closed only), then you will get this scale from an Hindustani E Bansuri:

This basically is a E Lydian scale (in western terms), or the scale that is used for Raag Yaman. You can refer to this finger chart. Interesting to mention, that when using the root note in the fashion of the Hindustani tradition, the “default scale” is not an Ionian, but a Lydian scale with the #4, or “Tivra Ma”.

So this scale in F looks like this:

No flats, no sharps for all the holes fully open or closed …

But there is one more aspect here of interest: The Sa is not the lowest note on the Bansuri in the Hindustani system, it goes down to the Pa, the 5th, or even the lower Ma (#4), if you close the last hole with the knee. So the F-System actually is a perfect match for the North Indian Bansuri, but when we play the standard E Flute we need to transpose one half note. Here the full range of the instrument:

Instead of transposing, one can simply also get an F Flute. They sound very similar to the E Flute, and whenever we have to face written music in the western notation, not transposed, we would have the easiest time to read stuff from the sheet! And the F is one half note higher than the E, therefore the F flute is slightly smaller and a bit more easy to play as well.


Now let’s take it one little step further, what about playing the “normal major” scale, our Ionian? Well, in F it looks like this:

One b, and the hole of the 4th note, the Ma, is the one we need to close half, if we want to play this scale.

In E is looks like that:

Significantly more complicated, no? So my suggestion is: when playing the E Flute, why not transpose the written music accordingly, just like all the other instruments are also doing (saxophones, trumpets, flutes, oboe etc etc)? Let’s utilize our “home key”, and of needed transpose the sheet music!

This is how all the “swaras”, all intervals in this “home key” will look like, when we just think in F on the Bansuri:

So in this, the capital letters are all “shuddh swaras”, meaning the “natural intervals” or the bigger ones, and the small letters refer to flattened intervals, “komal swaras”. For instance, “r” is a Komal Re, or a b2 in western terms. BUT: I have to mention, this is a simplification!

This here is just in the sake of having an easier time and a practical approach to western written music, in terms of Indian Swaras this is not really correct:

22 Shruti are different !

So far, here we are only considering 12 half-tone steps of the “European Equal Temperamented Scale”, and in Indian Music each of those 12 intervals has 2 Variations. So the information about the Indian Swaras here is incomplete, and the comparism to the 12 half-notes of the western system is not accurate at all, but the difference is quite subtle.

I will share more details on this topic very soon, so stay tuned – and sign up for the newsletter (bottom of the website) 😉


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