“If music be the food of love, play on”- that first line of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night play established the prowess of music to transform mood, elicit emotions. Frustrated in love, the speaker asks for music and yearns for some “food for soul.”
Music is a universal language transmitted through generations, says Asad Lalljee SVP, Essar Group and CEO of Avid Learning Curator, Royal Opera House, Mumbai- “With time, the process of music making has evolved from early known use of rhythmic percussive instruments to melodic instruments using wind and strings, further evolving to a more complex systematic pattern in modern times with the use of both.” Globally, the most trending instruments, according to Lalljee, are guitar, drums, piano, keyboard, whereas most popular Indian instruments include sitar, tabla, sarod, flute and harmonium.
During the pandemic teaching music moved online and to digital platforms from a one-on-one, in-person format. We saw an appreciable increase in digital pianos, says Joseph Gomes, Director – Furtados, a leading music retailer- “the categories which did well were guitars and ukuleles besides keyboards and pianos.”
How does one decide which instrument to play? Is there any thumb rule to decide this? Often, it is about the guru or who your teacher is, how they influence you or help develop interest into playing a particular instrument plus the cost of an instrument. Like a bansuri for starters at Rs 1,000 is far more affordable than a sitar at Rs 10,000.
According to Sriram Emani Co-founder and CEO, IndianRaga a global platform for music and dance, “It does ultimately boil down to what is easily accessible and convenient, else in our busy lives it is hard to make this a priority – be it music or sports. Access to a really good teacher, some natural ease with the type of instrument, and a love for its sound and musicality – these are essential to make it a successful learning journey.” For adults, he suggests going with the instrument that matches their skill and your passion. So, if you know that you are better at rhythm than melody, then go for a percussion instrument. If you have good musicality and want to go for a melody instrument, then it’s also about whether you want to play it with your hands or with your mouth. Wind instruments lend themselves to good breath control, whereas violin and sitar need you to be adept at using your fingers and arms well. While for children, there would be a discovery phase to see what resonates best with them. Many of them have had access to an instrument lying around at home, and explored it in a curious way without any structured learning, and developed an affinity towards it. A child’s genuine desire to learn is key to success. Says Emani, “In my opinion, having seen several child prodigies and knowing their stories, the musical journey does not start with learning. It starts with listening.”
Some musicians have seen their parents or others play it in their families – be it Lalgudi Jayaraman, Zakir Hussain. Others like flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, picked up instruments just because they were fascinated when they heard it for the first time, with no background in it.
There is no right or wrong age for music. But experts recommend the earliest as 5-7 years for kids. Says Manasi Prasad – Museum Director – Indian Music Experience, “In all forms of music, early is good. At our learning centre we typically enrol kids from 7 years onwards, but sometimes do take enrolments earlier if the child shows keen interest. The challenge is to keep it fun and interesting, especially in the formative years so that they develop a love for music.” And she says there is no restriction as to the number of instruments one can play- “Many musicians have developed expertise in several instruments – Baba Allauddin Khan – guru to Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and others, could play 30 musical instruments, although his speciality was Sarod. In Bangalore, mridangam maestro Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma can play over 15-20 percussion instruments – there would be some common characteristics between the percussion family, the string family, wind family etc…and many musicians can switch, although they would generally have one favourite.
What and Where to Buy
You can buy musical instruments online at the likes of Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal or offline at Mumbai’s Musicians Mall, Skiffle Music, SoundMonk or Bengaluru’s House Of Music, Reynold’s Inc, Va Products and Radel Electronics and Delhi’s Furtados, On Stage, Bhargava.
Take the case of Furtados which keeps a good choice of western instruments. You can find an upright piano worth Rs 2 lakh or a grand piano at Rs 7 lakh at its Lajpat Nagar outlet and the salesperson tells you that they even make bespoke ones worth a couple of crores. Piano needs to be tuned once every six months. Often, people subscribe to AMC (annual maintenance contract) worth Rs 3,000 for biannual tuning of this instrument.
Keyboards are another bestselling category with music retailers and come in three types – regular, arranger, workstation. Regular one is for beginners and key brands include Casio, Yamaha and range from Rs 7,000-Rs 50,000. Arranger keyboard (Rs 50,000- 2 lakh) is for professionals and is hailed as a “one man band” as it has nearly every sound such as bass, guitar, drums, strings, while workstation (Rs 50,000-3.5 lakhs) is used in studios.
Guitar is of three types – acoustic, semi acoustic and electric. The latter two cost Rs 12,000-13,000 while the acoustic guitars may cost anything from Rs 5,000-2 lakhs. For corporate executive Abhishek Ghosh, the best guitar is his “mahogany guitar FA 40 Faith guitar from Apollo series costing Rs 29,000. However a guitar is a high maintenance instrument as you need to change strings every 2-3 months else it gets rusted. The strings cost Rs 300-400.”
For buying Hindustani classical music instruments, Bhargava’s Music is the go-to place at Lajpat Nagar and Daryaganj, Delhi. Here you can find a tabla worth Rs 10-12k to 25k and a harmonium for Rs 15k and even 80k. Says Bhargava’s Chandra Bhan, “The harmonium reed is the most important part of a harmonium besides the quality of the wood used. If it’s a high-quality version, then you will get the exact sur- for instance you will get C, neither C flat nor C sharp. That’s when we say sur mein hai baaja while in tabla it’s all about material whether it’s chrome ka dagga or iron, stainless steel, nickel, brass, copper. If it’s Sheesham wood full copper then the cost goes up. The best flutes are by Punam Suhas and their signature flute is worth Rs 12k.”
Wood quality makes all the difference in drums and dholak. The sound of Sheesham wood dholak is superior (costs Rs 5,500) as against a regular one (Rs 3,500). In drums again, it depends upon hardware and plywood quality.
The oft used adage, you get what you pay for, holds very true for musical instruments. Says Furtados’ Joseph Gomes, “With cost what improves is quality. Quality in terms of design, materials used and workmanship. A Steinway piano costs what it does because it is handmade and requires many hours of skilled labour to produce, besides the various patents in design and no compromise on using the best materials for the instrument. Conversely, very cheap entry level guitars and Ukuleles may be cheap in value but will never offer a good playing experience because of the cheaper materials and cheap manufacturing. This therefore creates a bad playing experience which could affect a person’s motivation to continue playing. No doubt a better instrument will offer an individual the opportunity to play more and play longer and enjoy the sound and music that he/she is producing.”
How does one select a good piece? Experts advise there is no need to invest in a very advanced level instrument before knowing if you are going to like learning it and plan to continue. Usually, your teachers would also recommend it. One can definitely benefit from online portals and reviews, especially when starting. There are starter instruments in every store, which are usually the least expensive. Once you reach an advanced level, you can work with the teacher and the manufacturer to ensure you find something that is right for you.
Sound is Changing
In today’s music scenario, the sound is changing with a dozen instruments being brought together. A musician says that his earliest acquaintance with what we call fusion music was a qawwali piece by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Shakti piece by Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia and a ghazal by Hariharan which had all- pianos, tabla, drums, keyboard, harmonium. A composition is about bravery, says singer, producer, songwriter Amit Interdeo- “You can play sitar on a reggae track or even tabla for that matter. But in order to experiment you have to understand the complete thing and master it in order to be able to play with it.”
In today’s day and age, the understanding of music has grown, the audience has become so knowledgeable and can understand the subtle nuances or say appreciate the longest alaap in Raag Yaman. Musician Enayat Hossain says that at recent Grammy awards, he had an album which featured Vichitraveena an old Indian musical instrument and ninety percent of the western musicians and audience knew about it. He says we are in a golden age of Indian music right now versus 40 years back. We have it easier as we can stream it, have an audience that is learned and the reach is global.
Instrumental music appeals to everyone. Sitar player Hidayat Husain Khan says that while dance has mudras, qawwali has nuances, so also ghazal and bhajan but its only instrumental that has no script -and that is why music impacts each of us.
Fusion of different music instruments is becoming the order of the day. Says Essar’s Lalljee, “Through our latest and ongoing series Across Cultures, we have tried to showcase this very existence of cross-cultural evolution of musical instruments, understanding the nuances of fusion, the challenges and future of these eclectic east-west amalgamations. The two are contradictory in spirit, yet when combined, they stir us.”
Table: Indicative price list of some of the more popular musical instruments
|Price Range (Rs)
|Korg, Yamaha, Casio, Roland
|Paul & Company, Amrit Music, Bina, Swaranjali
|Maharaja, Radel, Liaqat Ali, Faiz
|Mapex, Pearl, Tama, Nadal, Ludwig, Yamaha
|ShalinIndia, Punam Flutes
|Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, Ovation, Epiphone, Yamaha
|Yamaha, Granada, Hawana
|Pearl, B Steiner
Credits: Primary Market Research