Playing positions and technique 3
Basically, the tanpura is an a-rhythmic instrument and does not have a fixed rhythm as such, because its main purpose is to create a blanket or a cloud of sound. However, there are guidelines to follow if you want to do justice to the overtones. The first and last strings are given a little more time to vibrate than the joras. For example:
Play approximately one note per second (mm 60) or slightly faster. It’s good to adopt two counts for the first string, one count for each of the two middle strings and two counts for the lower and last string: 2, 1, 1, 2 counts.
When the music is somewhat faster one can apply a little more time to the last string only... that way the first string has one count: 1, 1, 1, 2 counts.
This is just a guide and one should see the longer notes more as moments to breath rather than a strict rhythmic timing.
One last piece of advice: It may help to remember and understand that the required effect of the tanpura is to create a cloud of sound. So when the instrument is tuned, try and listen sometimes not only to the instrument itself but also to the cloud of sound it produces. Imagine if you were listening to the tanpura at a distance, then the separate strings are less audible as they all blend together into one harmonious cloud. When I try to listen to the sound of the tanpura, I find this effect is audible in a space two meters above the tanpura. This may seem strange, but it is the sound produced after leaving the instrument in its acoustic essence. It’s that sound other people will hear.