Are Tanpura and Tambura the same?


In the captivating world of Indian classical music, the sound of the tanpura (तंबूरा) or tambura plays a vital role. This stringed instrument, known for its sustained drone, provides a harmonic foundation upon which melodies soar. But are “tanpura” and “tambura” simply different spellings of the same instrument, or is there a deeper distinction? Let’s delve into the fascinating world of these drone masters.

Tanpura vs Tambura: A Tale of Two Drones

Origins and Etymology:

Both “tanpura” and “tambura” stem from the Sanskrit word “tambūrā” (तंबूरा), which translates to a stringed instrument. This suggests a common ancestor, likely a long-necked lute from Central Asia. The terms “tanpura” and “tambura” might have emerged due to regional variations in pronunciation or spelling conventions.

Geographical Preferences:

The use of “tanpura” and “tambura” often reflects geographical differences within the Indian subcontinent.

  • Hindustani Music (North India): Musicians in North India, associated with the Hindustani music tradition, predominantly use the term “tanpura.”
  • Carnatic Music (South India): In South India, where the Carnatic music tradition reigns, the term “tambura” is more commonly used.

Physical Characteristics:

While both instruments share a similar basic structure, some subtle variations might exist.

  • Body Material: In North India, tanpuras are traditionally crafted with a gourd (dried pumpkin) as the resonator body. In the South, jackwood might be used for the tambura’s body, although gourds are also not uncommon.
  • Size: Tanpuras tend to be slightly larger than tamburas, with a height ranging from 40 to 60 inches. Tamburas typically fall within the 30 to 50-inch range.

Playing Techniques:

Both instruments are played in a similar manner. The musician plucks the strings with their thumb or forefinger, creating a continuous drone that complements the main melody. However, the tuning variations might differ slightly between Hindustani and Carnatic traditions.

The Essence of the Drone:

Regardless of their names or slight physical variations, both tanpuras and tamburas serve the same essential purpose. They provide a bed of sound, a harmonic foundation upon which the melody unfolds. This drone acts as a reference point for the musician, helping them maintain pitch and allowing intricate melodic improvisations to blossom.


While “tanpura” and “tambura” might have regional and potentially subtle physical variations, they are essentially the same instrument. Both play a crucial role in Indian classical music, creating the foundation upon which melodies dance. So, whether you hear it called a “tanpura” in the North or a “tambura” in the South, appreciate the beauty and depth that this seemingly simple instrument brings to the rich tapestry of Indian music.

How To Tune A Sitar