Chromatic tuners are electronic devices used widely by Western musicians to tune their musical instruments. The picture below shows one such Chromatic tuner. In its bare minimum form a Chromatic tuner does the following:
- Allows calibration. The calibration is set in terms of the frequency in Hertz or cycles per second for the A3 note. Usually the standard is to tune the A note to 440 Hz.
- Once calibrated, it senses sound through a built-in microphone and indicates how close the sound is to the closest note.
In addition, some Chromatic tuners contain many other bells and whistles such as:
1. Some, like the one above, have displays that tell you exactly how many “cents” (explained later), the note is either sharper or flatter from the nearest standard note.
2. Some can produce a reference note so that one can tune musical instruments using audible indication.
3. Some provide an external jack for pick-up microphone that can be attached to the musical instrument. This feature can be useful if you are tuning the instrument in a noisy environment.
4. Some even have a metronome integrated with the tuner. A metronome is a device that can generate tapping sounds to provide the rhythmic reference.
With some trial and error, I figured out the Korg TM 50 Chromatic Tuner works best with the Bansuri. Remember, it is important for the tuner to be more sensitive to pick Bansuri sound relative to Tanpura sound. Some other tuner models tend to have pickup preference for tanpura and they will not work for you. You can also get an inexpensive pick up microphone so that the sound is picked up by the Tuner through vibrations of Bansuri rather than acoustically. You can buy both Korg TM 50 Chromatic Tuner and Korg CM100L Pickup Microphone on Amazon.com for roughly US$25.
You can also find pretty cool apps these days for Smart Phones. For example, Tunable is one such app that is available on both iOS and Android platforms. insTuner is available on iOS and has ability to show in Indian terms (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma etc). This and other apps have ability to set the intonation sparing us from remembering all the offsets. (More on that here ear training).
While traditionally Hindustani music is taught by teacher to student verbally, I find that using Chromatic tuners to complement the traditional teaching methods can be very useful. In addition, chromatic tuners are a useful tool for ear training. Therefore, I recommend using Chromatic tuner as initial aid while learning flute.
It is important to realize that there are several caveats when using the Chromatic tuner. The foremost one is that Hindustani music is not played in Chromatic scale and therefore, hitting all notes on Chromatic tuner is not going to help in Hindustani music. However, once one understands all these caveats, Chromatic tuner is a very useful tool.
More information on how to use the Chromatic Tuner for ear training here.