Saturday’s Instrument: Benju or Bulbul Tarang of the South Asia

Benju or Bulbul Tarang also referred to as Indian Banjo or Punjabi Banjo is a string instrument that the length of each string can be altered with a button and strings can be plucked with a pick or fingers.

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Bulbul Tarang literally means “waves of nightingales". This instrument has a lot of use in northern Indian music, Pakistan, parts of Iran. Benju is developed from Japanese taishōgoto and likely arrived in south Asia and the middle east in the 1930s.

The instrument employs two sets of strings, one set for the drone, and one for melody. The strings run over a plate or fretboard, while above are keys resembling typewriter keys, which when depressed fret or shorten the strings to raise their pitch.

Kora, the African pluck string instrument

The melody strings are tuned in octaves and the sympathetic strings are in unison or fifth with them. Benju can not alternate between keys, and it should be tuned for each key separately.

Bulbul Tarang is mostly common in Panjab or Punjab music. Panjab is an ethnic group from northeast India through Pakistan and Afghanistan to parts of southwest Iran.

The Indian version is sometimes known as the "Indian banjo" or "Japan banjo", due to its descent from the Taishokoto; similar instruments in Germany and Austria are known as Akkordolia, and in Pakistan as Benju.

A more complicated and electrified version is known as the shahi Baaja.

Dizi, the Chinese Bamboo Flute

Benju is about 1 meter long, 10 –12 cm wide and the soundbox is about 5 cm high, with six strings. Strings 1 and 2, 5 and 6 are used as drone strings and tuned to the tonic and the fifth or fourth. In relative pitch C and G or F., The middle strings 3 and 4 are tuned unison to F or G, and they are fretted and can be shortened by pressing down the metal keys. The scale is chromatic from G to A, B flat or B. The right-hand plays the strings by using a wooden or plastic plectron, the left hand is fingering the keys.

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