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Instrument of the Month: Shruti Box

by Max Holmquist June 28, 2019

The Shruti Box is a hand-pumped reed instrument, traditionally used to provide droning chords and notes in classical Indian music. It can be traced all the way back to China, 12th-century BCE, and an instrument called the Sheng. It was made of bamboo reeds which resonated as air passed through them.

18th-century European travelers returning from China brought the Sheng to Denmark. This new instrument inspired the development of metal reeds and the creation of the harmonium. When travelers brought the hand-pumped harmonium to India, local musicians adopted and modified it into the modern Shruti Box.

In the 1960’s, artists, musicians, and poets of the west traveled to India to explore Indian culture and spirituality during the genesis of the new age of spirituality. When they returned, they incorporated the Shruti Box into popular music, art, and poetry performance.

How do they work? Let me tell you!

They're great for chanting, humming and other meditative vocalization practices. I'm not an experienced throat singer, but I like to hum or "om" and meditate. As a musician and singer, it's a great warm-up and it's a good meditative practice when I'm feeling stressed. The Shruti Box elevates that practice and the effects.

It's not just for meditation. Find the key of your favorite pop song and sing over it. (You can look it up with the magic of the internet, or if you have a good ear, you might be able to pick it out yourself!) It's a great instrument to sing with. You could pair it with a melodic lead instrument. The drone of the box lifts up the melody.

Here I'm singing "Cloudbusting" by the great Kate Bush

These great instruments are still hand-made, primarily in India. They’re fine-tuned by experienced instrument makers. The exterior is made of wood, with cloth bellows and reeds allowing the sound to be pumped through the chambers of the box. It is similar to the harmonium in its overall sound and uses.

We carry Shruti Boxes with chromatic tuning, based on western classical tuning where A = 440 Hz. We offer boxes with either a full octave (13 notes) or three full octaves (36 notes). There are many other tuning options out there. These portable Harmoniums are the perfect addition for sound healers and therapists, or for creators of music, from pop and psychedelic music to new age and world music.

To see and hear our 13 and 36-note Shruti Boxes, click here!

Max Holmquist
Max Holmquist