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Learn How To Play Sitar? A Step-By-Step Guide

Sitar

How to Play Sitar
21 May, 2024

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Are you interested in learning how to play sitar? This comprehensive guide is designed for music enthusiasts who want to learn about the sounds and rhythms of this unique instrument.

The guide provides detailed information for beginners learning how to play sitar, such as hand positioning, playing styles, tuning, and techniques. It also covers various sitar accessories and features, allowing you to make informed choices about your sitar playing experience.

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What Is a Sitar?

The sitar is a popular Hindustani classical string instrument typically 1.2 meters long and played from a 45-degree angle. Its hollow pear shape is made of gourd, and 18-21 strings are attached to pegs and bridges. The instrument has five to seven main strings, one or two drone strings, and ten to thirteen sympathetic strings.

The sitar, developed in the 1700s after the Mughal Empire, incorporated elements from popular instruments such as the Veena, Sehtar, and Tanpura. The instrument became popular in Carnatic music and became modern in the 18th century.

How To Play Sitar?

Understand the Instrument

The top strings of a sitar are tuned to different notes, with beginners typically tuning to the C key. Each string’s first to seventh notes are Ma, Sa, Pa, Sa, Pa, Sa, and Sa. Learning how to play sitar requires familiarity with these strings.

Learn Hand Positioning

  • Left-Hand Fingering: The ideal left-hand position for stopping a string on a fret is parallel to the frets and vertical to the string. Press the string directly behind the fret with your fingertip and relax your left shoulder.
  • Pulling the String: The ideal movement for slight string pulling is bent fingers, straight wrist, and pulling parallel to the frets and string. When pulling the string, place the index and middle fingers on one or two adjacent frets.
  • Left-Hand Thumb Position: The thumb position consists of a loose thumb rest at the back of the neck, with the index finger and thumb opposite each other. In wide pulling, the thumb anchors the hand while maintaining light contact with the neck.
  • Right-Hand Plucking: The mizrab should be tightly fitted to the index finger with minimal movement, especially not sideways. When the size is correct, bend it for a perfect fit. The strings are struck with the mizrab, but all four fingers move simultaneously.

Tune the Sitar

  • Tune the main playing string (baaj): Start by tuning the main playing string (baaj) to the desired pitch using a reference pitch from another instrument or a tuner. Adjust the string’s tension by turning the tuning peg at the top of the sitar’s neck until the desired pitch is achieved.
  • Tune the sympathetic strings (chikari): Tune the sympathetic strings to the corresponding notes of the raga you’re playing. You can use a reference pitch or tune them relative to the main playing string.
  • Check intonation: Once you have tuned all the strings, play some simple phrases or scales to check the intonation and make any necessary adjustments to ensure that all the strings are in tune with each other.
  • Fine-tuning: After the initial tuning, you may need to make small adjustments to fine-tune the sitar. Listen carefully for any discrepancies in pitch and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Repeat the process: In the process of learning how to play sitar, tuning a sitar can be delicate and may require trial and error to achieve the desired tuning. Be patient and take your time to ensure that each string is accurately tuned.

Learn Sitar Techniques

The next step in how to play sitar is to learn sitar playing techniques. There are several sitar techniques to learn from, such as Taan, Gamak, Jhala and Alankar. Indian sitar players can learn specialized techniques such as “meend,” which involves sliding the fingers of the left hand along the strings to produce smooth transitions between notes.

Study Ragas and Composition

  • Understand ragas: Ragas are melodic frameworks that evoke specific moods and emotions. Each raga is based on a particular set of ascending and descending notes, known as aaroha and avaroha, and is associated with a time of day, season, or sentiment.
  • Learn basic ragas: Start studying how to play sitar by learning fundamental ragas such as Yaman, Bhairavi, Malkauns, and Bhupali. These ragas are commonly taught to beginners and provide a solid foundation for further exploration.
  • Explore Alap, Jor, and Jhala: Indian classical compositions typically consist of three main sections: Alap, Jor, and Jhala. The Alap is a slow and meditative improvisation that gradually introduces the raga’s notes and mood. The Jor is a medium-paced section that builds on the motifs introduced in the Alap. The Jhala is a fast-paced rhythmic section characterized by rapid strumming and rhythmic patterns.
  • Practice Bandish: Bandishes are composed pieces of music within a specific raga. These compositions often include a vocal or instrumental melody and rhythmic cycles (taal). Practice playing and memorizing bandishes to develop your understanding of the raga’s structure and phrasing.
  • Master Tans and Taans: Tans and taans are fast melodic passages that showcase the performer’s virtuosity and improvisational skills. Practice these patterns in different ragas to enhance your technical proficiency and creativity.

Seek Guidance (Guru)

Taking lessons from a Guru can help you master how to play sitar. A good teacher can give you helpful feedback, help you correct your technique, and introduce you to advanced techniques and styles. This approach can assist you in improving your skills and gaining a better understanding of the instrument.

Practice Regularly (Riyaaz)

Mastering how to play sitar requires practice and knowledge of the instrument’s strings, scales, and distinct ragas. Quality practice is more important, and individual goals dictate practice intensity. Regular practice promotes skill development and boosts confidence in melodies and performances.

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Sitar Accessories

Sitar Case

A sitar case protects and transports the sitar from damage, dust, and humidity. It is portable with handles or straps and frequently includes accessory storage. Quality cases regulate temperature and humidity to keep the sitar in good condition, ensuring longevity and maximum performance.

Tuning Pegs

A sitar tuning peg, or “khoonti,” adjusts the tension of the strings and tunes the sitar to the desired pitches. It is typically located at the top of the sitar’s neck and is turned to tighten or loosen the strings.

String Set

A set of sitar strings includes both the main playing string (baaj) and the sympathetic strings (chikari). Depending on the player’s preferences, the strings come in a variety of gauges, including slinky, light, medium, and hard. Slinky strings produce less resonance and are gentle on the fingers, while harder strings are likely to cut the fingers quickly.

Bridge

The bridge of the sitar is a small wooden piece located near the main playing string (baaj). It supports the strings and helps transmit vibrations to the resonating chamber of the sitar, contributing to its unique sound.

Plectrums (Mizrab)

A mizrab is a handmade plectrum used to strike the strings of a sitar. It is worn on the player’s finger and should not be too loose or tight. When learning how to play sitar, it is essential to choose a mizrab that is appropriate for you to avoid discomfort and finger damage.

Polishing Cloth

To keep your sitar in good working order, store it in a case or cloth cover, change the strings regularly, clean it with a soft dry or polishing cloth, and wipe it down after each use.

Conclusion

What is a sitar?

The sitar is a popular classical Hindustani string instrument that is typically 1.2 meters long, has 18-21 strings, and is shaped like a hollow pear.

How to play sitar?

  • Understand the instrument
  • Learn hand positioning
  • Tune the sitar
  • Learn sitar techniques
  • Study ragas and composition
  • Seek guidance
  • Practice regularly

Sitar accessories

  • Sitar case
  • Tuning pegs
  • String set
  • Bridge
  • Plectrums (Mizrab)
  • Polishing cloth

FAQs

How to play the sitar?

Here are the steps required to learn how to play sitar.

  • Understand the instrument
  • Learn hand positioning
  • Tune the sitar
  • Learn sitar techniques
  • Study ragas and composition
  • Seek guidance
  • Practice regularly

What are the basics of a sitar?

To learn how to play a sitar, it is important to understand the fundamental parts of this musical instrument, which are listed below:

  • Toomba
  • Dandi (Fret/fingerboard)
  • Tabli (The face plat)
  • Ghodi (Bridge)
  • Jawari
  • Khunti (Pegs)
  • Parda (Fret)
  • Tuning Beads
  • Sitar Strings

How long does it take to learn the sitar?

To perform a 10 to 15-minute solo performance on stage, students must practice for 2 to 3 years, attend classes and practice with their Guru, and set aside one hour per day for practice.

What accessories do I need for playing the sitar?

The list includes necessary accessories for playing the sitar.

  • Tuning pegs
  • String set
  • Bridge
  • Plectrums (Mizrab)

What are some common techniques used in sitar playing?

Sitar playing involves a balanced position with the left leg bent, the right leg crossed, the sound box resting on the left foot, the right forearm on the sound box, and the right thumb at the highest fret, which ensures stability and a 45-degree-angle neck.

How much does a good sitar cost?

Sitar prices range between $300 and $1,000, depending on brand, construction quality, and condition.

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