INDIAN MUSIC FORUM ARCHIVES: Sitar Forum: Questions about Sitar


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Questions about Sitar Aug 01, 2002 06:38 p.m.

Hi, I am a beginner at the Sitar. I dont have an instructor, nor do I have any books/videos; but I manage from what little information I gain online, and from what I can remember about it from 4 years ago (I used to play the sitar for 3 months back when i visited India, but I just got a sitar of my own a few weeks back). I THINK I know which fret is which swar (starts with Sa, next one is Sa komal, then Re, Re komal, Ga, Ga komal, Ma, Pa, Dha komal, Dha, Ni komal, Ni, Sa---is that right???), but I still am VERY confused. I mean I hear all these elaborate "songs" being played by Ravi Shankar, and all these other great sitarists, like for example, Raag Bhimpalasi. I heard Ravi Shankar play it, and it was like a 5 min thing; but then I go online and find stuff about Raag Bhimpalasi and it is just like a few notes! I am so confused about that part, and I would GREATLY appreciate it if someone could explain it please. Also, I am confused on all these "Aroha" and "Avroha" and all these other things I read about online. All the onlin explanations are so vague and non-specific. If someone has a website that explains these subjects in detail, and correspond specifically to sitar-playing, please reply to this message w/it. These message boards are the first I have seen of their kind; dealing w/the Sitar. I would also greatly appreciate someone sending me links to other sitar message boards. Thanks!
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 02, 2002 11:45 a.m.

Rather than investing a lot of time prowling around the internet (not saying that the stuff on the www isn't useful, it is just brief and a lot of searching to find what you need), you should order one of the texts. See the thread under this forum on music books for addresses. I would suggest Manfred Junius' book above all of the others. For a quick intr to note locations, go to
Good luck in your effort. Practice, practice, practice.
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 02, 2002 06:57 p.m.

Don't feel bad. You have to start somewhere, and it sounds like you're asking the right questions. Yes, check out Stephen's recommendation. Books and videos are good if you can't locate a teacher. Otherwise, its easy to become overwhelmed with all this! The "few notes" you mentioned are simply scales. All ragas have scales which go up)from the starting low note to the highest note (aroha) and then back down (avaroha)to the start (avaroha). That's all it is. Realize any particular raga can go anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours, depending on what the player wants to do, and what the audience wants to hear! If you can, check out Ravi's 1967 Monterrey International Pop Festival CD. He plays a beautiful 26 minute version of Raga Bhimpalasi. That concert was the historical ground-breaker for sitar becoming popular in the US. Anyway, stay in touch and let us know how you're doing.
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 02, 2002 10:29 p.m.

Here's a nice one for you.
Scroll down to Raga Mala and click on that. Takes you to a good interactive screen where a great many raga titles and descriptions are compiled. Double click on any raga and it will open up and play a midi audio file of its scale, plus you can read the notes as you go. Gives easy to understand definitions of the classes of ragas, ascending/descending patterns, etc. Was easy for me to follow. Try that one and see how it goes.
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 03, 2002 09:26 p.m.

and here is another good one...
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 09, 2002 09:53 a.m.

Thanks, everyone, for all your help. The websites did offer me a lot of help and stuff, and I'm much farther ahead on playing the it now than I was before my first post. Thanks again! Russ, thanks for explaining the whole elongated raag thing; and yes, I had heard Shankar's "Sounds of India" Bhimpalasi. I thoguht it was marvelous, but I am still kind of confused on HOW he did that w/just a few notes to go by....I mean was that all like rehearsed? Or was it all just spontaneous?! That would've been pretty damn good if it was done w/o much anything pre-planned....
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 09, 2002 10:27 a.m.

Well, now you know why they call Ravi "pretty damn good". The basic theme (gat) to Bhimpalasi is only a few bars long! Just a handfull of notes. The best concerts are always better than 90% improvised on the spot. But to be able to do that, within the "rules" of the type of raga it is, that requires the well-known many years of heavy practice! And I guess maybe you have to be good....
There are a few different catagories of ragas, and each type has its own set of rules as a system, and each raga falls in a system. So, you improvise within that system. In so doing, a couple of minutes of playing can be turned into a couple of hours. This stuff really can't be explained in one paragraph. Its a complete music science, 30 centuries old! There are many books out there that explains this better than me.
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 09, 2002 11:10 a.m.

And to go along with the Bhimpalasi on CD, there are two videos that contain footage of Pandit Shankar's performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. "Raga" and "Monterey Pop" are both available through I've damn near worn my copies out rewinding over and over to catch how he creates some of the ornaments. Plus the Monterey video has the battle of instrument destruction between Townsend and Hendrix that so pissed Ravi off. The Raga video is essential stuff for anyone studying Indian classical music. And you get to see (Monkee) Micky Dolenz acting like an Indian (an American take).
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 09, 2002 02:29 p.m.

Hee Hee! Yeah, I had forgot about ol' Mickey Dolenz. Looked a bit ridiculous. Guess somebody told him an Indian was playing, so he showed up in an "Indian chief" outfit. Oooops!
Know what you mean about rewinding those old tapes back and forth. Got a feeling we're all being headed towards DVDs, kicking and screaming all the way.
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 09, 2002 02:37 p.m.

Hi All: Hey Stephen, please expound on the Ravi getting pissed thing. I've never heard that story. - K.K.
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 09, 2002 03:27 p.m.

That's right. His performance almost didn't go off because of that, but I'll defer to Stephen here......
Re:Questions about Sitar Aug 12, 2002 07:09 a.m.

K.K. (Aug 09, 2002 02:37 p.m.):
Hi All: Hey Stephen, please expound on the Ravi getting pissed thing. I've never heard that story. - K.K.

Yes, he almost didn't play after seeing Jimi torch his ax and the rather chaotic ending to the who's performance. That battle of who's outdoing who is a story in itself. But it really did upset Ravi quite a bit as he sees musical instruments as divine, on loan to us by the good graces of saraswati.

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