INDIAN MUSIC FORUM ARCHIVES: Sitar Forum: Changing Tarbs


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Changing Tarbs Jul 10, 2003 06:52 p.m.

How often do you people change your sympathetics? Since changing strings is a real drag for me, guitar, bass or sitar I usally put it off for the longest time.
My MPS is starting to sound kind of dead so I have to do it soon. If I can get away with just changing the top strings that'll be great or should I just change them all. The tarbs look nice and clean so could it be my Ma (1st) string is just beat? I havent changed that in a while either.
Also, I just got my Raagini tanpura machine from Lars. It came today and it sure makes practice more interesting!
Thanks Lars!!!!!
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 09:44 a.m.

I'm going to hijack your topic here to ask a few questions myself.
How do you tune the tarb strings? What I mean is, how do you strike the strings to tune them, if the main strings are tight? I can't easily strike an individual string by reaching under the main strings with my little finger nail. I find I have to lossen the main strings so I can get to the sympathetics, with is really a pain; is there a trick to getting to them while keeping the main strings taut?

Has anyone made their own "narka" peg turners? I experimented with cutting a notch into a dowel, but it broke pretty quick. Guess I should have used a thicker dowel. Any hints on making a narka would be appreciated. I realize they're not all that expensive to buy one, but I have to budget my purchases these days.

I've moved my non-tarb relevant posting concerning SwarShala software, and the reply below, to a new topic, named, SwarShala Software. How original. Its sort of an important topic to me, so I hope to see some other comments on the software.

Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 04:07 p.m.

Hey Russ,
I tried the metal pick thing a few years back with no luck. I bent that thing every which way, even turned it inside out. I just don't think there is a good substitute out there for the fingernail. I don't think it needs to be an inch long though. I have found that just about 1/8th an inch beyond my finger tip is all that I need and I kind of shape it into a Nosferatu-like point. Just enough so that as the fingernail runs off of a string the finger tip is already clear of the string and doesn't act as a damper allowing the string to have enough sustain to allow tuning.
Being a guy, I don't know anything about fake fingernails, but they might be worth a try if you can't farm your own. I remember in 7th or 8th grade, I had a public school music teacher (Fridays from 10:00-11:20) that had real long fingernails. When she would give accompaniment on the piano, she would clack.
It was annoying as hell. Made you just want to go after her with a set of nail clippers.
Re:Swar Shala (was Changing Tarbs) Jul 11, 2003 10:17 a.m.

This should be a new topic, but since you asked, I do use the SwarShala software instead of an electric Tanpura/Tabla. I purchased the oftware back in 1998 (it was called TaalWizard back then) and it was cheaper than it is now...but the new version packs a lot more features, so the price hike is probably

Heres what I do: I set a "loop" at a given theka, tuned to my sitar's Sa (C#) and/or play a loop of a tanpura tuned to my Sa as well. I export the combined wav file, make a bunch of duplicate files and burn one HUGE wave file (10-20 minutes) onto a CD-R. I can then play the CD while I practice.

1. For me, low price (I purchased the software awhile back, and it's certainly less than a $250 Tabla Machine and a $250 Tanpura Machine)

2. Very authentic sound (it's a sample) and a HUGE range of thekas, fills, etc.... that give a variety the machines don't have

3. The people at SwarShala are really nice and get back to my emails quickly


1. You have to spend some PC time making the loops, tuning the software, etc..... This takes away from practice time, but once it's done (theoretically), it's done.

2. You need a bunch of CDs at different tempos, thekas, tunings, etc.......this can (eventually) lead to you having a big library of CDs (which take a lot of time to burn). Label clearly!

3. Even with the library of CDs, you still cannot "on demand" turn the tempo up or down a few beats/second to accomodate your mood at the time. Plus, if you decide to switch from Tintal to Ektal, you have to dig out another CD.

Overall: Well, it works fine for me. If I had $500, I'd get the machines, but for now, for a fraction of the $$ and a little time on my part, I have a very, very good tabla/tanpura practice setup. I've even made some "concert simulation" CDs where it starts out w/ 10 min. of Tanpura (for Alap), then the Tabla comes in at a slow tempo for 10 min. and then goes to medium and fast for the the final's a pretty cool way to practice for 30 minutes!

Personally, I'd rather put the $$ savings toward a new sitar, and that's exactly what Iplan to do.


Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 11:16 a.m.

Okay, I'll go down the list until I get to the virtual stuff (I prefer putting my partner to work on a real tanpura).
I change tarabs about once a year (new year's day works well). They probably don't even need it at that juncture. I buy a set of pyrimids for each year and then a bulk coil of MA. I change all strings anually and then MA on sitar about every month or two, longer for the MA for surbahar. The tarab strings really don't need the change at that point, but it's nice to get them off every once in a while just to buff up the dand under the strings and to rechalk the kunti (pegs).
As for tuning the tarab, I used to put the mizrab on my finger and rotate it 90 degrees (so that it was like a finger pick) and, with much difficulty, reach under and pluck with that, it was much like the old Milton Bradley (no kin) game "Operation". Then I decided that I'd go for the "cocaine dealer" look and grow my pinkie fingernail to a length just beyond the finger tip. Now tarab tuning is a breeze. Just reach under and pick which string, pluck while adjusting the peg with left hand, all while the instrument is being held in the playing position (you have noticed how everything goes out of tune when you tune an instrument laying down and then pick it up to play). The hard part of this is not injuring yourself with the new fingernail length until you get use to it.
On narkas, although I don't use them (use more chalk, less forcing the peg into it's hole), I can see in the photos that they are wraped with wire to prevent splitting, much like the point of joining bristels to a broom's handle. This is a two part problem. Your pegs are probably tight because you force them into their hole a little more than is needed (not good on your instrument, like over tightening a water faucet's valve to stop a drip wears the washers out much faster) so that you won't have to retune tarabs as often because they are difficult to reach. Solution: Grow that fingernail out to where tarab tuning is effortless and then chalk the pegs well and push them in just enough for the chalk to grip, no more. When tuning tarabs is easy, you do it more often, thus better sound.
You and your instrument will benefit.
If you must use a narka and prefer to make your own, reinforce it with that left over low SA string so that it doesn't split apart.
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 11:31 a.m.

Thought I'd jump in for a minute.
Jeff, if you keep those tarabs clean, you can keep them on for several years before you need to change out. I've had a set on for 5 years now, and they still sound fine.

Two ways to strike the tarabs for tuning, from the top and reaching down through the mains, or from the side reaching across. Both have pros and cons, and both require a fingernail. Personally, I go in from the side, as going from the top is aggravating. I have big fingers, and the mains just get in my way, forcing me to detune them.

Peter C. gave me one of his original rhino horn narkas for Christmas one year(thanks Peter), but these new ones are nothing more than wooden dowels. So, a jigsaw and a thick dowel should do the trick. Silverbush puts a bit of padding in the jaws to hold the peg better and not scratch them too.

Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 11:53 a.m.

Stephen (Jul 11, 2003 11:16 a.m.):
Solution: Grow that fingernail out to where tarab tuning is effortless and then chalk the pegs well and push them in just enough for the chalk to grip, no more. When tuning tarabs is easy, you do it more often, thus better sound.
You and your instrument will benefit..


I think you make an extremely valid point here. Yes, I have chaulked my pegs, but perhaps the tarb pegs need a little more attention than I have given them. Not all of them are hard to turn, just a handful. But those guys are bears! Maybe I should work on them instead of working on making another narka.

BTW, as I trimmed my nails yesterday, I officially didn't trim the nail on my right little finger. It seems weird, but even if I can't play worth a toot, as least I look more the part. Sounds like there's no real secret to striking the tarbs while tuning, I just need to get used to it. By the way, for a while I used one of those large paper clips, reaching through the main strings, and it worked sort of well, but then I broke one those strings, and made the paper clip into a string hook. Guess I'll bring home some more clips from the office. But I will work on doing it with my little finger, like you pros.

So this reminds me of another question (don't you guys wish I'd just go away???): I noticed on the Ravi Shankar Portrait DVD, during close-ups of his left hand on the frets, that the little finger nail of that hand also seemed to be grown long. Why?? Does he sometimes strum the tarbs with his left little finger?

I also noted that he and Anoushka both wear an extra mizrab on their left hand like a ring. I guess that's in case they lose one during performance, though in my wildest dreams I can't imagine one of those torture devices coming off accidentally!!!!

Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 01:01 p.m.

Yes, many sitarist will grow that pinkie nail long as well and can reach in and strum the bottom tarabs for an additional chikari effect. It's almost like having a built in tuning fork. I have noticed that a few will pick the MA tar with it in combination with the picking by the right hand for an even more rapid-fire effect. As to why the Shankars wear a mizrab on the right hand pinkie like a ring, I haven't a clue. It doesn't make for especially attractive jewelry (unless you are a minimalist). I would think that if it is just a spare, it could be kept in the "goodies" box that usually accompanies a performer to the stage. Perhaps it is a balance thing, like 0.00683 grams would throw you off. Perhaps the next time kumariji Shankar tours through your area, one of you guys could pose this question to her (I know a lot of you guys are just looking for any little beginning point for conversation with her). I too, remain curious about the story behind this ornament.
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 01:08 p.m.

If you have access to any medical/surgical equipment, the long-bar hemostats, which are used to clamp blood vessels, etc. are absolutely the best tarab changing tools around.....both the straight and bent nose varieties work fine.

Essentially, it's a stainless steel clamp that operates like a small (6" long) pair of scissors. It's hard to describe, but the amount of distance required to open and close the clamp is very small, so you can stick the hemostat in the peg opening, grab the tarab and pull it right through. Works every time! The added advantage is it's a one-handed operation, so your other hand can feed the string through, maintain tension on the other end (at the post), hold your beer, etc...

Just my 2 cents.


Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 02:31 p.m.

Hi All: I was under the impression that narkas are not made to help you put more pressure on the pegs (as in forcing them in) but rather to help you tune more precisely and easily by giving you more to grab onto. The �commercially� made ones really suck though because they have too much play in them. I turned my own, out of hardwood, on my lathe and padded the jaws with leather. The trick is to custom fit it so that it fits the pegs without any play. It really comes in handy when you have a peg that wants to stop just a little on either side of being in tune. Back and forth, back and forth....
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 02:38 p.m.

Danimal (Jul 11, 2003 01:08 p.m.):
If you have access to any medical/surgical equipment, the long-bar hemostats, which are used to clamp blood vessels, etc. are absolutely the best tarab changing tools around.....both the straight and bent nose varieties work fine.Dan

Great idea! I know exactly what you're talking about, and can probably get my hands on some soon (I guess that's the only advantage of chronic illness, I'm in the hospital or at the doc's a lot.)

I have the extra skinny needle-nose pliers that will work on the strings whose holes are closer to the edge real good, but they don't reach far enough for the further holes, unless I'm lucky and the string just happens to end up closer. Hence the paper clip, which works pretty good. I seldom have any trouble snagging the string. But *anything* that makes it easier is well worth it.

Billy Enigmar Godfrey
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 02:51 p.m.

I keep spilling my beer...
Good idea about pulling that pesky tarb string through. I've just been using a long pair of tweezers to grab the string and pull it out. Sometimes the hook works, most of the time it doesn't. Annoying little dudes....makes tarb changing no fun!

Actually, I have noticed quite a few sitarists wear extra mizrabs on their little finger. I get the feeling this is an old tradition that isn't much relevant anymore. I keep extras in a box too.

Ha, we all look like cocaine dealers with that long fingernail! Had mine up to an inch long. But it keeps breaking off no matter how I protect it, so I'm thinking about investing in that set of metal finger picks I mentioned.

Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 04:47 p.m.

Bet you scared hell out of her! You know, the airplane folks classify fingernail clippers as a weapon of terrorism nowadays. ha ha ha ha...Up against the wall, longnails!
Thought about fake fingernails. But all the gals tell me the acetone and other solvents will destroy the nail fiber. So, maybe not.
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 05:01 p.m.

I got a fake fingernail on my pinkie once.
It worked just fine, but i managed to pull it of in one of many tests... i wonder if the fake pinkie nail can take the weight of this... so in the end it had to give up. Still i think the natural way is to prefer.


Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 06:08 p.m.

I just use the nail on my right "ring finger" to pluck the tarbs while tuning. I can get everyone except for the shortest one, which I have to get from the top.
I tune them longest to shortest c-b-c-d-e-f-g-a-b-c-d-e-f.

I also strum the tarbs sometimes while playing. Someone told me once that this isnt really done by most sitarist. But I do it for shits and giggles and I think it sounds ok. By the way I know very little of traditional classical style, almost zero. I just jam on it right now so I dont care.

Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 06:14 p.m.

Oh yes, and thanks for the info about changing the tarbs. I'll wait a couple of months to do that agonizing chore.
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 06:16 p.m.

Whoever said the pro sitarists dont strum the tarbs when playing is telling you wrong. They all do. Just listen or watch the videos. You perform bodily functions while playing sitar? Wow...the mind reels!
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 06:40 p.m.

He said mainly only for the intro and outro of the raag, Never thru out the performance, I dont know, thats what I was told.
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 06:46 p.m.

But,,,,, I have the Ashwin Batish videos and the few little pieces he demostrates, he's strumming them constantly.
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 11, 2003 07:39 p.m.

For some amazing tarb strumming, get Kartik Seshadri's "Live At Oberlin" CD. When I first listened to it, I thought someone was playing the swarmandal in the background. Nikhi Banerjee and Manilal Nag are also great at this.
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 12, 2003 02:18 p.m.

I think there are more sitarists that use this technique than do not. My own teacher showed me how to do strum the tarbs last year, using either the right hand index finger or little finger, much like Ashwin. Plus, we can also use the little finger of the left hand to add a little double-chikari too. There's a lot you can do on these instrments!
Re:Changing Tarbs Jul 12, 2003 03:08 p.m.

I've done the left pinkie strum before by accient, I should practice that. I should also practice my meends more, I really suck at finding the notes sometimes. As a matter of fact, I'm gonna do that right now.
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