INDIAN MUSIC FORUM ARCHIVES: Sitar Forum: Basic Instruction, Sitar


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Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 17, 2001 02:37 p.m.

I just thought I'd throw this one out as I am finding out many idiosyncrasies that would seem to be of extreme interest to new players. I refer specifically to left hand playing techniques which would appear to be much the same as guitar, but turn out to be much different.
One thing of extreme importance is not to attempt to approach fretting with the same attack as guitar. The need for the oil is extreme as is the proportions of the mixture. The fats that are in the
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 18, 2001 04:45 a.m.

oops, here's the rest,
....that are in the vegetable oil help the mineral oil create the slide that is required as the finger does not leave the string as we do in guitar. This keeps the string lower to the frets and facilitates reducing fatigue as well as the more extreme pressure needed to press down. Also, it appears that the finger need not come straight down from the first knuckle either, more a bit on the flat of the finger which also alleviates the pressure against the tip.
I felt that I might express, in my learning process, what have been stumbling blocks to me in the hopes that others might gain a bit from my mistakes. I wish there were Sitar Guru's in every state but there aren't. I thought it might be nice to find some sort of yearly 2, 3 or more day seminar for Sitar, Table etc., that might be held in the southeast since california and Texas seem to be loaded with help. I wouldn't know where to start but at least this post has been a major help to me. Special thanks to Lars and Russ. The Mangla I got is sweet, nothing like knowing that any faults are not the instrument.
Sorry about the initial post, just pulled the trigger by mistake while attempting to edit....hope the rest of you, no matter how much of a beginner might share your successes and failures. You'll find there is a wealth of knowledge hanging out here....good luck all hope to hear from you....ken
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 19, 2001 12:00 p.m.

Hi Ken
I too found that the transition to sitar from guitar was much tougher than I expected. You're right about the left hand fingers pressing the strings slightly more on the flat of the finger than is the case with guitar. This caused me a lot of discomfort with my Mangla for the first few days. In fact I moaned to Peter about it! I found I was gritting my teeth to get through about 15 minutes of practice. That got much better though, of course, as the fingers hardened.
Getting the pressure right on the string is another thing I'm finding to be different. Especially if I bend a long way, say from ni below middle sa to ga or ma, then return to ni. I often find I'm then pressing the string too hard and the ni is sharp.
By the way, does anyone else find difficulty sustaining notes through a wide meend. What I mean is, say you bend ga from ni, pause at re on the way back down and then return to ni, does the ni note still sound strong and clear. When I listen to Ravi or Nikhil Banerjee etc, they play these amazing combinations using meend from one fret, and the sustain seems to carry the phrase without them he-plucking the string with the right hand. I find my note dies away much more quickly.
Any thoughts? (I should title this post - 'Why can't I play like Nikhil Banerjee yet?' (grin)).
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 19, 2001 01:03 p.m.

Hey Jerry,
Exactly why I opened this topic. Guitar thinking will kill you on this instrument. Like you my first practice session was painful, so much so that I was worrying about the action being too high. Of course I was making all the same errors on fret attack you were and I called Peter (Sitar Yoda) to moan as well. He knew immediately what I was doing and prescribed the correct oil mixture as well as sage advice on how to move from one fret to the other...what a practice I played for an hour, the instrument changed it's sound being much sweeter. I also had to lay off the hard pressure on the string which will creep up if you don't watch it.
I think (don't know, but Lars and Russ will probably have the answer here) that your lack of sustain is not a problem with the instrument but more of technique. I would wager it also has to do with your observation on pressing the string too hard as well. I don't think the frets on your instrument have had time to get scratched or otherwise unsmooth which will cause a guitar to lose sustain (i've done many a fret dress, polishing the frets to a mirror finish after crowning them).
Maybe we can look forward to playing like Ravi and Nik next incarnation...(hah)...ken
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 19, 2001 08:20 p.m.

Yes, that's right.......3 lifetimes to become good at Sitar is'nt it? Jerry, your sustain should improve with more callouses, also you can buff the frets with #0000 steel wool and be sure to wipe them off after playing each time. My tendency is to press too hard also......the amount of pressure needed is really not that much. I get sustain comparable to that of Ravi and Nikhil, keep in mind that on the recordings they're obviously amplified. When I plug my sitar in to an amp there is quite a difference in sustain, but I mostly play without plugging in these days.
Wish I sounded like Ravi or better yet, Manilal Nag! but that's not happening anytime soon
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 20, 2001 09:49 a.m.

Hey Lars, Jerry,
I knew Lars would come thru.. Lars, in dressing frets I usually use 0000 stell wool just to get rid of any snaggy stuff leftover after crowning (done with several teeny radiused files for different sized frets). Then I take my dremel tool with felt buffer, and after masking between frets, I use it first with black, then brown and finally white jewelers rouge until you can see your face in the fret, literally. They should shine like little mirrors.
After my last post I finally looked at the frets on my new Mangla, not bad, but could certainly use a touch. If you have never polished your frets totally smooth, try just polishing the Sa fret. I think you will find the exercise beneficial....ken
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 24, 2001 12:09 a.m.

Hey guys;
Well, I guess we are the Mangla "rat pack". Looks like everybody here has one. Spent most of the day with Peter just this week and bought the teak model (along with a few other "goodies"). All you say is correct about the frets. Plus, I would also add the string gauge has a decided effect as well. In general, the heavier the gauge, the longer the sustain. Plays hell on your fingers though if you're not used to it!
Here's a question from me to you all. To my ears, my Mangla has a rather dull sound with very little triggering of the tarbs. I went back and retuned them as accurately as I could (bilaval), and it still sounds dull. Did you experience this? I cleaned the strings with Scotchbrite, buffed the frets with 0000 wool, and even smoothed the bridge with soft felt. No noticeable difference. Sounds good mind you, but I really thought it would "kick butt" right away. Is yours changing tone over time, or what's happening? We Mangla players should keep in touch.
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 24, 2001 01:50 a.m.

Hi Russ,
So you joined the crowd?? You'll be glad! My sitar is just now starting to ring a takes awhile. You probably have 2 or 3 that ring real easy but the rest will catch up. When I first got my teak sitar, Pa and Dha rang out real loud but here almost a year later the others are coming out so be patient and play the hell out of it every day. It was a lot different than the tun sitar which rings out real well and I've only played it about 5 hours! But now I honestly prefer the teak sound, so very clear and distinct. I seem to have better sound out of the german strings from also. And the price is right too.........
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 24, 2001 06:22 p.m.

Happy Xmas eve everyone,
My Tun is like Lars says, rings, holds sustain, and is very rich out of the gate. I purchased the Tun as I enjoy the warmer sweeter sound. I think the Teak is more like a guitar with rosewood back and sides, a bit stiff and unresponsive at first but after year or so they tend to have more overall response on all levels. Just conjecture mind you, but informed conjecture.
I'm still jealous...I'll wind up with a higher end instrument but for now the Tun us just great, getting easier to play at every turn. I can see how you advanced players would be turned on to the Tun, almost went for it myself but needed to hold out cash for Deb's Tabla...ken...Merry Xmas
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 24, 2001 08:12 p.m.

Advanced players?? Oh, it's getting deep now!! I think your comparison to the guitar break in would be a pretty good one Ken. Merry Xmas to you and everyone else on this board!
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 26, 2001 10:53 a.m.

Hi Russ,
How does your Teak Mangla stack up against Sitars in your previous experience? Do you mind sharing what other sitars you've had? I'd never even touched a Sitar so I had no idea what to expect, great tone, details, er, not like what you might expect on a high end guitar....beautiful wood.
Lars, I did the fret job, big difference. I found the frets to have a few flat spots in the frets as well as having a few "pitted" areas. I rubbed every fret with 600 wet paper, using only saliva as a vehicle. This knocked off the imperfections and actual scratches on the frets. Be very, very careful to maintain the crown or the dome shape to the fret, don't give in to the temptation of working only the top of the fret. If the crown is not maintained too much of the string will come in contact with it making the intonation wierd.
I then buffed as my previous post, using a different felt wheel for each grit and using only the red and white jewelers rouge. Happy little faces staring back at you when you look at them now, and extremely slick. Try a meend on the 7th fret, very slow and feel the little nicks in the fret, or rough spots. Try a couple of other frets. All of this will go away when you do a fret polish. Sometimes you have to re crown the frets and will need a special "Fret File" that is a concave file the radius of your fret.
I'm finding that the lighter the touch the sweeter the sound and the more easily the tone is controlled. I'm finding that constant retuning seems to be the norm. Russ, Lars, does the instrument ever "settle in" and hold it's tuning? or do you really have to retune every time?
Oh, got my e-mail from vedamsbooks, seems they now want 60 bucks for The Book...think I'll nick mine from India Instruments...ken
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 26, 2001 07:31 p.m.

Thanks for the fret info, the ones on my teak are pretty good so I think that's one job I'll postpone for awhile though.
The tuning will settle in somewhat. I end up fine tuning every two weeks now which is pretty good. You'll notice going out of tune more with a lot of temperature change. I keep mine in a practice room where the temp is fairly constant. The carpenters chalk lightly on the pegs works very well to prevent slipping........but be sure it's no wax chalk! Vedams regular price is $60 so the German store is much better @ 29-Euro for THE BOOK!!
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 26, 2001 11:18 p.m.

Hey Ken..
Lars and I both wrote articles for Peter's Buckingham music website dealing with sitar features,in my case, just because I wanted to and Peter was appreciative of it. Both articles are still up there, and you can check them out on his main page (plus our smiling mugs as well). Mine deals with replacing a ridiculously tiny neck gourd on a 31-year old tun sitar I have with a huge gourd I grew here and fashioned myself in my dad's shop. Made a real difference in the sound! Much deeper midrange now, and the sympathtics sound louder too. And to think that sitar only cost me $100 back then....
But your original question as to what to look for on a good sitar? That's an involved subject, somewhat objective somewhat subjective. Tun vs teak is only the start. I've only had the teak for a week, so the only thing I can say for sure right now is that your tun will sound the same in five years as it did five days after you bought it (providing you maintain the jawari of course). But Lars tells me the teak will take time to break in. Right now, my teak sounds more dull than my two other sitars which are both tun wood. So, can't make a worthwhile comparison just yet.....
Thanks for the fret polish info. What I've done is use 000 steel wool to remove any imperfections, and then 0000 wool to get a smooth finish. Seems to work OK. But remember, these are nickel-silver, and you can rub all the silver completely off if you buff too hard. In that case, the shine will not last as long as it otherwise would. Soft felt might be the better way to keep shine.
I've rambled too long again so time to get off here. I'm a guitarist as well as others on here, and we are all struggling to switch back and forth between guitar and sitar. So, let's keep this thread going for a while among us.
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 27, 2001 12:16 a.m.

Hey Russ,
Yeah, forgot to mention your gourd.....great article, I think you did a terrific job!! Just got done practicing and every string is singing out. Have maybe 160 hours on my sitar now so do be patient and it'll be worth it. It only started breaking loose about a month ago.
No guitar player here (well, execept for a few blues licks and of course "Stairway to heaven) but do you know what you call a guitar player who just broke up with his girlfriend?? ..........homeless........
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 28, 2001 12:13 a.m.

Hmmmm...sounds like a story here?
Tell you what I think of a TRUE guitarist who just broke up with his girl friend. No longer a bigamist
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 28, 2001 06:34 a.m.

Hey Russ,
I enjoyed both articles. However I didn't read your gourd article until later. I always enjoy hearing musical instrument repair saga's. Always something new to learn. So is your dad a Sitar player too? Actually it was Lars, the Sitar Imp, whose article was resposible for pushing me over the edge and calling Peter which, of course, led to all of this.
Can we post photo's as attachments? Let's see....if so can you show some shots of your gourd repair? cool.
Just tuned my Mangla tun, (that sounds weird) it really does ring quite nicely and now after the umpteenth tuning it seems to be holding a bit better. (or could it be that I'm watching the temperature in the music room more).
Russ, I have more on fret work if you want to email me at . .how was the visit to Peters shop? way cool to be around all those instruments, did you try any others?
Lars, thanks for the e-Raga book, big help, also the "other" book tips. Jeez I'd like to replace all my tuning pins with banjo style friction pegs, but probably impossible, too bad the pegs can't be modernized but violin, cello and flamenco guitarists have been putting up with them for hundreds of years. This last go round I tuned much faster, putting a pickup on the face and jamming that into my tuner helped a lot. . . keep wanting to use more fingers than allowed, esp on left hand . . .yikes more guitar technique to get rid of...still too much pressure seems to be the biggest drawback for now.
Just tried to add an attachment, doesn't seem to actually give you the option just to tease you with it...ken
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 28, 2001 10:03 p.m.

Hey Ken;
I'll get off here and contact you my email in the future so I don't "clutter" up the boards too badly. My dad is 80 and retired, but he was among other things in his prime,a master carpenter. So, any help or tools I needed, he gladly supplied. My work was not really sitar repair, more like enhancement. The only pictures I have is in the article. My dad thinks I'm nuts with this sitar stuff, especially out here in "yee-hah country and western heaven". But everybody needs a passion in life, and sitar oddly enough turned out to become mine. Blame it on Ravi and the Beatles. That along with guitar, my original love. My origins with guitar is from your part of the country, some 32 years ago in Georgia. Ahhh, the good old days.
At the moment, Peter has exactly one sitar left in his inventory. So, the only ones I got to play was his own, an old Radha Krishna Sharma tun, plus one other teak Mangla. He says he has had a banner year, selling a ton of sitars. So, his inventory is almost nil until his next shipment comes in. Very surprising that there is that big a market for sitars and Indian music in this country! OK, enought of this. Contact you later.
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 28, 2001 11:04 p.m.

Hi Ken, well, so far as tuning up is concerned you should only need the one note e.g. C for tuning to C or C# for tuning there and so on - that's how the Indians do this as it's just a big open tuning anyway.
Tuning to self in C:
Put the sitar on the floor in front of you and sit cross legged facing the left side of it so the first string is away from you.
Get a C continuous tone.
Tune the 1st string 7th. fret to C. Give a good couple of pulls across the 7th fret then repeat the tuning. Do this again and again until it doesn't go flat any more.
Now, using the 7 fret first string C, tune the 2nd. string (open) an octave below it.
Grip the 2nd. string between thumb and forefinger just where it exits the top bridge and move your thumb and forefinger gently downwards an inch or two a couple of times, so pulling the string gently towards the main bridge.
Retune the note and do this again until it stays in tune.
You don't need to tug the bronze strings as they'll stretch and take a while to return to pitch. Steel strings return to pitch quite quickly, so you can tug on them a bit.
Now, using the 2nd. fret first string G, tune the 3rd. string an octave below it.
Do the grip and pull thing above and retune.
Using the 2nd. string open, tune the 4th. string an octave below it.
Do the grip and retune thing again.
Using the 3rd. string open, tune the 5th. string an octave above it.
As you don't finger the 5th. 6th. and 7th stings there's no need to pull on these as they'll normally stay in tune without this.
Using the 7 fret first string C, tune the 6th. string in unison with it.
Using the 6 fret first string C, tune the 7th. string an octave above it.
Pick the sitar up and smooth out your tuning. The neck sometimes flexes a bit (more with tun than teak) when it's in the playing position, so your "Earthbound" tuning with the sitar flat in front of you, may be a little off when you pick it up and assume the playing position. Usually with a tun sitar I find it's the 4th. and 5th. strings that go out a bit when I pick the sitar up.
Now you can tune your sitar up anywhere - all you need is a pitch pipe, really, for that first note.
The best tuning aid is nearly always your ears and brain. Certainly it's generally a little more "musical" then using a tuner and, when you get used to it, far less trouble.
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Dec 28, 2001 11:09 p.m.

Hi Ken, about tarraf tuning:
Tuning the tarraf strings for max. resonance:
Sitting on the floor in the same position as you used to tune the main strings, tune each tarraf string to the note produced by a particular note on a particular fret on the first string.
For instance I may start by plucking the 7 fret 1st string C (assuming I'm tuned in C as above), then tune the first and third tarrafs to this note.
Then I'd pluck the 6th fret 1st string B, and tune the second tarraf to this note.
Then I'd pluck the 8th fret 1st string D, and tune the fourth tarraf to this note then work my way up the C major scale using each note I plucked on a particular fret for the next tarraf string, et al.
The strength of this method is that you are actually tuning to the notes you may be playing. With a tuner you may just not get it quite right and the tarrafs won't resonate quite as well as they potentially will with this method. It's using the sitar as a complete system with nothing else coming between you and it, like for instance, a tuner.
When you have tuned all your tarrafs you'll probably need to go back to string #1 and work over them again as the neck has shifted forward because more tension has been applied to the neck by tuning up the tarrafs.
Indian classical players just tune the tarrafs by ear without all this as they already have all the notes off by heart for a particular raga. Besides, so many of their notes are produced by bending them anyway.
If you watch them you'll see they just reach under the strings with the nail of their little finger (RH) picking the individual strings and tuning them without looking down at them. Clear evidence of hour upon hour of practice!

It may also be worth remembering that your tarraf strings will nearly always resonate more as a result of a note being meended (pulled/bent) upwards.
This makes sense when you consider that when you bend a string up to a note it produces more energy as it's under more tension.

Perhaps we can get to more main bridge and tarraf tweaks later on.

Hope all this helps... Peter.

Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Jan 01, 2002 03:50 a.m.

Hi all
Re tarafs ringing out or not, I had the same experieince as Lars on my still new Mangla teak, but on different notes.
I found the ni and sa above middle sa rang like their little hearts were fit to burst, but nothing much else did. This was still true if I re-tuned for, say, Kafi and took the ni to kommal ni - it still sung like crazy. I'm assuming that what Lars says will be true of mine too and that over time the mid-range will come out more. (But, of course, I like the Debu Chaudhuri sound - showboating, huh Peter?!)
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Jan 05, 2002 09:23 a.m.

Hi Jerry, the basic idea of this is that the sitar tuning is generally approached by Indian Classical musicians as a closed system e.g. they select a continuous tone of one note as the root, usually C or C# (C# being the "Proper" concert pitch) and tune all 7 top strings using this one note as a reference.
Then they'll tune the tarrafs by ear as they're looking for the particular raga they'll be playing.
Using an external tuner for each string is a great way of losing contact with the instrument itself. One may get a clinically pure tuning this way but I have noticed that sitar doesn't respond all that well to this.
The reason I put forward the tuning of tarrafs to frets is that this is a good fundamental way of closing the system so the sitar is tuned to itself, plus also something a western musician is generally quite comfortable with.
Later on, when ragas have been learned it is then a good idea to tune each tarraf by ear for best response to the raga's notes or a note that is a part of the musician's composition using this raga. Some of these notes may simply be "meended" and not perhaps have a fret tuned to them as they are a shruti (not a main note, but a micro tone).
This really is the human part of sitar and comes with much experience and practice.
However the tune-to-fret technique for tarraf does give a good idea of the way the sitar's tarrafs are responding.
BTW the higher the tuning (say up to D) the more tarraf response one generally gets as more energy is put into the system by more string tension. The same applies to the use of heavier gauge first strings. However both these things do make it hard on the fingers when doing meend!
Yes, Debu has a freak, highly tweaked, sitar that produces incredible tarraf response. However, as pointed out to me, this is OK for simple pieces, but becomes very muddy when more complicated pieces are played.
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Jan 16, 2002 08:46 a.m.

Hey all,
Peterji comes thru again. I originally used my Seiko chromatic tuner to tune the entire instrument to C natural. Now I use the tuner to get the main string to F natural, check it on the Sa fret for C natural and then tune like using the "Self" tuning technique that Peter has found so responsive. Not have a great deal of experience with the instrument I was not expecting such a significant change in the tone, timbre and actual feel of the instrument.
Russ just tuned up to C# and is now hooked on the 1/2 step higher tuning. I haven't tried that yet but Russ's experience with his tarbs ringing so much better and the sustain increasing I believe that will be my next step. My tuning is now stabilizing but after tuning to C natural the instrument is now nearly a perfect 10 cents sharp on all strings, including tarbs, could it be that the instrument is seeking C# tuning on it's own?
All these little tips sure add up to a pleasant experience with the instrument. Up on the higher frets, like Ni and Sa above middle C, the tarbs do seem to "wake up" but the actual main note seems a bit dull, this may wake up as well when tuning to C# as I believe Russ has found out.
We are starting lessons in two weeks about 4 hours away from our residence. I'll let everyone know how it goes. I find his web site very interesting as he has many articles dealing with the inner nature of the instrument as well as a Raag file which includes not only his own vocables (in Swargam) but that of a student in order to give you a very good feel for the raag.
Thanks again Peter for all your help, when are your video's going to be out? Be sure to make your first run of tapes (better yet, DVD's, crisper images, easier to mail) a big one as they are sure to be snapped up.....ken
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Jan 17, 2002 07:51 p.m.

Hey Ken,
Saw you're Xmas pics at Peter's website, really enjoyed that!! I agree he should make a video along with the Mangla tshirts. The name of the video could be called "Freaking while you Tweak your Sitar". Hmmm?
Re:Basic Instruction, Sitar Jan 18, 2002 06:27 a.m.

Hi Lars,
So where's your picture Lars? There has to be no doubt that somewhere in your pile of electronic goodies there's a digital camera. It was a great Xmas for us, been wanting the Sitar since "Norwegian Wood".
Did you ever get your wife to try the Tanpura? That's what I wanted for Debbie really but Peter was sold out so I just had to get her the Tabla. Hope your new year is going well.
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