by David Courtney working tools

Tuning the sitar

Tuning the sitar is part of the artistic process.  Therefore there is no one "standard" tuning which will work for every rag and every situation.  Whatever we say in this page must be considered to be just a start from which you can change according to your individual requirement.

In this page we are going to make a simple assumption.  We are assuming that you are a rank beginner and are just looking to get your instrument up and playable with the minimum of muss and fuss.

The illustration below is the tuning:

sitar tuning chart

Courtesy of Mel Bay, "Learning the Sitar"

Let us discuss this tuning.  By understanding why we are tuning it the way we are, you will understand how to customise it later for different requirements.

The key is one of the main considerations.  This particular sitar is tuned to the key of C.  Sitars are usually tuned to C, C#, or D.  As a general rule, a sitar set to a higher pitch sounds much better.  However, we are are picking the lower pitch for a simple reason; it is much easier to play.

You will immediately realise that playing a sitar is like playing a cheese slicer.  It takes a while to build up the calluses on your fingers, which are necessary to be able to properly play the instrument.  By choosing the lower end of the tuning, we have made the sitar much easier to play for a beginning student.

The taraf strings (the ones below the frets) are tuned to the "major" scale.  This is presuming that your teacher is starting you off with Bilawal that.  In traditional Indian pedagogy it is about 50/ 50 chance as to whether your first exercises will be in Bilawal that or Kalyan that.  Should you be learning Kalyan, simply take the Ma strings of the tarafdar (the small pegs on the side) and raise them to F# instead of F.

You will also notice that the strings on two of the pegs have been removed entirely.  These are not necessary for a beginner, and are commonly removed.  If you do decide to use them, consult with your teacher as to the proper gauge and tuning for your particular style.

Remember all of this is just to get you started.  As you progress in your knowledge and experience on the instrument, your tuning will certainly develop into something different.

For more information check out the Mel Bay "Learning the Sitar" Book / CD set.


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© 1998 - 2017 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at david@chandrakantha.com