Description of the Sitar
The Sitar is the most popular of all North Indian instruments. It is classified as a chordophone in the lute family, and is related to the Veena and Zither. Sitars have necks crafted from toon or teakwood. The resonator is carved from a large seasoned gourd. There may be an additional, smaller, gourd resonator attached to the neck. There are a series of arched metal frets, which are tied to the neck with line. These frets may be adjusted to alter the pitch.
There are two sizes of tuning pegs on the Sitar. The larger pegs on the peg box are for the playing strings. The large pegs on the side of the neck are for the chikaries (drone strings). The smaller pegs, on the side of the neck, are for the sympathetic strings. The degree of decoration of these pegs is an indication of the class of instrument. The more decorated the pegs, the higher the quality of instrument.
The number of strings varies, with just fewer than 20 being most common. Three sets of strings run the length of the neck. Two sets run over the top of the movable arched metal frets to the end pegs and one set runs under the frets. The top sets are the main or playing strings and chikaries. The playing strings are fretted to produce melodies. A wire finger plectrum, called a mizrab, is used to pluck these strings. The chidaries are periodically struck to provide a drone or tonic base for the music. The sympathetic strings run under the frets to side mounted pegs. The sympathetic strings are almost never played. As the top strings are plucked the sympathetic strings gently vibrate. They add a soft resonating drone to the rhythms played. With all these strings it may be a surprise to know that only one to four strings are actually played to produce a melody.
The surface of the sitar is highly decorated. There are numerous inlays and a good deal of carving. Sitars can be divided into two types, the single and the double toomba. The Double toomba has a second, smaller, carved gourd at the end of the neck. The single usually has fewer strings and only one gourd.
We have two purchasing directors in India who contract for the generic sitars. They do a very good job. All of the full-size sitars are approximately 48 inches in length. They come with double toombas and cloth covered plywood cases, an inside cloth bag, mizrab picks, replacement strings, and the “Play on Sitar” instruction book. We also carry replacement bridges, beads, frets, strings, and mizrabs.
Origin of the Sitar
There are a number of theories regarding the origin and history of the Sitar. Most disregard the historical record. Some suggest the Sitar evolved from the ancient veenas such as the rudra veena. However, there are fundamental differences in the way these two instruments are played. The sitar is in the lute family and the veena is a stick zither. There are also differences in the basic construction and materials used. All these things suggest these two instruments developed independently.
The Sitar is often attributed to Amir Khusru. The difficulty arises when you realize there were two famous individuals with the name Amir Khusru. One Amir Khusru who lived in the 1300’s and one who lived in the 1700’s. This alone can make it difficult to ascertain the development of the Sitar. Since the Persian- Islamic influence in Hindu music began with the Moghul Empire during the 1300’s some believe this earlier Amir Khusru was influential in both the development of the Hindustani Sangeet and the Sitar. (Hindustani Sangeet is the style of music that blends the traditional Hindu musical concepts and Persian performance practice.) During the time of Moghul rule Persian lutes were played at court, and may provide the basis of the Indo-Pakistan Sitar. However, there is no physical evidence for the sitar until the time of the collapse of the Moghul Empire. So it can be assumed that this first Amir Khusru had no involvement in the invention of the sitar.
The Sangeet Sudarshana attributes the sitar to the second Amir Khusru during the 18th century. Those that attribute the sitar to this Khusru, believe he developed the sitar from the Persian Sehtar. This Amir’s grandson, Masit Khan, was one of the most influential musicians in the development of this instrument. The Masitkhani Gat style of music with numerous slow gats in the dhrupad derives its name from Masit Khan.
From these theories and the historic record, we can conclude that the sitar developed in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent not at the beginning, but at the end of the Mogul era. It was likely influenced by or evolved from the Persian lutes played in the Mogul courts
Brand Name Sitars
Mid-East Mfg proudly offers the G Rosul and the Radha Krishna Sharma brand sitars.
G Rosul is more than a brand. The Rosul family has been hand-crafting sitars for generations. Coming from this illustruous family, Mr. Gulam Rosul founded the G Rosul brand a quarter of a century ago. G Rosul specializes in the art of making only sitars and tampuras. These instruments have a distinctive feel, tonal clarity and playability. With attention to detail, G Rosul hand-crafts only 8 to 10 instruments a month. Just as Gulam Rosul learned the art of making sitars from his father he is teaching the craft to his children.
Radha Krishna Sharma is a well-known maker of fine sitars and other instruments.
The full size standard sitar (STRS) has thinner frets and a narrower fret board than the deluxe. This model is easier for students while they learn to play. It has 7 main and 11 sympathetic strings. There are carvings and inlays along this beautiful instrument, and yet it is the least decorated of the fullsize sitars. The greatest visual difference between this sitar and the others is that the standard model has simple, un-carved tuning pegs. Included with this sitar are a hard-sided case, mizrabs (plectrums), extra strings, and the book "Play on Sitar.”
We offer a left-handed standard (STLS) as well. This is a full size Sitar. It is essentially the same as the standard model and is crafted for the left-handed player. It has also has 7 main and 11 sympathetic strings. Included with this sitar are a hard-sided case, mizrabs (plectrums), extra strings, and the book "Play on Sitar.”
The Deluxe Sitar (STRD) is fullsized, highly decorated, with 7 main strings and 11 sympathetic strings. There are carvings and inlays along this beautiful instrument. Visually it differs from the other sitars in that the large pegs are carved to resemble lotus flowers, and there is no Radha Krishna Sharma tag. Included with this sitar are a hard-sided case, mizrabs (plectrums), extra strings, and the book "Play on Sitar.”
There is also a left handed deluxe, (STLD), crafted for the left-handed player. It is highly decorated with carvings and inlays. This is a double toomba sitar with 7 main and 11 sympathetic strings. Like the deluxe it has tuning pegs carved like lotus flowers and does not carry the G Rosul or the Radha Krishna Sharma tag. Included with this sitar are a hard-sided case, mizrabs (plectrums), extra strings, and the book "Play on Sitar.”
Fancy Professional (STRF, STLF) model is much the same as the Deluxe, structurally. They have double toombas, are highly decorated and have 7 main strings and 11 sympathetic strings. The G Rosul or the The Radha Krishna Sharma label appears on the upper fret board. The large pegs are carved like the deluxe, as lotus flowers. Both the right handed and left handed models come with a hard-sided case, mizrabs (plectrums), extra strings, and the book "Play on Sitar.”
The Professional (STRP, STLP) model is much the same as the Deluxe, structurally. They have double toombas, are highly decorated and have 7 main strings and 11 sympathetic strings. The G Rosul or the Radha Krishna Sharma label appears on the upper fret board. The large pegs are carved not like the deluxe but are delicate spirals. Both the right handed and left handed models come with a hard-sided case, mizrabs (plectrums), extra strings, and the book "Play on Sitar.”
Playing the Sitar
We offer the book: Introduction to Sitar (LSTR) by Harihar Rao, and Learn To Play On Sitar (LIST) by Pankaj. You may wish to order one or both of these to accompany your sitar. If you look, you will find several books on Sitar. Find one that you are comfortable with and then practice, practice, practice. Do not except to pick up the sitar and be playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in a matter of a few weeks. This is an instrument you invest yourself in. Be patient. Consider this a journey. You may be able to find a teacher in your area- look on our links page. Study for it, find other players, read, watch videos, and renew your library card. You will learn slowly, but, the end result will be fabulous!
To begin playing sitar, you must first master the seated position. Sit on the ground and cross your legs. Right handed players: Your left foot should stick out under your right thigh. Place your right ankle in front of your left knee. This position allows you to easily hold the sitar. Rest the larger (resonator) toomba on the heel of your left foot. Your right arm rests on top of this toomba and helps to hold the instrument. The neck should cross your chest at an angle, from your right hip to left shoulder. If you have the correct position, your left heel and right forearm should hold the sitar steady. The tips (not the pads) of the index and middle fingers of the left hand are used to note the strings. Do not press the string into the fret. The string is lightly pressed, just above the fret, and then pulled to the outside of the neck.
A wire plectrum, or mizrab, is worn on the index finger of the right hand to strum the strings. When the plectrum is worn correctly the pointed wire is positioned to run over the fingernail and under the pad of the finger. These picks come in various sizes. The pick should slide up and over the outside of the first joint of your index finger. This will secure the plectrum on the finger while playing. If you are a beginner, consider getting the plastic coated plectrum for added comfort. Try placing the point of the plectrum against a string. Flick your finger back and forth, hitting the string each time. This produces a fast tremolo effect.
Tuning the Sitar
The graduated scale used in western music (Do, Re, Mi, Fa…) is not used in Indian music. Rather, Indian music is based on a tonic with arbitrary pitch. The tuning of the Sitar will even vary from Raga to Raga.
Here is one suggestion for tuning. There are a number of alternatives.
Always start with the second string and end with the first string. As you tune, repeatedly strike the string until the desired pitch is reached. Also, remember that the tuning pegs of the sitar are tapered and held in by friction. As you tune apply a small amount of pressure to the pegs to keep them secured.
The player may wish to alter the notes of the strings, higher or lower, by a half step. As you become more accustomed to your instrument, you may wish to alter the pitch by changing the size of the string. Once you find a tonic scale that suits you and your instrument, altering the pitch no longer becomes necessary.
When tuning the sitar, begin with the main strings. Start with the second string and continue to the chikaris (drones). The sympathetic strings are tuned depending on which raga you will be playing and on your own preference. Beginners my wish to tune the sympathetic strings to the western tonic scale.
6 main strings:
Begin with the #2 main string, continue to the chikaris. End with the #1 string.
7 main strings:
Begin with the #2 main string, continue to the chikaris. End with the
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