|the sitar project||
last updated October 10, 2009
|Holding sitar||Playing strokes||Making notes||Playing patterns||Maintenance||Understand Rag|
Fine tuning the baj
Tuning baj and jora
Knowing the parts of the sitar
The essential things to know the meaning of baj, jora, chikari and taraf. Other parts of the sitar are good to know - so you know what people are talking about, especially if your sitar needs repair - but not essential to being able to play. Here are some of the key parts:
Damping an overloud jora string
Tuning the front strings
We learnt how to tune the baj and jora strings above. The other front strings in Viliyat Khan style sitar are 2 drone strings and 2 chikari strings.
The Chikari strings are always tuned to middle and high Sa. Beginners often find it confusing which octave to aim for in tuning these strings. The very top string is the highest tuned string on the instrument tuned to high Sa on the baj. The second chikari string is tuned an octave lower to middle Sa. This means that if you play the jora, then the low chikari and then the high chikari you should get three Sa notes from the lowest to the highest note.
The other two front strings are tuned differently for different rags. For Rag Yaman tune them to ga and pa. Use the frets on the baj string to help you find these notes.
Guitarists tend to turn the pegs too much - perhaps because they are used to the geared tuning mechanism on a guitar - you only need to turn the pegs a tiny bit to get a quite big change in pitch on the sitar.
Replacing the front strings
Don't remove all the strings at once. If you do, you will never remember where the strings and the two bridges should go! If you do want to replace all the strings do it a few at a time. If you have to remove all the top strings, mark around the bridge supports with a pencil so you can see where the bridge was originally. If you don’t do this you will find it very difficult to get the sitar to play in tune.
Look carefully and make a note of where the string you are replacing goes before you remove it. For example, it may need to be threaded through a hole in the Aad (top bridge) before being threaded onto the peg. Similarly note if it has a manka and where that is and in what direction it is pointing.
Note whether the string was wound clockwise or counterclockwise. Strings will normally be wound counterclockwise. But the Jor string may be wound clockwise - for example to avoid touching the baj peg.
Remove the tuning peg the string belongs to and remove the old string. You may be able to untwist the string from the bottom of the instrument. If this is difficult (because other strings are on top of it), carefully cut the string off close to the retainer or post. When you eventually completely re-string your sitar you can then remove all the pieces of old strings.
Cut the string to length. Don’t make it too long - you need enough to wind round the peg, but not too much - otherwise you are winding for ever (and grinding away your pegs). And, if you buy your strings on a roll, using too much string is a waste.
Make a loop using a smooth cylindrical object (eg a pencil) that is a little larger that the string retainer or post at the bottom of the instrument. Loop the string around the pencil, leaving about 1" protruding from one end of the loop. Twist the pencil around several times to twist the string round itself. Carry on until it is sufficiently twisted to hold the string securely. This is what you are aiming for (obviously the twists should be all tight)
Slip the loop over the retainer or post, then place the string where the old string used to be. Take care not to kink the string in this process, otherwise it will almost certainly break.
Insert the string through the hole in the tuning peg. Let a piece about 2" long protrude from the other side of the peg. Thread this 2" length around the tuning peg again, and through the hole again. Pull the long end of the string fairly tightly to bind the string to the peg. For extra security trap the tail under the string as you wind it on to the peg.
Turn the peg to wind the string onto it and put the peg back in its hole. It is a good idea to hold the string slightly taught with your other hand whilst you are doing this. Again take care not to kink the string. Make sure the string is positioned in the correct place on the bridge.
Tune the string. It may take a while for the string to settle down. If it really doesn't then either the peg is slipping or the loop is not secure. Either remake the loop, or chalk the peg (with carpenters chalk not blackboard chalk).
Cleaning the sitar
Use a soft paintbrush to remove dust from the finger board. It helps to loosen some of the strings to get your paint brush in. You can also use a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment to suck out the dust.
Try to avoid your sitar getting sticky or dirty by keeping it in its case when you aren't practicing.
Tuning taraf strings
Taraf strings are tuned to the notes of the rag.
Be careful tuning the taraf strings. Taraf strings are often broken because you lose which string you are tuning and pluck the wrong one. What happens then is you keep tightening the string even though the pitch isn’t changing, overdo it and the string snaps. If you are not sure you are plucking the right taraf string then slacken the peg—if the pitch changes it’s the right one, if not, its the wrong one! But because you are loosening it there is no danger of breaking a string.
Knowing when strings need replacing
After a time of playing, strings need replacing. Grip a string lightly between finger and thumb and slide your hand up and down the string. A new string will feel perfectly smooth. A string that needs replaced will feel lumpy.
Equally, sometimes an instrument has been left for a long time and the strings have gone rusty - replace any string in this condition - particularly if it is your baj string, because a rusty string will hurt your finger.
Replacing taraf strings
The frets need to be perfectly placed for the sitar to sound in tune. Before you start this exercise, make sure the bridge hasn’t shifted - there should be a mark on the face of the tabli showing where it should be. If it has moved, then move it back. There is no point in trying to get your frets in tune if the bridge is out of place.
Use the harmonics on the string to help you get them in place. Switch off your drone or tanpura machine for this operation - you are trying to get the sitar consistent with itself - tuning it to a particular pitch is a separate activity, though it is as well for it to be roughly in tune at this stage. Touch the string lightly just above each of the low Sa and high Sa frets and pluck it - if you are in the right place a clear harmonic should sound - keep moving your finger until you hit on it. Use this harmonic to get both the Sa frets exactly in tune with the relevant harmonic. Do the same with the Ma fret. There is a similar harmonic just above this fret. Once these frets are right, use them as reference points to get the other frets in the right place - you have to use your ears for this.
When sliding the frets up and down, try to minimise the loosening effect on the ties. By sliding the strings as well as the frets.
You also need to move some of the frets when you are playing particular raags. For example if a raag uses komal re then you will need to move the re fret down. The only frets that ever need to move to accomodate different rags are
Knowing when jawari is needed
After you have played sitar for a time, the vibration of the string will cut into the bridge. This makes the sound of the sitar dead and unsatisfying. The bridge will therefore need filing to restore the perfect surface. This is not a job that can be done at home.
You can check if your bridge needs jawari doing on it by simply pulling your baj string to one side. If you see the string has cut a groove into the bridge then you will know that jawari is required.
If your pegs start to slip then chalking them can solve the problem. Simply put chalk around the pegs where they fit into the peg holes on your sitar. It is however very important to use the right sort of chalk. Do not use ordinary blackboard chalk, because this contains wax to stop it squeaking on the board - you need carpenters chalk.
It is important to keep your frets clean - this can make a big difference when you are playing meend. You should use fine grade wire wool to polish each fret. This is a bit easier if you loosen off some of your front strings, so that you can reach the whole of the fret. Don't loosen all the strings off at the same time unless you are confident of being able to put them back on. Once you have polished all your frets, use a soft paint brush and a vacuum cleaner to remove the small bits of wire wool.
Occasionally the string tying your frets on can work loose. This is exacerbated if you are not careful when you move your frets about. Retying frets is a bit fiddly, but it is worth learning how to do this.