|the sitar project||
last updated December 19, 2010
|Holding sitar||Playing strokes||Making notes||Playing patterns||Maintenance||Understand Rag|
|Making notes||Understand tal|
Correct hand position
Correct finger placing and touch
Moving up and down the frets
As you play different notes on the sitar your hand should move up and down the neck as a unit - as you move from say Sa to Re the whole hand moves up. You should avoid the elbow sticking out to one side - try to keep the arm hanging straight down.
Your touch should be very light on the neck of the instrument. Practice running the whole hand up and down the finger board touching the strings lightly. Your thumb should remain in contact with the back of the neck, and you will probably hear a sound as the thumb brushes the frets. You should try to minimise this sound - if its noticable then it means you are gripping too hard, and this will harm your sound and limit your ability to play fast.
A very simple exercise for this is to touch your finger lightly on the string and then slide the hand, as a unit, up and down the string. This will help you get the feeling of easy, light movement.
The finger line
Finding the middle octave notes
Start to learn where the notes in the middle octave are by finding Sa. You will soon learn where this note is, but for reference it is played using the 7th fret from the bottom of the instrument. Once you have found Sa practice the following exercises.
- only move on to the next line when you are reasonably confident with each line.
Play the middle octave scale
Once you are reasonably confident with where the notes are, practise the following scale exercise, playing each note first 8 times, then 4 times, then 2 times and finally once:
When you play this exercise keep the speed of the strokes constant. This means that this exercise gradually speeds up how fast you have to move your left hand. To start with, you will probably find the last line too difficult, because the left hand has to move quite fast, so leave this for now.
Once you are confident with this, then practice the following exercise, which fits in to tintal (16 beats). This is the scale played at once at single speed and then twice at 2x speed:
This is the first example of a whole suite of exercises which develop your skills in playing at speed. As a warm up exercise for this, practice the rhythm on Sa, which is shown on the Playing stokes section of this website see Play 2x speed strokes. It is a good idea to alternate the scale practice with the stroke pattern - this helps to isolate any problems - you may be tempted to think your left hand is at fault when in fact it is your right hand stoke playing which is not even or faulty in some other way.
Keep checking that your finger line is correct and keep checking that your hand and arm position is OK, as you play these exercises.
Understanding use of the second finger
For sitar you mostly use just the first finger. The second finger is used at the top of a passage. Here are some examples of when to use the second finger:
Try to use the second finger now, for example, at the top of your scale practice, or any other exercise.
It is worth practicing the following exercise to get used to using your second finger. This exercise is easier than other combinations of notes because tivra Ma and Pa are close together and are in the middle of the range - so you don't have other difficulties to contend with. Keep your first finger down all the time.
Know the names of notes
Learn the names of the notes. Each note has a full name, but for practical purposes we use shortened names. Here they are with full names, shortened names and the notation used on this website:
It is very important to learn these names of the notes - they are key to learning passages, and co-ordinating the music you imagine in your mind and the physical actions needed to play spontaneously. Later on we will also learn to sing using these note names.
Indian music is traditionally learnt through oral explanation and study. This is the best way and in some ways the easiest way. Unfortunately in practice since we all tend to forget, and have busy lives an aid to memory is needed. So we use notation to help. The following signs are used:
Using finger oil
Placing the finger accurately (easier)
This exercise focuses attention on exact positioning of the left hand finger - make sure you have established the correct finger line before you start and keep your focus on getting the best sound by maintaining the correct hand position and placing your finger near the fret. Try to minimise the pressure on the string whilst still getting a good sound, keep the left hand thumb light so that the movement up and down the finger board can be smooth.
The importance of this exercise is that the notes change very slowly, but as the speed of the strokes increases the movement between the notes has to be faster and defter. It is also good for your right hand building on the Playing strokes exercise Playing 1x,2x,4x speed strokes,
Set your tabla or metronome to slow speed - about 45 beats per minute. The transitions between the speeds needs to be exact. When you have played the whole exercise repeat without a break.
Because the exercise is in 16 beats, it also builds knowledge of the feel of vilambit tintal with simple scale passages.
Playing palta at 1x and 2x speed
Palta is something played many times for practice. So far we have been using a simple scale for practice. This exercise uses an ascending and descending pattern of notes from Rag Yaman to base your practice on. Ascending it omits Sa and Pa, and it fits into tintal 16 beats. Obviously it can be adapted to any rag. Once you have learnt this exercise, it should be a key part of your practice every time you play. It builds on the exercise Play the middle octave scale above.
The exercise introduces two new notes: low Ni and high Re. Take a little time to find these notes before practicing it. High Re can be a hard to reach at first since it will require your sitting position to be improving, however, it shouldn't be too bad because you can use the second finger on this note, which makes it easier. If you can't reach Re then, to start with, replace high Re with high Sa.
Set your tabla or metronome to slow speed - about 60 beats per minute. Start by practicing the first line, until you have mastered that, then the second line just plays this pattern twice at 2x speed.
As a warm up exercise for this, practice the rhythm on Sa, which is shown on the Playing stokes section of this website see Play 2x speed strokes.
Playing palta with bol patterns one note to a beat
This exercise combines different stroke patterns with the palta. Here is an example of this which uses the first line from Playing short bol patterns from the Playing strokes page on this website. Start playing the whole bol exercise on one note a time.
Then play it with one note on each beat.
Once you have mastered this try the same exercise with other bol patterns. Learning to combine melodic patterns with bol patterns is very useful both for playing compositions and for improvisation.
Playing palta with jhala pattern (slow speed)
Combine together the basic jhala pattern of strokes with the palta to make this exercise. This is a first exercise to learning to play the kind of jhala that is often used to conclude a performance. It is also a good exercise in building on the work to establish accurate placing of the left hand - focus on accurate positioning of the melody notes played on the baj - you only have one chance to get these right before the chikari strokes take over. At the same time pay attention to the chikari strokes to make sure they stay clear.
Keep this exercise slow to start with concentrating on accuracy in both hands - set your tabla or metronome on about 100 beats per minute.
As a warm up for this exercise practice the basic jhala pattern from the Playing strokes page.
Playing lower octave on baj
The lower notes on the baj string should be practiced just the same as you did to learn the middle range. Apply all the same principles you have already learned - moving the hand as a unit, placing the finger just behind the fret, maintaining the finger line, saying the names of the notes etc. In the exercise below the speed of the strokes should be kept constant so that the left hand has to move quicker as you move down the lines.
Playing full range of baj
Practice the full range of the baj string. Notice the feeling of the arm moving smoothly up and down the neck of the instrument. Use the second finger on the top Re.
You should eventually be able to extend this beyond high Re, but most people find this difficult to start with whilst keeping the correct left hand position - so save this for later.
Develop use of second finger
Once your finger line is well established on the first finger, start to develop the use of the second finger. Whilst most of the time sitarists just use the first finger, the second finger is vital for fast passages, for intricate patterns and ultimately for meend. If your first finger is placed correctly then you don't really need to worry about establishing a finger line for the second finger - it should just fall naturally - however, it should not be placed on the string too near the tip. The big danger in starting to use the second finger is the tendency to twist the hand so that you lose your finger line on the first finger. In all these exercises keep checking back that your finger line isn't starting to slant too much. Keep the first finger in contact with the string all the time.
Gradually work through these exercises which are graded from easier to more difficult exercises.
The origin of all indian music is vocal, so you need to learn how to sing. This is not about vocal quality, it is more about connecting your imagination of a phrase, with the physical actions required to play on sitar. If you are not comfortable about singing, you can start just by saying the names of the notes.
Singing/saying the names of the notes is a good way of learning passages, and of improving your confidence in improvisation. Start by singing/saying the names of the notes for scales and alenkar, first without sitar, then whilst playing the sitar.
As you gain confidence in this it is a good to practice the music you are learning without the sitar, almost as much as with sitar - the sitar should become merely the vehicle for whatever you imagine. This is, of course, a long journey ...
Placing the finger accurately (difficult)
This exercise takes the idea of combining very slow left hand movement for accuracy with fast right hand strokes to the next stage by adding faster and more complicated rhythms. The foundation for this exercise is the equivalent exercise under the improvers section above and the exercise Playing 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 6x, 8x strokes on the Playing strokes page. It is worth playing that exercise beforehand and even mixing the two exercises up, alternating strokes just on Sa with this exercise.
8x speed gets to be quite fast so set your tabla or metronome to about 30 beats per minute.
Keep focusing on the positioning of the left hand, because this is what this exercise is really aiming to develop, though of course it is also very good for your right hand and for your general stamina.
Playing palta at 1x, 2x, 4x speed
This exercise helps you to speed up your playing and helps grow your sense of 16 beats tintal. It is the next stage of the exercise above Playing palta at 1x, 2x speed simply adding playing the palta 4 times at 4x speed.
Set your tabla or metronome to about 45 beats per minute. Start slower and work up to this. There is no point in trying to play too fast: accuracy is the route to speed. As a warm up or to alternate with this exercise play the stroke exercise Playing 1x, 2x, 4x speed strokes on the Playing strokes page. When you have finished the exercise start over again so it plays continuously speeding up and slowing down.
Playing palta with bol patterns 1 note to a stroke
Another variation on the palta is to combine together this melodic pattern with a pattern of strokes, but this time play one note to each stroke. The bol pattern and palta probably won't synchronise neatly, but this gives you good practice in different combinations of notes and strokes. Here is an example with the bol pattern: Da Dir Da Dir.
As a warm up, practice the bol pattern you have chosen on Sa as in the exercise Play short bol patterns on the page Playing strokes. You can make ever more elaborate combinations of melodic patterns, alenkar etc and bol patterns. All of these are very good preparation and material for improvisation.
Playing palta with jhala pattern (medium speed)
Speed this jhala exercise up to gradually gain confidence and stamina - set your tabla or metronome on about 130-140 beats per minute.
To develop stamina still further alternate single speed and double speed chikari strokes. You may need to play this a little slower in order to fit the double speed patterns in accurately.
As a warm up for this exercise practice the basic jhala pattern from the Playing strokes page.
Playing palta with jor-jhala pattern
Combine the palta with the jor-jhala pattern with 8 beats to each note as follows. As a warm up practice the jor-jhala pattern on Sa as shown in the exercise Jor-jhala pattern on the Playing strokes page.
Practice this at medium fast speed up to about 150 beats per minute gradually increasing the speed.
Single note meend
Meend is when you connect two notes together. It is a key aspect of indian music that notes glide into each other. Its origin is, as with all aspects of indian music, vocal. On the sitar we achieve meend by pulling the string, and whilst this has limitations compared with vocal meend, nevertheless can achieve extremely expressive 'singing' effects. The technique can also produce a huge variety of ornaments characteristic of instrumental music and sitar in particular.
Before starting to practice meend, revise again all the aspects of left hand technique, particularly make sure:
- your finger line is correct
Also make sure that your taraf strings are in tune - this will help enormously get your meend in tune and sound good - when you pull to the right pitch your taraf string will resonate in sympathy.
Meend exercise can be painful to start with, until your fingers have got used to it, so practice little and often, and keep your practice slow.
You can then combine these meend together to play sidhe meend followed by ulti meend and the other way around. It is worth playing these kinds of meends both rhythmically, but also as in alap, with concentration on the sound, letting the sound of each note die away before going on to the next one. Also add alap-style chikari strokes to your meend practice to help keep the Sa in your mind. This creates a real atmosphere of the rag.
Grow your right hand little finger's nail a small amount. You can then use this to play taraf strings. The glissando effect, when the taraf strings are in tune, is a wonderful effect that creates atmosphere and can form the backdrop to your presentation of the rag. It is a common effect - although not everyone uses it - though it should not be overdone.
Playing palta at 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 6x, 8x speed
This exercise is the next step up from previous exercises for speed. At 8x speed this is pretty fast, so set your tabla machine to 30 beats per minute or slower. Again make sure you start at a speed at which you can play the whole exercise and only once you have mastered it speed it up very gradually. At these slow speeds even an increase of 1 beat per minute makes a big difference so just take it gently.
As ever focus on all the aspects of left hand technique to make the most rapid progress.
Playing very low notes on jora
The jora string is useful for playing very low notes particularly for rags with phrases needing notes lower than the Ma which is the bottom note of the baj string. Revise playing on the jora string from the Playing strokes page. Start off by practicing the following exercise:
Then practice scale exercises from bottom Sa on the jora string.
Playing full range scales
Now you can play full range scales from the lowest note to the highest notes on your sitar.
You can extend this practice to include alenkar or other patterns.
Playing palta with complex jhala patterns
To be completed
Single note meend exercises
Once you have mastered playing single note meend slowly, you can practise meend exercises systematically up and down the scale. Treat these as a palta to gain confidence in playing meend, and train your fingers to judge how far to pull each meend. It is a good idea to play each meend several times before moving on to the next one. Do not play these exercises too fast - accuracy of pitch is more important than speed. In these exercises I have used the traditional notation of a curved bracket above the notes to show the meend.
In each case in these exercises the first note is played on the fret to get the correct sound in your head. Use the first finger on this note to start with to help ensure the correct position of the hand. Later on you can use the second finger instead.
2, 3, 4, and 5 note meend
To be completed
Sparsha and zamzama
In some traditions this ornament is called sparsha. It is played by making a stroke on a note and then hammering the second finger onto the fret above. If the second finger strikes in the right place with the right force and pressure then the second note shimmers out. Practice this first with frets that are close together. For instance:
The first note should be short and allow the second note to ring out before repeating the exercise. Note there is only one mizrab stroke in this ornament. Once you are confident of this practice scale exercises with this ornament.
Repeating the same hammering action rapidly creates the ornament called zamazama:
Hold the first finger down throughout this exercise. Note that there is only one mizrab stroke in this ornament. Once this is mastered practice this on scale exercises. You can repeat the hammering action several times to extend the ornament.
To be completed