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last updated October 10, 2009
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Play three basic alenkar (slow)

Alenkar means a pattern usually repeated on each note of the scale as an exercise. These exercises are excellent for improving your technique and form basic material which can be used for improvisation. Start practicing these exercises slowly - set your tabla or metronome at about 60 beats per minute to start with but gradually speed them up as you gain confidence.

This first alenkar takes a three note pattern and explores this on each note of the scale

This one takes a two note ascending pattern and explores this on each note of the scale. Note the way the fingering works out.

This one takes a two note descending pattern on each note of the scale. Again note the way the fingering works out. In this exercise remember to keep the first finger in contact with the string, postitioned on the next note down the scale at all times.


Play more alenkar (medium speed)

Practice the three basic alenkar at faster speeds aim to reach about 140 beats per minute. Also extend them upwards and downwards to cover the whole range of the baj string.

Here is the downwards version of the very first alenkar based on a three note scale passage. This is slightly more difficult because it starts with a second finger. Remember to have the first finger down on the note below before you start each phrase.

Here is another alenkar based on a 4 note scale passage:

And one based on a 5 note scale passage:

The following alenkar is useful in establishing the geography of the sitar, because you have to jump about to play it:


Play alenkar variations

Take any of the alenkar you have practiced and make up variations by simply repeating notes. For example, the very first alenkar can become any of the following four note alenkar by repeating one of the notes:

Or 5 note alenkar by repeating two of the notes:

Making up your own variations is good practice for improvisation.

Play alenkar and variations at medium-fast speed

Speed up the alenkar you have already learned until you can play them at 200 beats per minute. You can also make up your own patterns - just devise a pattern and practice it on each note of the scale. For example:


Combine alenkar with bol patterns

Just as we combined palta with bol patterns, you can do the same with alenkar. Start with bol patterns and alenkar patterns which are the same length and stick with one note per beat. For example:

Later explore combining together patterns of different length and which therefore do not synchronise.


Combine accents with alenkar

In the same way as the above, combine accent patterns (see Playing accent patterns on the Playing strokes page) with alenkar. For example, here a 3+3+2 accent pattern is combined with a 4 note alenkar:

Start by practicing the alenkar and accent pattern separately and then play the combination. This is very useful practice for improvisation - an accent pattern that crosses your alenkar then adds to the excitement.

Play alenkar and variations at fast speed

Practice all the above exercises - combining bol patterns, variations, accents - but at higher speeds. Even whilst you are pushing yourself to play faster, don't go so far that you lose accuracy - this is a fine line to tread. A good practice is to gradually push the speed up little by little and make a note of your fastest accurate speed. Next time you practice start a little below this speed but aim to slightly push up the maximum you can manage. If you can't do this without jeopardising accuracy, don't worry - next time or the time after that it will come, just keep patiently practicing.

What you should do though, when you meet an accuracy block lik this is slow down seriously and refocus on exactly correct technique either in the right hand - placement, hand position arm postion etc - or the left hand - thumb position, finger movement, angle of the hand etc.

As you learn a wider a range of rags based on different scales, you should adapt these alenkar to play them in these other scales.


More complicated alenkar

You can develop ever more complicated alenkar that develop your technique. In practice complicated alenkar are often built from simpler patterns. Here are two very useful alenkar that you should practice.

In each case use your second finger on the notes marked in red.

First alenkar



Second alenkar




Permutations of three notes

The following exercise plays every combination of three notes - there are six such combinations. This is therefore very good for practicing your technique and creating patterns that you can incorporate (where they fit the rag) in your improvisations. Remember to use your second finger as appropriate. Practice these patterns on each note in the scale:


Combine jor-jhala with left hand patterns

As an exercise for the end of the jor section of the alap, practice combining the jor-jhala pattern on the Playing Strokes page with palta and other patterns. A very unusual effect used by some sitarists is based on the idea shown in the following two exercises - basically the left hand plays the pattern one note to a beat, but the pattern of strokes and chikari mean that only some of the notes appear in the web of sound. At speed and combined with meend etc this is very effective.

In these diagrams the first line shows the left hand movement. The second the right hand strokes and the third the approximate sound (because of resonance a little of the baj note sounds even on the chikari strokes)

The first exercise uses the palta.

The second uses a simple pattern of alternating notes c

As with all exercises, practice this slowly and gradually increase the speed.


Combine ulti jhala with left hand patterns

As with jor-jhala you can combine ulti jhala (See the Playing Strokes page) with left hand patterns. For example:

Practice this on each note of the scale ascending and descending.

The first line shows the left hand movement. The second the right hand strokes and the third the approximate sound (because of resonance a little of the baj note sounds even on the chikari strokes)