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Sitar

From Academic Kids

Premla Shahane playing a sitar, 1927
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Premla Shahane playing a sitar, 1927
A sitar
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A sitar

The sitar is a Hindustani classical music instrument. It typically has a gourd acting as the resonating chamber. A distinctive feature are the curved frets, which are moveable (allowing fine variation in tuning) and raised (so that resonant, or sympathetic, strings can run underneath the frets, giving a very lush sound). A typical sitar has 18 or 19 strings (depending on the style) - there are 6 (in the vilayat khan style) or 7 (in the ravi shankar style)playable strings on top and 12 sympathetic strings or tarbs under the frets. It is rather difficult to tune the instrument. The strings can be tuned using both the pegs on the sides or the 'beads' at the bottom, which are mainly for fine tuning.

The right hand is used to pluck the string using a 'pick' called the mezrab. Traditional approaches to learning the sitar involve a long period of apprenticeship under the tutelage of a master although nowadays it is possible to purchase books and videos to assist home learning. It was popularised in the West by The Beatles, whose guitarist, George Harrison, was inspired by - and later taught by - Ravi Shankar. Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones also helped popularise the sitar among Western musicians, most notably in the song "Paint It Black".

Learning to play the sitar is a difficult process. The entire 3 octave range of the instrument is achieved by sliding the index finger of the left hand up and down the neck of the sitar over a single melody string, while the mezrab on the index finger of the right hand strikes the string. Thus it demands a very high degree of technical mastery to play even simple melodies with clarity and accuracy. It is also a rather painful process for the beginner until the hard calluses and black grooves on the tips of the index and middle finger, which typify the sitar player, begin to develop. A specialised technique called "Meend" involves pulling the main melody string down over the bottom portion of the sitar's curved frets, with which the sitarist can achieve a 7 semitone range of microtonal notes. Meend gives the sitar its characteristic fluid sound, but typically takes the sitarist a decade or more of hard practice to achieve with fluency and precision.

In one of the more common tunings (used by Ravi Shankar among others) the strings are tuned C C G C G C F. The sympathetic strings are tuned depending on the raga, although for beginners it is okay to tune them according to a C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E.

The name sitar may be derived from the kithara, an instrument from classical times used in Ancient Greece and later throughout the Roman Empire. It is also thought that the design of the sitar (as well as the guitar) could be derived from the Persian lute, and thus, the name could be derived from Arabic, meaning something to the effect of seven strings.

The sitar is instrument #105 on a General MIDI bank.

Famous Sitar Players

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