Sitar The Resonant Voice Of Indian Classical Music

The sitar is a stringed instrument that originated in India and is commonly associated with Indian classical music. It is known for its distinctive sound and intricate playing techniques, making it a popular instrument among musicians and music enthusiasts worldwide.

A sitar typically consists of a long, hollow body, a bridge, strings, and pegs. The instrument is played by plucking the strings and using various techniques to produce different sounds and melodies. It has a long and rich history, dating back to the 13th century when it was first introduced by Amir Khusrau.

To play the sitar, one must sit in a cross-legged position with the instrument resting on the ground. The strings are plucked with a plectrum, and the musician’s fingers are used to create different notes and melodies by pressing the strings and using techniques such as meend or bending.

There are three main styles of sitar playing – the Ravi Shankar style, the Vilayat Khan style, and the Purbayan Chatterjee style. Each style has its unique characteristics and is named after the renowned musicians who popularized them.

Learning to play the sitar comes with various benefits, such as improving hand-eye coordination, enhancing creativity and musicality, relieving stress, and connecting to Indian culture and tradition. There are various ways to learn the sitar, including traditional guru-shishya method, online lessons, and sitar schools and institutes.

In a nutshell, the sitar is a mesmerizing instrument that continues to captivate audiences with its intricate melodies and evocative sound. Whether you are interested in Indian classical music or looking to expand your musical horizons, learning to play the sitar can be a rewarding experience.

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Key Takeaways:


  • The sitar is a traditional Indian stringed instrument with a unique sound and history.
  • It is composed of four main parts – the body, bridge, strings, and pegs – and is played sitting down using specific hand positions and techniques.
  • Learning to play the sitar not only improves musical skills, but also has physical, mental, and cultural benefits.


What Is a Sitar?

What Is a Sitar?

A sitar is a plucked string instrument used in classical music from India. The sitar typically has 18-21 strings: 6 or 7 played strings and 11-13 sympathetic strings. Its distinct sound is produced by a gourd resonator and a long, hollow neck. The instrument’s melodic and rhythmic capabilities make it a centerpiece in Indian classical music, often accompanying vocal and instrumental performances.

What Are the Parts of a Sitar?

The sitar is a fascinating instrument that has played a crucial role in the development and preservation of Indian classical music. To truly appreciate the beauty and intricacies of this instrument, it’s important to understand its various components. In this section, we will take a closer look at the different parts of a sitar, including the main body, the bridge, the strings, and the pegs. Each of these elements play a crucial role in producing the resonant voice of the sitar, and understanding their functions will deepen our understanding and appreciation of this instrument.

1. The Main Body

  1. The main body of the sitar is known as the ‘dandi,’ and it is a long, hollow, and slightly curved wooden neck. Serving as the backbone of the instrument, it provides both structural support and resonance.
  2. Attached to the dandi is the ‘tumba,’ a small, round gourd that enhances the sound and serves as a resonator.
  3. The dandi also includes the ‘parda,’ a wooden plate where the main strings are attached and the frets are positioned.

2. The Bridge

  • The bridge on a sitar is commonly referred to as the ‘jawari’ and is located on the main body.
  • This small, curved piece of bone or wood plays a vital role in supporting the strings and determining their pitch and tone.
  • The placement and shaping of the bridge is crucial in producing the unique buzzing sound, known as ‘jawari’.
  • Skillful precision is required when adjusting the bridge, often done by experienced craftsmen.

Fun Fact: The jawari or bridge of the sitar is finely tuned to create the distinct resonance and tonal qualities of the instrument.

3. The Strings

  • The main body of the sitar holds and supports the strings, serving as the resonating chamber.
  • The bridge of the sitar elevates the strings, facilitating the production of distinct tones and pitches.
  • The strings of the sitar, typically made of metal, are plucked or strummed to create music.
  • The pegs on the sitar are used for tuning, adjusting the tension of the strings to achieve the desired notes.

When exploring the intricacies of the sitar’s strings, it’s essential to understand their role in producing the unique, captivating sound of this iconic Indian instrument.

4. The Pegs

  • The pegs on a sitar are essential for tuning the instrument by adjusting the tension of the strings.
  • There are typically seven main pegs for the main playing strings and eleven or twelve sympathetic pegs, which are responsible for creating the resonating sounds.
  • To properly tune the sitar, carefully turn the pegs to either tighten or loosen the strings until the desired pitch is achieved.

When handling the pegs of a sitar, it is crucial to do so with care to avoid any damage to the strings or the pegs themselves. Regular maintenance and gentle handling will ensure the longevity and optimal performance of the instrument.

What Is the History of the Sitar?

What Is the History of the Sitar? - Sitar: The Resonant Voice of Indian Classical Music

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The history of the sitar dates back to the 13th century, evolving from ancient Indian instruments like the veena. It gained popularity during the Mughal era and underwent further modifications in the 18th and 19th centuries. Influenced by Persian and Mughal cultures, the sitar’s design and tuning were refined, leading to the instrument’s current form.

To explore the history of the sitar, one can delve into its intricate connection with Indian classical music, the contributions of legendary sitar maestros, and its significance in cultural and spiritual contexts.

For a deeper understanding of the sitar’s history, consider exploring scholarly publications, visiting museums featuring musical artifacts, and attending performances by renowned sitar players.

How Is the Sitar Played?

How Is the Sitar Played? - Sitar: The Resonant Voice of Indian Classical Music

Photo Credits: Goldenscissors.Info by Larry Hill

The sitar is a stringed instrument that has captivated audiences with its unique sound and intricate melodies. But how exactly is this instrument played? In this section, we will delve into the techniques and positions required to play the sitar. From the sitting position to the hand positions, we’ll cover all the essential elements for producing the resonant voice of Indian classical music. We’ll also explore the strumming technique and the use of the meend technique, which adds a distinctive sliding sound to the sitar’s music.

1. Sitting Position

  1. Find a comfortable and stable seated position on the floor or on a chair.
  2. Place the Sitar on your right foot, with the neck leaning against your right shoulder.
  3. Rest your left foot on the footstool to elevate the Sitar and allow free movement of your left hand.
  4. Maintain an upright posture to ensure proper hand positioning and ease of movement.

When the British Empire ruled India, the sitar underwent significant changes, transitioning from a fretless to a fretted instrument, thanks to the influence of Western musical styles and instruments.

2. Hand Positions

  • Position your left hand on the frets to produce different notes.
  • Rest your right hand on the strings to pluck and strum.
  • Ensure a relaxed and comfortable hand posture for fluid movements.

True story: A sitar student, struggling with hand positions, found inspiration in Ravi Shankar’s dedication to perfecting his technique, leading to a breakthrough in her own practice.

3. Strumming Technique

  1. Position the sitar flat on your lap, ensuring the strings are facing upward.
  2. Hold the plectrum between your index finger and thumb.
  3. Use the proper strumming technique – downward strokes – to strum the strings while keeping your hand relaxed.
  4. Experiment with different strumming patterns to create varied musical expressions.

4. Using the Meend Technique

  1. Position your fretting hand on the strings, behind the fret.
  2. Pluck the string and slide your finger along the length of the fret to create the meend effect.
  3. Practice controlling the pitch and speed of the sliding movement for musical expression.
  4. Experiment with different meend movements to produce various musical nuances while using the Meend Technique.

What Are the Different Types of Sitar?

When it comes to Indian classical music, the sitar is an instrument that immediately comes to mind. But did you know that there are different styles of sitar playing? In this section, we will dive into the unique features and techniques of three prominent styles of sitar playing: the Ravi Shankar style, Vilayat Khan style, and Purbayan Chatterjee style. Each style has its own distinct sound and history, making the sitar a truly versatile and fascinating instrument.

1. Ravi Shankar Style Sitar

The Ravi Shankar style sitar, made popular by the legendary musician Ravi Shankar, has distinct characteristics and playing techniques.

  • Tuning: It is typically tuned to the tonic, dominant, and subdominant notes, giving it a unique resonance.
  • String arrangement: It features 20 strings, including 11-13 sympathetic strings, 3-7 chikari strings, and 6-7 main playing strings.
  • Playing style: Emphasizes intricate meend (glissando) and gamak techniques, creating the signature expressive sound.
  • Resonance: Its gourd-shaped resonator and unique bridge design contribute to its distinctive tonal quality.

If you’re drawn to the evocative sounds of Indian classical music, exploring the Ravi Shankar style sitar can be a fulfilling musical journey.

2. Vilayat Khan Style Sitar

The 2. Vilayat Khan Style Sitar is renowned for its resonant sound and intricate craftsmanship. It is characterized by its long neck, extra resonating strings, and sympathetic strings, producing a rich, melodic tone. Vilayat Khan, a maestro of Indian classical music, popularized this style with its distinct playing techniques and embellishments.

Pro-tip: When exploring the Vilayat Khan style sitar, focus on mastering the meend technique to create soul-stirring, expressive melodies.

3. Purbayan Chatterjee Style Sitar

The Purbayan Chatterjee style sitar is known for its fusion of traditional Indian classical music with contemporary elements. This unique style incorporates innovative compositions, intricate rhythmic patterns, and unconventional improvisations, making it appealing to a younger audience.

What Are the Benefits of Learning to Play the Sitar?

Learning to play the sitar is not just about mastering an instrument, it also comes with a myriad of benefits. In this section, we will delve into the various advantages of learning to play the sitar. From improved hand-eye coordination to a deeper connection with Indian culture and tradition, we will explore how the sitar can enrich your life in more ways than one. So, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of this resonant voice of Indian classical music.

1. Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

  • Practice finger positioning and movement while plucking the strings.
  • Focus on the fretting hand’s coordination with the picking hand to produce accurate notes.
  • Enhance hand-eye coordination by following the movements of both hands on the fretboard.

Playing the sitar requires precision and dexterity, which in turn improves hand-eye coordination through intricate finger and hand movements.

2. Enhances Creativity and Musicality

  • Experiment with musical ideas to nurture creativity.
  • Explore different musical styles to broaden musicality.
  • Practice improvisation to develop a spontaneous musical approach.

Pro-tip: To further enhance creativity and musicality, incorporate diverse musical influences into your sitar practice.

3. Relieves Stress and Promotes Relaxation

  • Practice mindfulness: Playing the sitar requires focused attention, offering a meditative experience that reduces stress and promotes relaxation.
  • Express emotions: Channeling emotions through music can be cathartic, providing an outlet for stress relief.
  • Physical relaxation: Engaging in music can lead to physical relaxation, helping to relieve stress and promote a sense of calm.

4. Connects You to Indian Culture and Tradition

Learning to play the sitar connects you to Indian culture and tradition by immersing you in the rich heritage of Indian classical music. It offers a deep understanding of the cultural nuances, historical significance, and artistic expressions inherent in this traditional art form.

Fact: The sitar is considered one of the most important instruments in traditional Indian music, dating back to ancient times.

Where Can You Learn to Play the Sitar?

Where Can You Learn to Play the Sitar? - Sitar: The Resonant Voice of Indian Classical Music

Photo Credits: Goldenscissors.Info by Brandon Wright

The sitar is a beautiful and complex instrument that is an integral part of Indian classical music. But where can one learn to play this instrument? In this section, we will explore the traditional method of learning the sitar through the guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) relationship. This time-honored method involves a close and personal connection between the student and the teacher, and has been the primary mode of learning the sitar for centuries. Let’s discover the unique aspects of this approach and its significance in the world of sitar music.

1. Traditional Guru-Shishya Method

  • Find a knowledgeable guru who specializes in sitar and Indian classical music.
  • Establish a respectful and dedicated student-teacher relationship.
  • Commit to long hours of rigorous training and practice.
  • Follow the oral tradition of learning through listening, observation, and imitation.

When exploring the history of the sitar, it’s essential to acknowledge the profound impact of the Traditional Guru-Shishya Method on preserving and passing down this musical tradition for generations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the sitar and where does it originate from?

The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument used in Hindustani classical music, originating from the Indian subcontinent. It was invented in medieval India and flourished in the 18th century, arriving at its present form in the 19th century.

Who is credited as the inventor of the sitar?

Khusrau Khan, a figure of the Mughal Empire, is credited as the inventor of the sitar, developing it from the Iranian instrument, setar.

What are some theories on the evolution of the sitar?

Some scholars argue that the sitar may have evolved from the tanbūr family of instruments, introduced during the Mughal rule. Others suggest that it may have been developed from indigenous Indian long-necked lutes, but there is a lack of evidence to support this theory.

How did the sitar become popular in the Western world?

The sitar became popular in the wider world through the works of Ravi Shankar in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its use in Western popular music increased during the mid- to late-1960s, with bands such as The Beatles, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones incorporating it into their music.

How is the sitar classified and what other instruments is it related to?

The sitar is classified as a composite chordophone sounded with a plectrum, according to the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system. It is related to other instruments, such as the veena, and can produce a variety of sounds.

What is the history of the sitar and its ties to Islam in India?

The sitar is widely used throughout the Indian subcontinent and is an integral part of Hindustani classical music. Its history is closely tied to the influence of Islam in India, with some theories suggesting that it was developed by Amir Khusrow, a famous Sufi inventor and poet, during the 13th century. However, this theory is disputed by some scholars. There is also evidence of sitar-like instruments in Indian temple sculptures from the 9th and 10th centuries.