Tunings For Ragas

I've recently been taking a break from raga yaman and have been tinkering with raga bhimpalasi. I will post a video at the end of the post to give you an idea what this raga sounds like.

However, first I want to list some tunings for various ragas. Tunings for ragas can vary quite a lot depending on which school/style that you follow so the following tunings are just guidelines and changes can certainly be made. I will start with the main playing string (Ma) and work down towards the high pitched strings. You may need to adapt them for your sitar, I use a Gandhar Pancham so it may be different to yours.

(these ragamala paintings don't all correspond to the raga listed)

Raga Yaman

Main Strings
ma, Sa, Ga, Pa, Sa, Sa

Taraf Strings (low to high)
Ni, Sa, Sa, Re, Ga, Ga, Ma, Pa, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa', Re'

Raga Bhimpalasi

Main Strings
ma, Sa, ma, Pa, Sa, Sa

Taraf Strings (low to high)
ni, Dha, Sa, Sa, Re, ga, ma, Pa, Pa, Dha, ni, Sa', Re'

Raga Bageshri

Main Strings
ma, Sa, ma, Dha, Sa Sa

Taraf Strings (low to high)
ni, Dha, Sa, Sa, Re, ga, ma, ma, Pa, Dha, ni, Sa', Re'

Raga Bhairavi

Main Strings
ma, Sa, ma, Pa, Sa, Sa

Taraf Strings (low to high)
ni, dha, Sa, Sa, re, ga, Ma, Pa, Pa, dha, ni, Sa', re'

Now, here is a wonderful version of raga bhimpalasi by Nikhil Banerjee. This alap is mesmerizing, truly magical. 

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Restringing A Sitar

Over at Chandrakantha there was recently a discussion about the best way to attach the main top strings to their pegs. Sooner or later you will need to replace a string, whether you snap one or they just get old and dull.

It is quite an easy process to replace the top strings. This photo from Rain City Music shows the best way to attach the string to the peg.

This will give a secure and tight grip on the peg, ensuring that the string does not slip.

At the other end you need to create a little loop to attach to behind the bridge. To do this, wrap the string around your finger (or pencil) so that it creates a 'U' shape, going back in the direction it's coming from. Then turn the small end of the string around the main line and repeat this five or six times. You need to make sure the turns are tight against each other, which can take a bit of practice, in order to create a firm hold.

Once you have done this, attach the loop to the little riser at the bottom of the sitar and start turning the peg, ensuring that the string is running along where it should and crossing the bridge in the correct slot. You may need to pull the string a few times and then re-tighten it as it will take a while for the tension to even out in the various places across the instrument. The string can take a while to become stable and stay in tune because the string can stretch and the tension on the coils on the peg can take a while to even out unless you wind it on with a good even force pulling on the string.

The taraf strings can be a bit fiddly to change as they are tied on to the peg inside the neck, but the principal is pretty much the same. Run the string under the frets and feed it in to the appropriate hole. You should have a little tool to hook the string and pull it out of the peg slot but if you don't then just use what you can, a coat hanger with a little hook bent in to the end should work. Then tie the string on to the peg and push the peg in. Then wind up the string - at this point it might help to pull the string vertically away from the next to create an even tension along the peg when you wind it up.

BuckinghamMusic.com has a great diagram for this:

Try to be patient when replacing strings, it can be very frustrating that they keep going out of tune but if you keep tugging them and then retuning they should stabilize after a day or so.
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Where To Buy A Sitar

Someone asked in a previous thread about where to buy a sitar so I thought I would write a quick post about it. Considering which sitar to get and where to get it from is a mine-field of a subject.

Many sitars that you see on ebay are junk instruments that were never made to be seriously played and should be avoided at all costs if you want to do anything with it other than hang it on your wall for decoration (if this is what you want then, by all means, buy a cheap one from ebay). There are some real gems to be had but unless you really know what you are looking for then you will most likely be ripped off with something that will be next to impossible to learn on. 

Obviously, you need to consider how much you want to spend. With sitars, if you buy from a reputable source, the more you spend the more you get. Generally, the more expensive a sitar is the better it will sound, the easier it will be to play, and ultimately, the quicker you will learn because you won't be battling with silly problems such as the tuning dropping out every two seconds. So spend as much as you can, it will be worth it in the long run. Good sitars can last a lifetime so spending a good amount now won't seem like so much in twenty years time when you have worn it in and completely fallen in love with it (and presumably can play it well). 

You also need to consider which type of sitar you want. There are two main types, Kharaj Pancham and Ghandar Pancham. Kharaj Pancham is the type of sitar that Ravi Shankar plays and Ghandar Pancham is the type that Vilayat Khan and Shahid Parvez play. 

The main difference is the string set up. The Kharaj has two bass strings, which you can hear in many of Ravi's recordings when he plays whole sections on these. The Ghandar has one less string; one of the bass strings is replaced by an extra thin steel string and the other bass string is removed completely. This can create a more chordal sound yet sounds very clear, focusing a lot of the attention on the main (baj) playing string. 

Where to buy from? 

Well, these are a couple of the most reputable places to buy:

http://www.sitar-tabla.com/sitar.htm - This site is run by a very friendly and helpful guy, he is very knowledgeable and will be more than happy to discuss your needs and recommend something that fits your price range. 

http://www.karaseksound.com - Again, an excellent place to buy from with a very nice man running it. His sitars are some of the nicest I've seen, you can't go wrong if you buy from here. 

http://www.aacm.org - This is also a great place to buy from. I haven't had any personal dealings with them but I know they are well respected, know what they are talking about, and, most importantly, will not sell you junk. 

So, there you go. All of these stores sell accessories as well so if you need strings or mizrabs then just send them an email and they'll sort you out. 

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Well I've just hit that first milestone of 50 followers! Thanks to everyone, I can hardly believe it.

As a thank you here are a couple of videos of two amazing players.

This first one is very short but it is incredible. Balaram Pathak was one of the most unusual players I have ever heard, he used a range of techniques that you rarely hear and he somehow manages to pull out the most beautiful melodies. This video is from the recording of his Inde Du Nord album, which I highly recommend.

The next one is another player with unusual techniques but unbelievable skill, Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan.

I will be posting more exercises soon as well as some more posts about gats. 
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Some Wallpapers

Before my next post I thought I would just post some wallpapers that I've found around the web. As you'll see they are mostly of Anoushka Shankar, Ravi Shankar and Shujaat Khan.

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Here are some exercises that can be practised daily, they will improve agility, speed and accuracy of playing across the fret board. Play them slowly to start with and gradually build up speed. Accuracy and clarity of the note is more important than speed though so don't try to play these at a hundred miles an hour straight away, spend a lot of time practising them before you try to play at silly speeds.

Very simple ones to start with:

Ni Re Ga Ma Dha Ni Sa'
Sa' Ni Dha Pa Ma Pa Ma Ga Re Sa

Practice this one starting in the middle of the fretboard at Ni and playing the scale up to high Sa and then travel back down again. This is very basic, and is just the scale for yaman but this is a good little exercise to start with and can take a deceptively long time to get it accurately every time, especially when you start playing it at speed.

Play the same but with double notes. You can do this with a whole bunch of different right hand strokes so practice a variety of them, maybe just start with up/up strokes, and then maybe up/down strokes, and then a quick up/down stroke (diri).

NN  RR  GG  MM  DD  NN  S'S'
S'S'  NN  DD  PP  MM  GG  RR  SS

Next, play the same notes but with four strokes on each note. Again, you can play all sorts of right hand strokes with it, try up/up/up/up, then down/down/down/down, up/down/up/down, quick up/downs and a mixture of all. The diri stroke should be practised a lot, the aim is to have a fast and powerful stroke. The masters play these with machine-gun like speed and intensity.


After this you can start playing little patterns of these notes up and down the scale. Try sticking to up/down/up right hand stroke:


Then you can practice groups of four notes:


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A Strange Yaman Gat

Well it's been a while but I'm back.

I'm guessing you know the basic rules of raga yaman. If you don't then head over to wikipedia.

Go here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaman_(raga)

It gives the pakad (characteristic phrase) as well as the aaroha (scale going up the frets) and the avroha (scale going down the neck). As you can see this raga uses tivra Ma (sharp) and all the rest of the notes are natural. You can also see that yaman usually skips Sa and Pa on the way up the scale.

When I first went to India I picked up a small book about playing sitar. It has loads of exercises in it, some of which I will post in the future, but also a gat for some of the more popular ragas.

This is the gat it gives for yaman:

Teen Taal
+      2      3     4     5     6     7     8     0    10     11     12     13     14     15     16
                                                       Ni    Dha   Pa     Ma    Ga     Re     Ga    Ma
Pa     -     Ga   Re  Ni    Re   Sa   -      Sa    Re    Ga     Re    Ga     Ma     Pa      -
Ga    Re   Ga   Re  Ni    Re   Sa
Antra                                                Pa   Ga    Pa     Dha   San     -     San     -
Ni    Ren Gan Ren San  Ni   Dha  Pa    Ga   Ren   San   Ni      Dha    Pa    Ma    Ga
Pa     -     Ga  Re   Ni    Re  Sa     -

While this is quite a pleasant gat to play, it seems to not agree with the general rules of yaman because there are phrases that start on Sa and move up to Re straight away and also the same with Pa to Dha.

I have heard discussions about there not really being any hard and fast rules with ragas. However, to me it sounds quite strange and uncharacteristic of the raga to make these jumps.

Having said that, this is a nice little gat to learn and does bring out some lovely shades of the raga. When I play though I alter it slightly so that instead of going from Sa to Re, I go from Ni to Re and likewise with Pa Ga Pa Dha line. This is a little trickier as the Pa Ga Pa sounds good but normally you would need to move down to a different note before ascending to Dha. I tend to play Pa Ga Pa but play the second Pa fretted at the Ma fret and meended (string bend) to Pa, then slide down to Ma. It can take a little practice to get it right but sounds quite good when you nail it. If you have the fingers for it you can meend up from Ma to Dha and then even high Sa, which makes the movement more fluid. This definitely takes some practice to get it accurately but it is a fairly common kind of phrase in yaman so it is worth spending the time getting it right.
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