Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sitar: the great instrument

Sitar Recital
Originally uploaded by gunalan
The sitar (Hindi/Sanskrit: , Urdu/ ستار) is a plucked stringed instrument. It uses sympathetic strings along with a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber to produce a very rich sound with complex harmonic resonance.

Predominantly used in Hindustani classical, sitar has been ubiquitous in Hindustani classical music since the Middle Ages. This instrument is used throughout the Indian subcontinent, says wikipedia.

A distinctive feature of the sitar are the curved frets, which are movable (allowing fine variation in tuning) and raised (so that resonant strings can run underneath the frets). A typical sitar has 18, 19 or 20 strings (depending on the style) — of which 6 are playable strings, which are situated over the frets. Three of these strings provide the drone and the rest are used to play the melody, though most of the notes of the melody are played on the first string (called the baj tar). The sitar also has 11-16 sympathetic strings running underneath the frets.

The instrument has 2 bridges; the main bridge (the bada goraj) for the playing and drone strings and a smaller, secondary bridge (the chota goraj) for the sympathetic strings that run beneath the main strings.

The sitar may or may not have a secondary resonator, the tumba, near the top of its hollow neck. The sitar's distinctive sound is a result of the way the strings interact with the wide, sloping bridge. This is in contrast to the bridge on a guitar which resembles a knife edge. In a sitar, as a string vibrates, its length changes slightly as its edge touches the bridge, promoting the creation of overtones and giving the sound its distinctive, rich tone.

The materials used in construction include teak wood or tun wood (Cedrela tuna), which is similar to mahogony, for the neck and faceplate, and gourds for the kaddu (the main resonating chamber). The instrument's bridges are made of deer horn, ebony, or very occasionally from camel bone or elephant ivory.

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