Sarod Finger Nails: A primer

Firstly, you may have heard about the theory of some sarod players using their tip of their fingers to play. Well, from my limited survey of sarod players from all the two other major gharanas (Maihar, Shahjahanpur), such alleged sarod players are no longer in existence. Listening to some old sarodiyas from such gharanas, their muffled sound makes me wonder what they are using to stop the string- however, this could also be the position of their right hand too close to the bridge. I’ll discuss this more in another post.

Secondly, nails will be a big entry barrier to your sarod journey. If you are a guitarist, say goodbye to the guitar – you will not be able to play any meaningful guitar with sarod nails. In the early stages, your nails will hurt, even bleed (if you practice hard). That’s all good. The nail hardens over time. If you have serious problems with a soft nail which is being cut into by the steel strings, you may want to use false nails, however, you will not be able to get a “real feel” of the strings. No professional sarodiya that I know uses false nails for performances.  Remember, the nail’s got to keep the rest of your finger off the fretboard, but not be so long as to buckle in when you apply pressure on your finger. I used to take calcium tablets for some time to harden the nails – not sure if that helped.

Filing nails: As you play the sarod, the steel strings will cut grooves into your nail, (imagine a U shaped groove) to the point where the string will go inside the groove and the edges of the groove (ends of the U) will start touching the fretboard, causing the sound to degrade. By filing, you take out the grooves and level the edge of the nail and start again.

Typically, you’d file your nail before your playing session – so not more than once or twice a day.

Broken Nails: The worst nightmare of a sarod player. If your nails get too long (because of lack of practice and consequent filing), you are risking the nail getting broken in doing everyday tasks – (opening car doors seems to be my favourite nail busting activity). The solution is to keep well maintained and filed down nails and not to use your nail hand to do everyday chores. A broken nail will usually require 1-2 weeks to grow back to a usable state

Sarod: Tools of the trade

Ok, just picking up on the NY resolution of adding more material to the Ekalavya project:

To play the sarod, you will need:

1. Guru/Teacher : Qty 1 (real or virtual)

2. Sarod with strings : Qty 1 (see earlier post) – string gauges etc

3. Electronic Tabla and Tanpura (Qty 1 each). Widely available in India and on the net.

4.Sarod Tools (assorted)

Some other tools e.g java, (plectrum)- also called jaba (by Bengalis), a nail file, a wire cutter  (to cut strings) and a wire hook (to pull wires through the tarab string holes, especially for the tarabs located on the second row. You will also probably need a small oil box (a piece of cotton dipped in coconut or some other light oil) – I don’t use it (possibly the only sarod player who doesn’t), but you should probably get it. This is the lubricant for the nails.

Here is a picture of my tool kit (sans the oil box, as I don’t use it)

Sarod Tools
My Sarod Tools

5. Finger nails Qty : 2 or 3

This is a topic by itself, so I’ll confine myself the the Ustad Amjad Ali Khan method, which uses only two fingers. (index and middle finger). Other schools use three fingers if required

The nail’s got to be sufficient to be placed on the fretboard to form a point contact without any other part of your finger touching the fretboard.

As an example, here are pictures of my nails after a playing session (note – I can have shorter nails from time to time, so this is pretty much the max length). Ustad Amjad AK’s nails are kept much shorter – not more than 1mm from the edge of the finger.  I will post more info. on nails and their maintenance in my next post.

My Sarod Nails
My Sarod Nails
PIcture of my Sarod Nails
My Sarod Nails : 2

Pt Bhimsen Joshi passes away : Jan 24

Another musical institution lost to Indian Classical Music. My exposure to Bhimsen Joshi began in the most non-classical setting. There was a television serial called Raag Darbari (based on Sri Lal Shukla’s novel of the same name). As the title montage would come on, there was a powerful voice singing in the same raag for about 10-15 seconds with the lyrics “Darbari ke saat suro me… saat rang hai, tere mere” (Translation: In the seven notes of Darbari, there are seven colours, yours and mine…). That was Pt Joshi. Years later, I heard him live at Siri Fort Auditorium at a concert called Morning Ragas. I could barely afford the tickets – he started at around 11 am with Raga Jaunpuri. I still remember the drut khayal – not the usual Payal Ki Jhankar, but Sat rang sune gayeji (don’t remember the full lyrics).

Interestingly, Srinivas Joshi, his son, was studying at IIT Delhi at the same time (I think he was doing his Masters – I was an undergraduate) and it was widely known that he was not the least interested in music and kept a very low profile. I was surprised to see that he had turned into a vocalist.

Pt Joshi – a great loss for the music world. RIP