Raga Darbari (continued)

Following on from the previous post, here are some of the Darbari gats that I learnt (often without “official” permission, as Darbari is meant to be learnt/taught at senior levels only.

The first one is a Vilambit gat – which is a variation of one played by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan:

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Again, this is a raw recording with my Zoom H2 with Mr. Electronic tabla.

The notation is fairly easy: (starts from the 12th beat on Vilambit teentaal)

Dha Ni Sa Re Ga – –  Re-Re  Sa-Sa-Re Dha

Ni Pa — Ma-Ma Pa – Dha Dha Ni Sa – Ni ReRe Ga Re Sa

Now, a few points:

1. The trouble with Darbari is that every little microtone has to be perfect. The above rendition has a couple of points which could have been better (this was a one take recording) – as always, all errors and omissions are mine. If I ever find the time to re-record (unlikely), then I’ll fix these.

2. I’ve modified the gat somewhat – both the mukhda and the antara. Instead of a linear motion up and down the scale, I’ve tried to bring in a bit more gamak than in the original. One movement towards the end was inspired by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s rendition in the Emperor

3. I recorded this sitting in a large empty room (my wife’s dance studio), so as to get a bit of a space effect – most sarod Darbaris seem to have a bit of reverb in them (natural or artificial)

Playing Darbari requires patience and calibration. By calibration I mean that you must be “coloured” and “soaked” in Darbari. Before recording this, I spent the whole week playing Kafi, so found it hard to “calibrate” myself. Anyway, I’d rather publish than talk about the raag.

There are several other finer points to be mindful of. One is the play on the Kharaj string:

Ma- Pa Ma Pa – Ni Pa Ga  – the gamak between Ma Pa and back to Ga is extremely delicate and requires great skill to execute.

Overall, the vilambit should be slow and reposeful – something I’ve tried to maintain.

Raga Darbari: The King of Ragas, the Raga of Kings

Back to posting after a while… busy with working on a musical project – I thought I’d get on with my eternally  favourite raga : the emperor of Ragas: Raga Darbari.

Words cannot adequately describe the majesty of this Raga. In many ways, Darbari encapsulates all there is to say about Hindustani Classical music: the repose, the space, the meditative nature, the plaintive aspect, the introspection… the list goes on. For those who ponder the difference between Carnatic and Hindustani music, Darbari is the prominent example of the philosophical difference between these two systems and the contrast in their approach. While some say the origins may have been in Carnatic music, Darbari is the encapsulation of the Hindustani style, in particular, the meditative nature of the music.

Darbari has influenced everyone from ancient Dhrupad singers to Himesh Reshammiya to Abhijit Pohankar.  Such is the scale of this monumental raga, etiquette demands its performance in a respectful manner, taking care not to transgress the boundaries of the raga.

Historically performed by Miyan Tansen in the court of Mughal emperor Akbar, Darbari has been restricted to performance by senior musicians only – as a matter of tradition. For a long time, women performers were not allowed to sing this raga. Darbari is also not well tolerated by purists on newer instruments.

The essence of Darbari is its repose and majestic build up. Due to heavy meend work (portamento), Darbari carries shades of previous notes onto the next notes.  Without sympathetic strings, that flavour is lost.

The perfect Darbari that I can think of has been rendered by Ustad Amir Khan : the link can be found here:

Why do I consider this the perfect Darbari?

One, it is slow and full of repose. Two, it dwells upon the lower octave and draws out the gravity of the raag. Third, it “lets go” down to the lower Dha and stays there for a while, without rushing back to the Sa.

Instrumental Darbaris

Darbari rendered on instruments face the challenge of keeping the music interesting after the alaap. As the raga is not designed for high speed, this proves a bit of a challenge. The sarangi, surbahar, veena and sarod are particularly well suited for rendition, however, the published repertoire on the sarod does go up to higher speed, which, in my opinion, diminishes the appeal of the pure raga.

Note that dwelling on a lengthy, repetitive alaap is probably not good either – unless you have the musical material, you’ll put audiences to sleep.

Three instrumental renditions stand out – each for different reasons

The first is Pt Ram Narayan on the sarangi: pure Darbari -vocal equivalent

 

 

The second is Ustad Vilayat Khan with Shankar Ghosh – recorded in the 60s – he takes Darbari on a “sitarised” journey – it’s spectacular though – I was gobsmacked when I first heard it. This is also an adaptation of the famous khayal “Anokha Ladla”.

The third is Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with Sabir Khan  – this is a master class of how to approach Darbari on the sarod – the approach of the compositions is very fresh and not the traditional sarod approach. I will record and document the notation in my next post.

More on Darbari compositions soon

PS – following comments by Smt Maitreyee Sarcar of www.surtarang.co.uk, I edited this post, by linking to the masterpieces of Ustads VK and AmAK. A few points about these two masterpieces:

Ustad Vilayat Khan’s piece is loosely based on the drut khayal “Anokha Ladla” sung by greats such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

Ustad Amjad Ali plays no vilambit (he has a policy of not playing vilambit if the alaap jor jhala is extensively treated, especially in a time constrained situation -e.g cassette recording). Secondly, the drut ektaal piece has two parts: the second part settles into the famous ektaal composition Yareman Biyan Biyan, however, the mukhda is a complex rhythmic piece which uses an off beat Sam (I’ll publish the notation shortly). Thirdly, the drut teentaal piece is possibly the highest clarity Darbari played on the sarod at that speed – especially if you pay attention to the right hand bols being executed at the same time in the ekhara phrases. Fourthly, the sound engineer has gone nuts over adding a concert chamber effect to the sound, although it sounds ok. Fifthly, I was advised that Ustadji waited for a long time before recording this masterpiece and used his largest sarod for this performance.

Thoughts on Sound

This is a favourite topic of mine – the sound of the performer. Having recently performed with some top notch western classical musicians, I couldn’t help but contrast their sound to the school teachers who teach music to kids. The sound is completely different.

What constitutes a “sound”? I’m not big on scientific theories of acoustic analysis, but it comes down to the texture, feel, emotion, accuracy and a whole lot of other things.  There is a distinct difference in the sound of a Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and other sarod players even though they may be playing exactly the same notes. Ditto with sitar and sarangi player.

Getting our sound right should be the first priority of any student. This involves attention to detail. Is the note pitch perfect? When you do a meend (portamento/glissando) from one note to the other, is it just right or rushed? Is the stroke volume ok? Is the string change clean or did you just brush past some other strings in the process? Did the tarab strings light up as you played the notes ? Was the landing on the sam correct?

While it is impossible to match the sounds of the all time greats, I feel we can go a long way with riyaaz. Musical content is secondary – you must sound good first. Anyone who has listened to any of the well known maestros without any knowledge of music can attest to that.

In the sarod, the overall sound of the musicians is improving. From the rough sound of the rabab to the refined sound of the sarod is a journey. It is encouraging to see musicians lift their game on this one, and not focus on the “clackety clack” pluck attack type of wooden sound that so typified the sarod playing of the early 20th century.

The pinnacle of consistent clean sound on the sarod is Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Every note is clean and delivered perfectly, even at full speed.  He has always been the benchmark of sound on this instrument, and its most capable technician, bar none.

Raga Charukeshi

In the second post of the Ekalavya Project, here are my musings and some compositions on Raga Charukeshi.

This raga comes to us from Carnatic music. It the 26th Melakarta in that system.

Charukeshi has the following notes: Sa Re G M P d n (lowercase= komal swara). From the note point of view, it is marginally different from Darbari – only the Ga is shuddha instead of komal. However, the treatment is very different.

My survey of Charukeshi has found multiple approaches to this raga. One can dwell on the d n of the lower octave, tapping into a “Darbari -ish” style of Charukeshi. On the other hand, one can focus on the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa shuddha swaras, conveying lightness, and brightness of mood. Tradition has it that Charukeshi is associatied with feelings of devotion and surrender. I agree.

I have not found a lot of sarod performances of this raga.

Anyway, down to the compositions: (I’ll need to improve the audio quality- as usual, all errors omissions and mistakes are mine) (italics: lower octave, lowercase= komal)

1. Raga Charukeshi (Vilambit Teentaal) :Source : Maihar, various, Shri Kushal Das

I love this composition. It ends in a Darbari like flourish which really appeals to me:

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12      13      14          15    16

nd      P GRGM       GS   P

1 2 3 4           5     6     7        8           9    10     11 12      13      14          15    16

d – – dn R    nR    G    RGM      G  RM   GS

2. Raga Charukeshi (Vilambit Teentaal) :Source : Me (recent composition)

I came up with this one last year. Nothing special about it, but has a quirk about the sam being on the Sa. Builds up tension on the Ma and then washes back to the lower octave:

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12       13       14          15      16

RG      MM GS          dd nPd

1  2 3 4           5       6     7        8           9    10     11 12      13      14          15    16

S – – RG         MM  dd PP    MP         G   RM   G

3. Raga Charukeshi (DrutTeentaal) :Source : Various (Imdadkhani heritage)

A very simple composition. Uses the Kanada (Darbari) Flourish again

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I’ve simply repeated the notation here: starts from the 8th matra

S R G  M G R S – S d-d n R S

The antara can be developed in a number of ways. One way is to go forward with the notes:

G M d-d P – M P G R G M G —-> Back to sthyai

4. Raga Charukeshi (DrutTeentaal) :Source : Maihar, Pt Nikhil Banerjee, Kushal Das

This is a terrific composition on the sitar. Note the attempted use of the percussive strokeplay on the notes in Pt. Nikhil Banerjee’s style:

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I’ll provide the notations later

5. Raga Charukeshi (DrutTeentaal) :Source : Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

Finally, a rather unique Charukeshi. Derived from a raga which Ustadji calls Haripriya Kanada, this has the unusual movement of starting from the Ma (madhyam). It also employs note combinations not seen in standard Charukeshi renditions. The antara is a bit of finger breaker. This is probably not the best recording, but please bear with me for the moment. The antara bears the signature climb to the upper Sa, so common in vocal music and in Ustadji’s style. Notations will be provided later.

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In each of these compositions, there is ample room to improvise in the Sthayi passage in the last section. Go for your life !!!

 

 

Raga Kirwani

As part of the Ekalavya project, I’ll try and upload as many sarod bandishes/gats that I know of. The first post in this category is Raga Kirwani. It’s a popular raag which has the notes: S R g M P d N S (Caps= Shuddha, lowercase = komal, Bold= Upper Octave, Italics= Lower octave).

The reason it’s so popular is the melodious nature of the scale – it is identical to the harmonic minor scale of western music. In overseas settings, playing Kirwani is a safe bet, as the melody resonates with the audience.

Kirwani can be approached in a number of ways. Besides “strict” Kirwani, one approach is to bring in touches of  Jaunpuri and Darbari. A bit of musical license can be taken in bringing some of the moods of these ragas. In particular, I have adopted the Jaunpuri-ish ang in the phrase

R g M- P g M P g R

where a lot of sparsh/kampan etc can be used to evoke the emotion of pathos.

(note: I find written notations about ragas practically useless – these things are only explainable by playing or singing, which is why I’ve tried to keep notations only for the gat).

Anyway, here are some compositions that I’ve recorded raw on my Zoom H2 recorder at home: tabla sangat is by Mr. Taal Tarang of the digital gharana. I’ve played the basic gat, without too many embellishments and provided the notations.  Any mistakes/omissions/shortcomings are entirely mine.

1.Raag Kirwani: Vilambit Teental (Source: Ustad Amjad Ali Khan)

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I heard Ustadji play this on TV with Sukhwinder Singh Namdhari on the tabla when I was very young. I have not formally learnt this piece, and so, it is possible that I have changed the original composition.

The notations are (upper octave in Bold,lower octave italics, komal swaras in lowercase)

12    13      14   15  16        1      2     3      4         5       6        7       8          9     10      11

PPd S   RM RS Nd       P-    P-   P-   RgR    M    MP    GR   RdP      G-    R-      S-

2.Raag Kirwani: Madhyalaya Rupak Taal (Source: Ustad Amjad Ali Khan)

I consider this one of the best rupak gats on Kirwani -period. It really brings out the flavour of the raga

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Notation:

Sthayi

6   7        1 2    3     4      5    6        7           1     2       3   4   5

Rg  Ni d  P- – –           g       S    SR    gPMP   g    g        S   R   S

Antara

6  7     1   2      3       4         5     6    7    1    2    3  4   5   6  7    1   2  3  4  5  6  7    1  2  3 4  5  6  7

Pd   S   S Ni      S –     NS  R N   N   d  P   –   – d     d d  –    P d  Pd N  d P  d P  –   R g

1   2   3  4  5  6  7   1 2  3   4  5    6    7

M M P g   R Rd P g g   R   g  Rg Ni d

3.Raag Kirwani: Drut Teental (Composer: Yours truly- Rahul Bhattacharya)

I was sitting on the lawn of my college trying to develop a “palta” which would exercise my fingers to breaking point. I hit upon this as initially as a palta, but then I turned it into a gat. This is not very emotionally satisfying – it is more of a benchmark test of how fast your left (or right) hand can move. The key challenge in this piece is to maintain the volume and clarity with string changes. I’m told that I used to play this piece better when I was younger. Anyway, here is the notation of the sthayi: I’ll have to spend some time getting the antara notation ready.

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Notation:

Sthayi:

5     6      7   8   9  10  11   12   13  14   15  16  1

Rg RS Rg MP dP Mg R-  R   S    R    g    d   P

4.Raga Kirwani:  Another composition in Drut/Madhyalaya Teentaal (Source: Unknown)

This is a common composition – I have fiddled with the antara somewhat

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Notation:

12  13  14  15  16  1   2   3  4   5  6  7  8   9   10   11

d    P   g     –     S  R  –    –  R    –  g  M P  d    d     P

5.Raga Kirwani: Carnatic composition (Drut Teentaal) (Source: Shri VVS Murari)

In 2000, I played (possibly the first) sarod and violin Jugalbandi in Melbourne with visiting carnatic violinist VVS Murari (son of Shri V V Subramanyam). When we got together to decide the composition, Murari taught me this one:

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Notation:

9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  1  2  3  4  5    6  7   8    9  10   11  12  13  14   15 16

R M   P   g    R   S    N   P R  –   –   –  – –  –   –     S S P    d  M    P  G

1 2 3 4 5 67 8   9  10  11  12 13  14  15 16

– dMP gR  SN d   P   M   –  g  R     S  N

1     2       3      4   5    6     7     8

dP Mg  PM   gR Mg RS gR SN

Finally, this is a very recent composition:

6.Raga Kirwani: Drut Ektaal (composer: Rahul Bhattacharya)

My goal has been to adapt the popular drut ektaal khayal piece: “Tora bina mohe chain na parat ” (Without you there is no peace…) sung in Kirwani.

I had difficulty adapting it to the instrument – sounded a bit empty. So, I came up with this one:

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Notation:

Sthayi

1   2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  1

P –   d Pg R Mg R S  R   g   P

Antara

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12

P P d  S   –  S   SR S    –   S

1   2  3   4  5  6  7  8  9  10   11   12

N N  R  N  –  d  N  – d  P     –     P

1  2  3  4   5  6  7      8       9    10   11   12

d –  d   d   –  d  RR  MM RR  N   –      N

1  2   3   4   5   6   7   8 9  10   11   12

gP MP    –  GG    M    g R  S     R   g

I know a couple of other Ustadji’s gats, but haven’t put them here. You can find them on Youtube while I get their notation ready.

Rahul

 

What they don’t tell you in most overseas sarod schools: The agony and ecstasy of “Palta Practice”

Swept up by the magnificent sound of the instrument, inspired by maestros like Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and feeling elevated by thinking about the deep and rich history of the sarod, we finally get an instrument, a guru and begin to take our first steps.

The first few days are spent in agony. The instrument sounds like someone’s scraping their nails against a blackboard and everything sounds terrible. (if you think you don’t sound terrible after your first attempt on the sarod, you must be the re-incarnation of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan). We bravely fight on, with encouragement from our guru and persevere. We learn to play Sa Re Ga Ma, focussing constantly by looking at the fretboard (although there’s not much to see there at all). In desperation, we might even put some marks on it to position our fingers accurately.  Then we are taught a raga (Yaman is a good choice) and away we go. Between maintaining the dara-diri regime, nail problems, pitch issues, sitting on the floor, plectrum technique – it’s a total disaster ! But we persevere….

The above describes the typical path of the adult overseas sarod student. Of all the students of sarod and sitar that I’ve met over the years, one crucial element of training seems to be missing – scale or “palta” practice. This is the secret sauce of all sarod training.

Palta practice, is simply, scale practice – it’s the mechanical repetition of the notes of the scale in various combinations. For example, Sa Re, Re Ga, Ga Ma and so on. Then in threes (Sa Re Ga, Re Ga Ma .. ) or fours (Sa Re Ga Ma, Re Ga Ma Pa, ….) upto the upper Sa and then back again. This needs to be done with the tabla – e.g Dadra for threes, Teentaal for fours etc, at varying speeds. Once comfortable at a certain speed, the speed needs to be increased. If you are playing da strokes, try dara strokes. Like exercising in a gym, the moment you’re comfortable, raise the bar by changing the level of difficulty.

It is also very boring.

However, the key issue is that without palta practice, you will never get the right fingering, stroke play and accuracy that is required for playing the sarod. Palta practice is like learning the basic vocabulary. If you don’t do any palta practice, you will not have the confident sound that is required on the sarod. You will continue to timidly approach notes, probably reducing the volume as you’re not quite sure where you should stop. In short, it’s highly unlikely that you will get onto the concert stage without the skills derived from Palta practice.

Why is Palta practice so effective? For starters, it gives you a good feel of where the notes are, and locks in the sound. Secondly, playing with the tabla gets your brain used to the taal cycle to the point where you don’t have to think about where the tabla is within the rhythm cycle – your brain subconsciously  knows this. Thirdly, it builds up confidence in your playing through improved accuracy.

Even the great Ustad Amjad Ali Khan practices paltas in his riyaaz sessions. This is perhaps the most accurate sarod player in the history of the instrument, whose crystal clear sound is unmatched by maestros past and present.

Try this exercise if you doubt the effectiveness of palta playing: Play your favourite gat in any raga without palta practice. Record it. Next, practice paltas for 30 minutes. Then play the gat again. Record it this time. Listen to the two recordings – and see the marked improvement in your accuracy even after 30 mins of palta practice. I’ve done this experiment with several people and it always has the same outcome.

I’m puzzled by why gurus do not prescribe rigorous palta practice to their overseas students. It could be that they realise that these “amateurs” are not upto the rigours of this exercise and may actually quit if told that 75% of their initial time should be spent on palta. Going on to raagas is inherently more appealing to the student, as they feel they are now really getting into the instrument. The problem is, almost all of them are hideously besura (the most common form can be seen on the sitar when they try to reach a note by pulling the string – and landing almost anywhere but the note. Then they compound the problem by repeating the pattern of pulling indiscriminately, thinking that they’re getting the “Indian” sound). At this point, the guru should intervene and ask them to stop pulling the string until they are sure of the note. In fact, if the student doesn’t realise that they are going besura, that’s an even bigger problem. This lack of accuracy will stay with them for the rest of their lives. (And on a humorous note, I like to think that incalculable damage is done to the health of the guru by this attack of the besura notes – you can see some gurus wince as the off key note hits them)

So while you may have great visions of the divine music that you are learning, it’s far less exciting than that. Sa Re Ga Ma, Re Ga Ma Pa — 100 times, 1000 times, slow, fast, double – is the “gym” training that we must do.

So before you rush headlong into a raag, give palta practice a good go. You’ll need it for the rest of your sarod playing days.

Accuracy of notes is the fundamental bedrock of all classical music. We cannot accept any compromise with that. When I frequented Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s house, that was the one takeaway I took – never, ever tolerate besura notes at any cost. (A later post on the whole note accuracy business). And the only way we are going to retain note accuracy is through palta practice.

 

 

Sarod Sitting Posture, Finger Positioning and related topics

Some of the most frequently asked questions about the sarod relates to posture and holding the instrument: how do I sit with the instrument? Should I sit on the floor all the time? Where should I keep my arm? How should I place my nails on the fretboard? This post attempts to answer some of these questions.

Firstly, sarod posture and finger positioning are all related – one influences the other. Secondly, students tend to copy the sitting position of the teacher from who they receive instruction, often subconsciously (I know I do). Thirdly, the shape of the instrument will impact the way you hold it and your fingering on the fretboard.

The key rule to keep in mind is that you need to be comfortable with your sarod. Everything else is secondary. If you are not used to sitting on the floor, sit on a chair to start off. Practice sitting on the floor over time. If you can’t sit with your legs crossed in the traditional position (I am one of these people), sit in a position that feels comfortable. Try 10 mins, then 15 mins and so on. Sit on a cushion if that helps (I sit on a cushion all the time).

In the Amjad Ali Khan style, the basic rules of sarod posture are:

– back straight

-horizontal sarod, with the plane of the fretboard  perpendicular to the floor – do not bend the sarod so that the fretboard is inclined towards you.

– fingering hand loosely grasping the neck like a guitar. If you are a guitarist, this will come to you naturally. See a photo below taken of my sarod.

Sarod finger position
How to hold the sarod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note that if you are holding the sarod correctly, you should not be able to see the fretboard’s plane, as it will be perpendicular to you. The fingers should be relaxed.

I have noticed other styles of holding the sarod such as:

– fretboard turned up towards the artist (primarily because the sarod is too big for them, perhaps?)

– sarod held  at an angle to the ground with the neck up higher than the base.

-entire body draped around the instrument with the back bent

-left hand under the fretboard – almost in front of the strings

While I have no experience in the merits/demerits of such techniques, the Amjad Ali Khan style lends itself to a lot of complex left hand movements. Therefore a compact sarod and relaxed grip is used. Coming from a guitar background, it feels quite natural to hold the instrument in this way.

Fingering:

Now this is another topic of great controversy and debate. Two fingers or three? How are the fingers placed on the fretboard? Which finger should be used on upper octave notes? If I grip the sarod in the Amjad Ali style, what happens to my thumb as I go higher up the scale?

Firstly, the Amjad Ali style uses only two fingers. (I’ve never needed the third). This is not to say that the third should not be used – if you feel it helps, go for it.

Secondly, traditionally, the only two notes played with the first finger are the Re on the Sa string and the Pa on the Ma string. The other notes are played with the middle finger. However, this is more of a guideline, as there are situations where the first finger must continue  up (e.g a long meend – or glide). My view is that the rule should be kept in mind for practice purposes, but given a performance, the fingering that produces the best sound should be used.

In the Amjad Ali style, as you go up the octave, the thumb starts disappearing under the sarod. At notes like the upper Re or Ga, the thumb and palm of the hand is gliding along the body of the sarod.

Holding the Plectrum (Java)

In the Amjad Ali style, the plectrum is held at the sweet spot between the bridge and the beginning of the instrument. This is done to minimise the sound of pluck attack as well as to get maximum volume. You will often find a black patch on the skin underneath where the plectrum is placed. In case you are wondering how come Ustad Amjad Ali’s sarod doesn’t have this, that’s because he gets his skin replaced far often than you or me.

Again, the rules are simple. The plectrum is to be held firmly like a guitar plectrum. See some pictures of me on the site where you can see how the plectrum is held. Some other gharanas use the thumb across plectrum to push it down on a folded first finger, whereas in the Amjad Ali Khan style, the plectrum is pushed down on two fingers by the thumb.

Nylon and other plectrums (java)

Personally, I don’t care much about using non coconut plectrums. However, if you feel it helps your sound, go for it.

 

 

 

 

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