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

Choosing your first Sarod

Right, here we go ! You’re all fired up about learning the sarod, have found a physical or virtual teacher but need to find a sarod. How do you go about it?

Firstly, it’s best to get a sarod to suit your school (gharana) of playing. It’ll be a lot easier on you and your teacher if you get one from the same school. So, get a Shahjahanpur, Maihar or Amjad Ali style sarod. You can find good ones from Kanailal, Dulal and of course the Hemens. Delhi Music Stores (DMS) sell some decent ones.

Strings: What are the string gauges

Unless you are a pro, you need not buy whole coils of strings at this point. Get a few lengths from a shop. In the Ud Amjad Ali Khan sarod, the string gauges are as follows:

Ma String: 00 (double zero) or 000 (triple zero). I’ve been using 00 for a while now

Sa String: No.1

Pa String : No. 3

Kharaj String: Copper No 28/29

Jod Strings: 0 (single zero)

Chikari: 00

Tarab: You can start with 1 as Sa and then go on to 00.

Java (Plectrum)

In the Amjad Ali Style, a smaller plectrum is used. Get a few and then find the one suited to your style.


Unless you buy a ticket for your instrument or fly first class, a sturdy fibre glass case is a must. Most of the ones in India are fairly poor quality and fall apart (especially the wheels). Get a decent one which looks like it’ll last the trip and pack the sarod well with bubble wrap and other packaging. Make sure that there is a gap between the top of the sarod strings and the case.

Do not buy sarods from the internet unless you know who the sellers are. This is of course if you are not interested in having a decorative sarod in your living room….

Interview with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

In 2004, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)- Radio National recorded an interview with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Accompanying him were Amaan and Ayaan and Rashid Mustafa on Tabla.  I managed to get hold of a copy (can’t remember where from). Point to note to all sarod players – notice the clarity of the sound – no muffled strokes or “jangling” strings.

Here’s a link to the interview:

Ustad Amjad-Ali-Khan-Sarod -ABC-Interview

Rare Pic: Three legends of Indian Music

In this picture, Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan and a very young Ustad Amjad Ali Khan together. (taken from the Facebook group: Ustad Vilayat Khan – rare moments – see my links section for the link to this album)

Ustad Amir Khan influenced an entire generation of musicians, including Ustad Vilayat Khan, who changed the sitar landscape forever and in turn had a lasting impact on Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, who was inspired to develop the vocal style on the sarod as a result.

Ustad Amir Khan, Vilayat Khan, Amjad Ali Khan
Legends of Indian Music

Inspiration for the Week: My Inspirations by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

This is a release by Navras (I think) of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan talking about famous musicians who inspired him – thanks to Musicindiaonline for uploading this album. Since this is in English, it’s easily understood by everyone. In particular, I relished the Malkauns by Khansahib Bade Ghulam Ali Khan: Mandir Dekh Dare Sudama (based on the story of Sudama returning after meeting Krishna to find his hut replaced by a grand palace) – here’s a Youtube video of the original rendition : what a gem !

Lyrics are hard to follow but rasikas on the indian classical usenet group have found the following from Malti Gilani’s biography of the legendary Ustad:


mandar dekh Dare sudAmA       (Sudama is fearful on seeing the temple(palace)
yA to atI morI vAm manRaiyA   (my humble hut -where is it)
kaun bhUp utare, sudAmA         (which king has arrived here -or- which king decided to bring down my hut)


ek taraf hAthI jhUlat hai   (on one side there are elephants)
dUje asab khaRe                 (horses on the other side)
ek taraf shivjI baithe          (on one side is Lord Shiva)
hIre ratan jaRe                    (decked in diamonds and other gems)

With such short lyrics, it’s hard to get definitive translation- the antara is easy for anyone knowing a bit of Hindi and related dialects of North India.

My personal favourite is Ustad Amir Khan’s “Aaj More Ghar Aayi Na Balma” -lyrics have been provided by one of the comments

Sarod Resources: The Ekalavya Project

I’ve been meaning to document as much useful “operational ” information about the sarod on my site for a while. This has come about mainly from questions asked by various people over time. The idea is to make all information public – I call it the Ekalavya project. I’ll share articles on the sarod from time to time – usually my own perspective only.