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

4 thoughts on “Sarod Finger Nails: A primer

  1. Hi Rahul,

    I am a guitar player in Delhi starting out on the sarod, and I came across your site looking for resources on this wonderful instrument. Thank you so much for putting up all this information over here — we really don’t have enough of it online.
    I’ve just started out on Raag Kafi and my sarod is still being built, so I have a long long way to go, but I have been playing the guitar for a dozen or so years and I just wanted to add to your post here that there are indeed some guitarists who manage to play with longish fretting hand fingernails. I am one them!

    So for guitarists looking to get into the sarod, don’t be discouraged! It can be done and it actually works out quite well. I actually made the move to grow out my fingernails (about the same size as Rahul, but on all four fingers) a couple of years before I started the sarod, for purely guitar-related reasons. The nails give the fleshy part of your fingers more stability and (imo) can lead to a more efficient technique.

    Cheers!

  2. Thanks Mark – it’s good to know that you can play the guitar and sarod at the same time. (I simply can’t – I’ve tried and nails get in the way), so it’ll be good for readers to read your opinion as well.

    I’m relatively old fashioned, so have this thing about nails, not using artificial nails, electric pickups etc, which are all coming into the sarod. There is no golden rule set in stone- whatever works for a particular individual is most welcome.

    Raag Kaafi is a wonderful raag – Kaafi, Zila Kaafi and other related ragas such as Barwa, Desi, Pilu, Bhimpalasi, Dhani and heavyweights like Miyan Ki Malhar, Shahana, Megh etc all come to mind. I’ll eventually get around to doing some nice compositions in Kaafi. It brings images of Holi in Banaras (my hometown) to my mind.
    Thanks again for your comments.

    Rahul

  3. Sir,
    My name is Debtanu Roy, I am a sarod player in kolkata. In internet I could not find raag bhimpalasi. So would you please provide me the link of raag bhimpalasi mp3.

    thanking you in advance

    Debtanu Roy

  4. I’m a westerner who’s been playing and studying classical and jazz guitar for over a decade now and I’ve been attracted to the classical music of Indian for a year or two. It’s a very rigorous and interesting form of music to me and I find the concepts of ragas to be absolutely enticing. I love the musicians approach to improvisation as well. Amjad Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan is what made me interested in sarod. There’s a lot of resources for sitar and tabla, but the sarod seems to be a bit more shrouded. Such an expressive and deep instrument deserves a revival. I’m a bit worried that my nails on my left hand will halt my guitar studies though. I hate to make such sacrifices. Traditional teachings in classical guitar strongly suggest to achieve a good tone you must file your left hand nails as short as possible. It’s reassuring to see Mark’s comment.

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