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.
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.
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.