This page is an attempt to summarise my responses to the most common questions asked about the instrument, the music and in some cases, about me:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. How do I learn the sarod?
A. The sarod is a classical instrument which means that it takes time and effort to learn it. Please see my post on the basics of getting started
2. How long will it take to learn the sarod?
A. Classical arts take a long time to gain proficiency, so it depends on the goal of the student. If the objective is to play in a household setting, then 3-5 years of regular study and practice will get you there. For serious players, this is the task of a lifetime. It will benefit you enormously if you undertake vocal music and tabla training prior to taking up the sarod – it will cut down your learning time by at least 50%. Guitar training is also useful.
3. Where can I get a sarod?
A. The best places of getting sarods are in India. Delhi Music Stores, Hemen & Co, Dulal and a few others make such instruments. Rikhi Ram in Delhi also makes a few. Do not buy over the internet without consulting a sarod player
4.Are there any books/DVDs on how to learn the Sarod?
A. I have written possibly the first ever book on how to play the sarod – targetted at the adult learner who has no access to a teacher. Unfortunately, as is often the case with North Indian classical music, the art form is poorly documented and only available via teachers. Books are useless by themselves, as the student cannot see the concepts demonstrated, hence, my book links to a video library where all concepts are illustrated in practice.
5. Which type of sarod shoud I get: Amjad Ali Khan, Shahjahanpur or Maihar?
A. If you are just starting out, it really doesn’t matter. However, if you prefer one of these styles, then it’s best to get a sarod for that style (and a teacher in that style).
6. How long should I practice?
A. From my own personal experience, the minimum amount of practice required is at least half an hour every day. I practice between 90-120 minutes each day with 2-3 hours a day on the weekends. However, I did have a phase earlier on where I would practice 2-3 hours a day and about 6 hours on the weekends and that really helped me. And, please practice with the tabla at all times.
7. How should I structure the practice session?
A. Sarod practice should be at least 50% scale practice to maintain accuracy of notes. The rest of the time, one can try compositions learnt in various ragas. If you are playing the sarod in the Amjad Ali Khan or Shahjahanpur styles, scale practice becomes even more important due to fast left hand work (called ekhara). At such speeds, accuracy becomes paramount and unless regular scale practice is undertaken, notes will go off tune.
8. I’d like to play Alaaps only – I love the sound
A. Unfortunately for most western students, Alaap playing is “allowed” by the gurus even before the student has mastered the basics of the instrument and the rhythmic cycle. Playing alaaps earlier on is an easy way out as it reduces the strain of having to conform to taal- and is not recommended at all. Don’t take my word for it – read this interview of sitar maestro Pt Nikhil Banerjee who was advised not to play alaap until the end of his tutelage. In general, if you can’t play with the tabla with a reasonable degree of competence, you alaaps are going to be mindless meanderings and “broken”. Playing a good alaap requires more focus and concentration than playing basic compositions, which comes from experience of the raga, age and time.
9. Can I learn via Skype?
Yes, a passionate and dedicated student can learn anywhere, anytime. If you are just starting out, it’s best to have face to face lessons if possible.
10. Should I take lessons from visiting Indian musicians ?
Yes, by all means. If possible, it is better to have consistency in training wherever possible.
11. But this is all very hard work – I want something simple
A. Classical art forms of any kind (dance, music, painting) are hard work. That’s why they last throughout the ages and are called Classical. Indian music and the sarod are no different. If you want something simple, go for some popular instruments, not classical ones. Classical music separates out those who are passionate about the music, and those who are dabblers or worse, forced into it by their parents.
12. Who is the better sarod player? Ustad A or Pandit B? Which Gharana is better/original/advanced etc?
A. One thing to avoid at all costs is flame wars about who’s better. As students, we should learn from everyone, past and present. Only trolls and negative people write long critiques on the internet running down other musicians and proclaiming their style to be the best. You will notice that these people are not active performers – and their English is better than their music.
Modern day sarodiyas from all gharanas are rapidly embracing the positives from each gharana and taking it to new levels, even though their gharana may not have those traits to begin with. Technique and sound is also being refined by these talented musicians.This is very welcome and will lead to a new generation of master sarodiyas free from the burdens of strict gharana lines and closed minds.
Personally, I play whatever I feel is beautiful, irrespective of which gharana it comes from. I have been known to play a Vilambit gat from Maihar, Madhayalaya from Shahjahanpur or Amjad Ali Khan and a drut from Etawah/Imdadkhani (Sitar) style, whatever brings out the essence of the raga.
13. You mention that you learnt for free – why are fees being charged now?
A. I learnt in a bygone era, where people were not as focussed on income as they are now. While I did learn for free, I performed other duties at my teachers’ homes. Nowadays, you simply pay for time. I must mention that my learning was driven by me, not by my teachers. I learnt through observation, practice and sitting in on the training sessions of their progeny, and for that, I’m very grateful to them for giving me exposure to their “core” material.
14. I am not happy with my progress – should I change my teacher?
A. It is likely that the root cause of your lack of progress is you, not the teacher. With wide availability of compositions, videos, music downloads and books, a determined student can make significant progress after learning the basics. Before blaming your teacher, look at yourself first.
While leading maestros claim to have learnt from their teachers, the fact remains that they are responsible for their content. The gats that Ustad Amjad Ali plays were not composed by his father. Ditto for Pt Nikhil Banerjee, Pt Bhimsen Joshi etc. They paved their own path.
The teacher simply shows the way. Beyond basics of notes, ragas, instrument handling and technique, anyone should be able to make rapid progress using publicly available resources. Guidance of a committed teacher will help enormously, but the Ekalavya method will also work (read the legend of Ekalavya)
15. How can a sarod player learn from a sitar player and vice-versa?
A. Beyond the basic instrument technique, the teacher imparts knowledge about the music. This is independent of the instrument. For example, Pt Ravishankar and Pt Nikhil Banerjee learnt from a sarod player. Most of the instruction is imparted through singing, not the instrument. I myself continue to receive guidance from Pandit Sugato Nag and Ustad Shahid Parvez, both sitar exponents. I often play compositions taken from sitar, sarangi and vocal music – due to my preference for vocal based music. (see some of my videos).
16. Should I play in concerts?
A. Yes, absolutely. There are two reasons for this. Concert playing is a completely separate field by itself. It forces practice and preparedness. The key is to record yourself during the concert and listen to it again. That way, we can identify mistakes and improve them. Also, live tabla accompaniment is great for the music. There is no better way of progress through deadlines by committing yourself to a scheduled performance. In this, I differ from traditional gurus who would not let students play until ready. That is because the students were learning to be professional players.
17. How can I measure my progress?
A. Ustadji (Amjad Ali Khan Saheb) is a great believer in planned progress. The key is to set out goals and achieve them. Without deadlines and goals, too much time gets wasted (I am myself guilty of this) without focussed practice. The steps I recommend are:
1. Select a raga and compositions
2. Select a timeframe e.g two -three months
3. Schedule a performance with friends/family to render that raga in front of them.
Perhaps the greatest test of your progress is to record and upload to Youtube/website. It takes great courage to do it. If you can do it raw (e.g without editing our your mistakes) and understand areas of improvement, you will find that progress will be much more rapid. The fiercest critic of a musician is their own self.
18. Why do you keep insisting that I sing? I never learnt singing and don’t have a “singing” voice
A. Singing achieves two objectives (a) Gets you closer to the mood of the raga and (b) allows you to think about the raga in your head even though you are not practicing with your instrument. Again, this method is recommended by traditional gurus, and really assists in the learning process. You do not need a singing voice to sing the raag – this is purely for musical learning purposes.