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Guide to Sitars

Sitar : What is it?

Sitars

Sitars are string instruments with long necks and movable curved frets. Their bodies are usually made of dried pumpkin, while their necks and face are of Indian mahogany. Out of the 18 or more strings on a standard sitar, six to seven are regular playing strings while the rest are 'sympathetic' or resonant strings. These strings are placed beneath the curve of the fret, so that only the playing strings can be touched. The resonating strings amplify and sustain each note, providing a distinct earthy tone and excellent resonance compared to other string instruments.
 

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Types of Sitars

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Kinds of Sitars include the following:

Ravi Shankar (R.K.) style sitars

  • These sitars have a small resonating body attached to the top of the neck.
  • They have seven main playing strings, three of which produce droning sounds while the other four provide the melody.
  • They have two extra strings playing the lowest bass notes.
  • They are usually elaborately decorated with carvings, penwork, and hand painting.

Vilayat Khan (V.K.) style sitars

  • These sitars have six playing strings, with three providing the melody and three providing the drone. They are also called Gayaki style sitars.
  • They have an extra string called the chikari, which provides rhythmic accompaniment to the playing strings.
  • They are usually played along with specialized bass sitars to make up for the lack of bass strings.
  • They are slightly smaller than R.S. sitars, usually colored black or dark brown with less soundboard decoration.

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Choosing Sitars (Buying tips)

Size: Choose a sitar that matches your body size. Make sure you can reach the far end of the fingerboard from your playing position. Look for one with a less rounded back for easier reach when you play sitting or standing up.

Strings: Choose a sitar with stainless steel strings. These strings do not snap easily, have sharper sounds, are fairly easy to tune. Nylon strings are cheaper and may be ideal for beginners, but will need frequent replacement because they wear out faster than stainless steel.

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