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The Sitar is a beautiful, often hand carved stringed instrument with resonant strings designed to provide reverberations while the instruments main, tunable strings are being played. There are three main types of providing high to low sounds, in a similar manner to the variation in the size of classical stringed instruments, such as the Violin, the Cello and the Double Bass.
The Sitar is synonymous with India, and the music of the subcontinent. It has a significant place within Indian classical music, and the raga chants. Due to the tonalities that have evolved in a culture steeped in more than five thousand years of tradition, music played on the sitar, as with other music from India can sound alien to the ear of a Westerner.
Traditionally made of wood, bone and metal, the sitar is assembled by loving hand with the care of a master artisan. The position of the frets themselves can be adjusted to allow for the notes between traditional western notes to be played. The effect of the resonant strings, which are mounted below the playable ones, combined with the amazing variety of tones produced by the main strings is flabbergasting.
Famous Sitar Musicians:
Ravi Shankar, the Guru that toured with the Beatles during their heyday, is perhaps the most famous sitar player. Other famous sitar musicians include Ajit Singh, Noise of Pig Lizzard Fame, Peter Davidian and Rais Khan. The application of the Sitar to a variety of musical styles has occurred, as the Indian subcontinent has become a destination of fantasy for the western tourist in the 20th century.
Where it is played:
The most common application for the sitar is within the boundaries of Indian Classical music. There are a number of ways in which the sitar is used, and formal methods for composition and application are taught in music schools across India. More recently, modern music groups, including Tool, A Perfect Circle, and the many groups of Mike Patton have incorporated elements of the Sitar into their music.
There are instruments that produce similar sounds and instruments that have similar appearances or that share the same underlying mechanical principles. The closest western relative to the Sitar is perhaps the Banjo. Both produce a highly resonant, clear and bright tone, with the strings affecting the neighboring tones. The repeated use of a discordant string on a banjo is also a technique employed in Sitar playing also. The Oud is a very similar shape to the Sitar, but most surprising is the Bazanatar, a custom made modification of a Double Bass, designed to have the same resonant string effect as a sitar, but applied to a Double Bass. Video of this amazing creation can be found online.
What to look for when buying:
Sitars come in differing levels of quality. When buying a sitar, look for quality workmanship, and play it before buying. Many sitars are modeled after the Swan, with the neck of the Sitar being carved to represent the Swan’s neck, the tuning machines mounted in a head, often intricately carved to look like that of a Swan. Often small hand carved bone ornaments in the shape of a Swan can be seen at the base, holding the bottom part of the string away from the wooden body of the instrument.