Sitars are a northern Indian stringed instrument of the lute family. They are the dominant instrument in Hindustani music. They appear to have developed under Medieval Muslim influence from the tanbur, a Middle Eastern long-necked lute and from the vina, or bin, a narrow, elaborate Indian Zither. Iconographic images of instruments similar to the modern sitar appeared only around 1800. There is abundant proof that the instrument had taken on its present form by the mid-nineteenth century. Several additional innovations during the turn of the twentieth century have been made to the instrument since then, giving form to the current "standard" sitar.
The word "sitar" is Persian (Iranian) in origin, meaning three strings (seh - three and tar - string). The Persian setar, similar to the Turkish saz, is a long thin-necked lute with a small wooden body.
The sitar normally has five melody strings and five or six drone strings which are used to accenuate the rhythm or pulse. Beneath the convex frets in the hollow neck are 9 to 13 sympathetic strings. There is often a gourd under the pegbox end of the neck
The sitar is a modal instrument - meaning that depending on the key you are playing in you may need to retune the instrument. To complicate matters, frets are moveable on a sitar, and if you are playing certain scales you will need to move certain frets to play certain notes.
In its contemporary form, the sitar is constructed of wood (teak) mahogany or (tun)), gourd, metal, and bone. The wooden neck is around 35 inches long, 3.5 inches wide, and slightly troughed, terminating at one large resonating chamber made of gourd. It is not uncommon for a second resonating gourd to be attached at the other end of the neck on the dorsal side. On the neck rest about twenty scalloped, movable, metal frets tied by silk or nylon string. Sitars with fixed frets are less popular in present times.
Sitar consist of two layers of strings made of steel, brass, and copper. The bottom layer of approximately 13 steel strings are referred to as taraf (Persian for excitement or joy) and rest on a small one inch long bone bridge, which is a fraction of an inch high. These strings are tuned to the notes of the raag being performed and resonate when the strings on the main (top) bridge are plucked.
The top layer of seven strings, used to create the melody and drone, rest between three bridges on one end of the neck and a main bridge that rests on the gourd section. Two of these three bridges anchor two of the three chikari (drone) strings that serve to extend notes and/or punctuate the rhythm. The remaining five strings lie on a bridge that spans the width of the neck. All seven strings converge, in a parallel manner, on the main bridge that sits on the gourd section. The main bridge is about three inches long, and one inch in both height and width. The bridge's slightly curved shape contributes to the tonal quality of the instrument, including the distinctive buzzing sound. Over time, the melodic strings cut into the bridge and require it to be reshaped. Sometimes two hooks are attached to the frets to lower the height of two bass strings of the instrument so that they do not undermine the playing of jhala or other fast passages. Page 1 of 2. See also:
SPECIAL NOTE - No Warranty on Strings: Whether you purchase an instrument on-line or in a neighborhood store, manufacturers recommend that you change the strings on your instrument as soon as you receive it. Your instrument has completed a long journey to your home. During this time the strings WILL oxidize and this may shorten their life expectancy and may reduce their sound quality. On occasion instruments may arrive with a broken string, therefore, it is recommended that you purchase a replacement set of strings and consider changing your strings as soon as it arrives. Learning to change strings should be the first lesson learned when embarking on the journey of playing a new instrument.
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