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How To Play The Veena

The veena has a range of roughly three and a half octaves, however most performances limit themselves to two octaves. Before you can play, the veena must be tuned. Coarse tuning of the melodic and drone strings is controlled by the rotation of large wooden pegs. Finer tuning of the strings on the main bridge is controlled using miniature tension controls, which also serve to attach the strings to the body of the instrument.

To tune the veena, stand it upright on the large toomba. As you face the neck there are 7 tuning pegs, 5 to the left and 2 to the right.

Strings on left side top to bottom:

Pa Sa   Sa Pa Sa
B E   E B E
Main Strings   Drone Strings (thalam)

Main Playing Strings on right side, top to bottom:

Sa Pa Sa
Playing Strings

When playing the Veena, the slightly smaller toomba rests on the player's left knee or thigh, and helps to support the instrument. The neck rests high on the upper arm. The resonator should rest on the floor. The fingers of the left hand pluck this instrument. The baby finger of the right hand strikes the drone strings while the other fingers work the main strings. Unlike playing guitar, the strings of the Veena are pressed between the frets and then pulled toward the lower edge of the neck. The degree to which the strings are pulled alters their tone. When describing the music of the Veena, Geetha Ramanathan Bennett said, "the essence and the greatness of Carnatic music lies in its delicate quarter-tones, graces, and sliding and slurring subtleties, which are not to be found in the music of any other part of the world."( Carnatic music, like the Hindustani music of north India, is based on ragas and talas (melodies and rhythms).

Detailed information on how to play the veena is available by ordering our Play On Veena book by Tara Balagopal.


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