Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

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aparajit
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Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by aparajit » Mon Sep 19, 2011 5:48 am

In this article, I am going to attempt to convey some of the mechanics of holding the pick, hand positioning, pick positioning relative to the string, mechanics of striking, etc. I will also attempt to convey the mechanical advantages of holding the pick one way versus another. The material represented here is knowledge I have gathered from my Guruji Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta and some plain mechanical advantage common sense which will be evident to any engineering inclined mind.

To follow this article, please first download this pdf file http://uploading.com/files/1acd6432/Han ... 00000.pdf/. The sketches are not the best quality but I am hoping to post some photos as well. I would recommend printing these out or keeping a copy open so you can quickly alt-tab and refer to them as you read.

The material is fairly exhaustive and I am hoping to not make it too tedious. If I make any errors, my apologies in advance and please do bring it to my attention.
Figure 1 is a top view of your hand as you play the sarod and look down at the sarod. In reality, the sarod will be slightly inclined as shown in Figure 2 but more on that later. Line AB is an imaginary line drawn inside the forearm and representing the connection from the elbow all the way to the wrist. The line BC goes from the wrist all the way out to the center of the thumb nail where it sits and grips the pick. CD is the center-line of the pick. In the figure, C is shown almost outside the pick…that is an error, in reality, it should be somewhat centered on top of the rectangular portion of the pick…and again, there is more on that later. For now, the discussion will be limited to these three lines so as to convey the proper motion for picking. All, I repeat ALL, motion of picking should come from the line BC making an arc back and forth as shown in Fig. 3 and 1a. The angle ABC, called alpha in Fig. 1 should be 90 degrees or very close. There will be absolutely no deviation from this angle during picking. The only deviation in this angle will come when switching strings. The total deviation +- will be equal to Delta as shown in Figure 2. So once again, look at Figure 3…The arc made by the point C as it crosses over the strings presents different angular attacks on the strings. This is OK, normal and completely fine. There is no reason for B to shift its position in space during playing (except jhalas and chikari picking). Any up and down movement of the point B as a way of creating the pick stroke is absolutely wrong. There are some players (no names…) who actually have minimal angle alpha and bring all motion from the elbow with the point B moving up and down. Play that way if you want but it is mechanically disadvantageous and will ultimately put a stop to your overall progress. There are some schools of thought and practice which try to make you run the BC line along the surface of an imaginary cone…i.e. B would be the apex of a cone…and the point C would run in a circle, wherein the plane defined by that circle would be parallel to the line AB. So 1a just above the title Fig 1 is right while 1b is absolutely wrong. 1b seems to want you to have Delta be very large and have a wasteful rotating movement at the wrist. Do it if someone has asked you to and you are convinced but it is equally mechanically disadvantaged and I recommend you do not. There are better ways to strengthen your Ra (up) stroke and equalize your Da (down) and Ra strokes as I will discuss further in this article.

The circular plane as shown in figure 1a is NOT parallel to the skin of the sarod. As you can see in Fig. 1, line BC comes in towards the skin and point B is somewhat out. The point of contact P as shown, the amount by which B sticks forward and out over the sarod, and the angle alpha are all personal equations if you will. As I mentioned before, alpha should be very close to 90 degrees. Some people can do it, some people cannot. Based on the size of your hand and the size of your sarod, and your flexibility, you may or may not be able to achieve 90 degrees. Be very clear in your mind though that 90 is the right number and any deviations from this 90 degrees (other than to achieve delta while switching strings) is going to be tougher playing and cause various muscular and mechanical disadvantages. Enough said.

In Figure 3, the point of contact P with the sarod can be anywhere along the rim, some players go so far as to have it on top of the sarod which is by the way not desirable. The location of point P is again a personal equation. Some people are able to manage just fine with the point P a few inches above where the strings cross over the rim, some folks have to come in completely from the center line where the S or P string crosses over the rim (and therefore put all kinds of protective coverings over the strings to prevent their forearms to be scratched up by the string loops). One must keep in mind that in addition to picking the strings properly, the point P has another very important function…and that is…balancing the sarod so that it does not fall down on the other side of your leg. The frictional force that you are able to maintain by pressing your forearm against the point P is used to balance the instrument. The higher you take P, it may seem that more force would be required to keep the sarod level, however, in reality things work differently. This theory would be fine if your point P was fixed to the sarod with glue. What really happens is that in order to provide the balancing force, you have to rely upon the frictional resistance at point P from your forearm (I can therefore never play with silk kurtas or long sleeves that come in between my skin and the sarod body). The further you move P towards the strings, the more downward pressure towards the sarod bowl center you have to apply to gain frictional force. This causes huge mechanical and muscular problems in playing and long term RSIs (repetitive strain injuries). As a matter of fact, I am going to go ahead and post another article at the end of this one on how to start playing the sarod, sitting posture and other things so as to (hopefully) provide readers of this article (regardless of their access or lack thereof to a teacher) with important knowledge that will affect their playing long term based on their experience on day one of picking up the sarod.

Now to deal with Figure 2 and Figure 4. Figure 4 shows the sarod in a view looking from the bowl side of the sarod as it is held and played and putting the strings into cross-sectional view so that they appear like dots. Imagine if you were striking the strings as indicated by the arc in Figure 3, the plane as shown in 1a is already at an angle to the skin. Furthermore, now as you see in Figure 2, there is an additional angle where the skin is not perfectly perpendicular to the ground while the azimuth (perpendicular line reaching for the skies) of the plane shown in 1a is definitely perpendicular to the ground. Even if it is not, what is important to understand is that the sarod is tilted to have the skin facing slightly upwards in relation to the arc plane. The more this plane is tilted, the greater is Delta as shown in Fig. 2. It is important to note this tilt should be measured relative to the arc of playing, not relative to the ground. One could theoretically have the sarod perfectly perpendicular to the ground and facing the audience while he has to lean over and hunch over the sarod and tilt that arc of playing to achieve what is shown in Figure 2. So now when you strike the string, let us imagine you played kharaj S (low S). You can raise your pick sky high or not too high. The bottom line is that you have to practice to have a decent volume level that is at all times within your control. The tightness of your grip, the depth of insertion of the pick (the distance that the dotted line which becomes solid is behind the string), the distance from the bridge that you are playing, all have an effect on the volume and tone. Now that you have completed your first stroke and cut through the string, you can either come to rest on the very next string or stop just before you hit it. A lot of people (unfortunately including myself) come to rest on this string and this has the tendency to create extraneous sounds which reduce clarity. The more you control this tendency from the very beginning, the better off you are. It is very hard to fix later. Now where do you go…onto the next stroke. Here is the rub, your pick tip is inside the zone where moving it up will cause the S string to get hit again. If you were playing your next stroke as a Ra on the same Kharaj S string, this would not be a problem. If you are playing just Da strokes however, you need to extract the pick out from this zone. This requires that the primary angle alpha be increased very slightly as you come up. We are talking a degree or two, not the wasteful circle shown in 1b. If your next stroke was a Da on the next kharaj P string, you would have to pull the pick out and up and so on and so forth. If you are playing Da Da Da Da on all 4 strings, the path is shown in Figure 4. with the DaDa pick path writing shown on top right of figure. This is the right hand side squiggly line. For a Diri Diri Diri Diri on the same 4 strings, your path would be as shown on the left. The dots representing the strings can be seen in this figure.

So by now, hopefully it is clear to the readers that speed and clarity require minimal wasteful movements and mechanical efficiency, all of which is achievable as shown.

Figure 5 is actually tied closely to the next page and Figures 7 (a, b, c and d). So now let us move on to pick positioning relative to the string. There is depth of cut, where in Figure 1, you can imagine the point D being just into the string or very deep. This has an effect on the volume and tone, just as much as how hard you hit the string. This is a translational motion where the line CD moves in and out towards the skin. There are other degrees of freedom (mechanical term for movements of objects in space). I will discuss Figure 6 and 8 followed by 9 and 1 later on two separate topics. If you look at Figure 7A, it shows the string horizontal and you are viewing it from outside looking towards the string. The pick if viewed from opposite the tip if laid flat on the table is a rectangle. Fig. 7A shows this rectangle. The pick in this location can be rotated counter clockwise or clockwise. The preferred angle during playing is roughly 30 degrees clockwise (if viewed by audience) or 30 degrees anticlockwise if your eye was peeking out from the skin side looking at the string and the pick pointing towards your eye (quit laughing…this stuff is tough to describe in writing). The anticlockwise orientation can be seen in figure 7D which shows the optimal configuration of the pick. Figure 7B shows the pick as if you were playing the sarod and looking over the top. The pick here can move clockwise or anticlockwise as well. The preferred orientation is clockwise by a few degrees, not too much. Figure 7C shows the string as a dot in cross-section and shows how the pick can be oriented with line CD (see figure 5 now) either being horizontal or angled up or down with D being fixed and C moving . the preferred orientation is for the pick to be angled so that the point is angled up and C is down by 15 or 20 degrees. Here is what this does. In the Da stroke, the pick will easily cut through the string location and create the Da sound but on the way back, it will catch the string and dig into it and force it (the Ra stroke) to be a louder sound. The shaded portion in Figure 7D represents the underside of the pick which can be seen because the pick has been oriented this way. This is one way to get a louder Ra and help balance your diri stroke.

Figure 6 represents line XY which is the thumb centerline or support line on top of the pick and lines LMN which is the centerline of the first finger or the bottom support line. You can somewhat see the hand position although my artwork is not the best. These support lines are shown in figure 8 as U for upper and L for lower. The dot S represents the string in cross-section. There are three location combinations shown for U & L; One where U and L and balanced, one where U is closer to the pick point and another where L is closer to the pick point. Before we get into the discussion I want to mention that the reader ought to have some knowledge of lever arms and also cantilevers. The pick here is a cantilever which is held by the thumb and forefinger. When the string is hit, it will attempt to dislodge the pick from its supports U & L. If U and L are balanced, Da and Ra strokes have the same effect on U and L, and that is to try and wiggle the pick out of the hold. The U being closer to the pick point will give a louder Da and a softer Ra while the L being closer to the string will give a louder Ra. This is because as L gets closer to the string, it gains mechanical advantage. It is easier to move something close to you than something that is at arms length. This movement of L towards the string can be achieved smack in the middle of playing and your various passages by something very simple. LMN represents the forefinger in Figure 6. Open up MN and the point N moves closer to the string. You will get a louder Ra. This is the second way to get a louder Ra and help balance your diri stroke.

Now onto a discussion which I am dreading since it may cause some folks to take offense but it refers specifically to the thumb and one finger vs. thumb and two finger question. Here is the answer. The thumb and two finger mechanism introduces an additional element. Consider Fig. 1 vs. Fig. 9. Figure 1 shows the pick as CD but in Fig. 9, the pick is DE and there is an additional CD from the knuckle to the point of holding the pick. This reduces your mechanical advantage. Imagine if you are sweeping the floor and you hold a broom at the very top and sweep the floor versus hold the broom closer to the floor. The closer to the floor you are, the better your mechanical advantage and better your control of the broom. Similarly, introducing that extra length CD, reduces your level of control. I am not saying that players who do this do not have control, far from it...there are plenty of good players who play like that. I am just saying that it is harder to get control that way and if you are a newbie and starting, you might as well pay good consideration to this discussion.

It has taken me considerable time to put this article (and another one on sarod playing for beginners) together. Consider how long it takes you to read this and then imagine what it took to write it. It only takes a few seconds to post a response and say thanks or provide a comment which can be entertaining and fulfilling and make this board feel a little alive. So please be considerate and take the time to respond. I am starting to get a little disillusioned about the readership of this board and am tempted to pull all my work from here and move it to my own web-site…

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plectum
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by plectum » Mon Sep 19, 2011 1:40 pm

wonderful Aparajit :D

will need some time to digest all the information
You know, music, art - these are not just little decorations to make life prettier. They're very deep necessities which people cannot live without. ~~ Pablo Picasso

tilaka
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by tilaka » Wed Sep 21, 2011 11:05 pm

Thanks, very comprehensive explanations. Doesn't the contact point P changes for different timbre coloration? if i play closer to the bridge, it's getting more sharp, treble sound, further it becomes soft, gives more bass. It is used a lot in all sorts of guitar techniques, would it be useful for sarod also?

aparajit
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by aparajit » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:34 am

The contact point P where your forearm sits along the rim of the sarod does not have any consequence of the timbre. On the other hand, playing closer to the bridge (more stacatto and punch) vs. further from the bridge (rounder and mellower) does have an impact on the timbre. In order to do this, the point P may shift during play, however, that is only to account for moving the pick position.

Thanks for bringing this up because it segues into another thing I wanted to mention. While playing, it is possible to change depth of pick, location of stroke relevant to the bridge and the pick angles (all directions) relative to the string. This results in different sounds and one should practice playing in different positions to see the effect and use these effects during their playing.

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plectum
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by plectum » Sat Sep 24, 2011 7:14 am

Hmmm.........i think Parthasarathy plucks the sting in his sarod much closer to the bridge than usual, which gives a sharp cutting sound, whereas Khansahib's preference was 4 fingerbreaths away from the bridge AFAIK.
You know, music, art - these are not just little decorations to make life prettier. They're very deep necessities which people cannot live without. ~~ Pablo Picasso

badalandabad
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by badalandabad » Sat Sep 24, 2011 10:08 am

Awesome post, Aparajit!

Respect.

-Taj

aparajit
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by aparajit » Sun Sep 25, 2011 7:16 am

Thanks Taj...

And plectum, you are right...Khansahib preferred the distance you mention. During playing though, you can also go all the way fairly close to the transition between skin and metal and pluck there...The primary idea is that the player should fool around with different positions during practice and know what sounds are pertinent at which point of playing. I would never dream of playing a fast pattern at that location but would use it for an extremely mellow sound during aalaap. I would play closer to the bridge during a fast pattern but never so close as to get a metallic harsh sound.

-Apu Agarwal

wilsaxo
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by wilsaxo » Tue Sep 27, 2011 4:57 am

This is the most detailed explanation of picking of any kind on any instrument that I have ever read. I can't wait to try this method of holding the jaba (sadly not for a few days) as it is completely different than what I do. Thanks for taking the time to share this much detail.

David

aparajit
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by aparajit » Wed Sep 28, 2011 1:32 am

David,

As strange as it will be for you in the beginning, do not give up. You will soon see the mechanical advantages I am talking about and your stroke quality and weight will be much improved after a time.

Thanks,
Apu

PS - I intend on making some videos to post on youtube to go with the articles. Keep your eyes open.

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plectum
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by plectum » Mon Oct 10, 2011 6:36 am

Another things is, how hard should you pluck the strings? Is there any rule of thumb to determine this?
You know, music, art - these are not just little decorations to make life prettier. They're very deep necessities which people cannot live without. ~~ Pablo Picasso

wilsaxo
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by wilsaxo » Wed Oct 12, 2011 2:30 pm

I finally have gotten my sarod out after an intense few weeks of saxophone practice in preparation for a recital at the college where I teach part time.

Going back and forth between the explanation, diagrams, and instrument, it is difficult to know if I am picturing and applying the concepts as clearly as possible. This is where seeing the teachers demonstration in person is so needed. A video demonstration would do beautifully here on the web. I hope your desire to keep this knowledge alive and shared will inspire you to film and post one. I can definitely see potential with this method of picking and am looking at videos and photos of players differently now to try to see this being applied, but the person holding the camera is not always interested in showing us such things.

Thanks again for posting this.

David

aparajit
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by aparajit » Sat Oct 15, 2011 12:48 pm

I will put up a youtube post soon...I promise.

Plectum, there is no rule of thumb...that is where musicality comes in.

You must actually vary all the multitudinous angles mentioned and see what it does to the sound, including playing at different points along the string with different depths of cut.

I might go make this video right now...since I do not have to demo left hand, I might be able to do it all by myself.

aparajit
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by aparajit » Mon Oct 17, 2011 3:40 am

OK...here is the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCOKzfyRtxg

Also here is one where I have the "muting" string applied and I am playing (SRGS, RSGR, GSRG, SRGS)...then (RGMR, GRMG....). Keep in mind, there is woolen string weaving between the main playing string, adjacent to the bridge and crossing back and forth 4 times. The same level of playing on an open string would distort the recording beyond control...It is pretty loud.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0ZiP_Od0FI

- Apu Agarwal

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plectum
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Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by plectum » Thu Oct 20, 2011 7:32 am

Hi, I went through your videos last night. I have a doubt regarding how the jawa is supposed to pluck the string. If I got you correctly then this is how it goes. When you are playing Da, the jawa is not absolutely parallel to the ground, but is slighly inclined downwards. The lower edge of the jawa then rubs along the string and tranfers the energy it needs to vibrate. Then when trying to play the Ra stroke the index finger shifts slightly so that the lower edge now points slightly upwards and again you pluck the string using the same edge. So, in short, only the lower edge (as in the da stroke) comes in contact with the string, neither the upper edge nor the tip.

I was not taught specifically how the jawa should come in contact with the string, so naturally I used to pluck with the tip of the jawa. This sometimes created a scraping sound when the vibrating string came in contact with the lower surface of the jawa. I was trying to use the method you showed, and the scraping sound is no longer there.
You know, music, art - these are not just little decorations to make life prettier. They're very deep necessities which people cannot live without. ~~ Pablo Picasso

aparajit
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Joined: Sat Aug 02, 2008 4:11 am

Re: Hand and Pick Positioning for optimal play

Post by aparajit » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:11 am

Nope....when you play Da stroke you are right. For the Ra stroke, the pick continues to stay inclined the way it was. The inside (closer to forearm) and upper edge of the pick is used. The index finger part is not all the time, only sometimes...and even at that point in time, it is still the upper inside edge. The index finger shifting slightly is not an everytime thing. Look at the video again carefully. I will also make one where I have someone else hold the camera for me.

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