The Sitar and Sympathetic Strings

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CrushFan41
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The Sitar and Sympathetic Strings

Post by CrushFan41 » Fri May 10, 2013 11:51 pm

I am a novice sitar player who has just started practicing on a borrowed instrument and am looking to purchase an instrument of my own. My question is for the more seasoned and accomplished players. I have seen adverts for people selling sitars with between 9 and 13 sympathetic strings with the standard playing and chickari strings. Is more sympathetic strings better and do they give a better quality sound? Any info you can provide will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!! -BW-

Lars
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Re: The Sitar and Sympathetic Strings

Post by Lars » Sat May 11, 2013 3:16 am

Usually there are 11 on a Vilayat Khan style (Etawah, gandhar pancham, etc.) sitar and 13 on a Ravi Shankar style sitar. If you're going for 13 then make sure it's a good sitar and reliable seller as on cheap sitars more is not always better since they're not always placed right. If it only has 9 then probably a low end instrument if it's new. In my opinion 13 is good as that's the style I like, you can double up on the vadi/samvadi (dominant/sub-dominant) and other notes but only if it's made right.

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Fil
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Re: The Sitar and Sympathetic Strings

Post by Fil » Sat May 11, 2013 3:39 am

My sitar has 11 despite being a Ravi Shankar style. They are fascinating things. Once you get them all nicely in tune the ringing around your ears they create is just heavenly. Love em!

I don't imagine two extra strings above high Sa would make all that much difference.

While on the topic, I've played Norwegian hardanger fiddles which have sympathetic strings running under the main playing ones. I'd have thought they would make a better choice of fiddle for use in ICM than the standard violin so popular in the South.

Hardanger Fiddle on Wikipoo

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povster
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Re: The Sitar and Sympathetic Strings

Post by povster » Sat May 11, 2013 6:34 am

Nowadays the Ghandar/Pancham "Vilayat Khan" style sitars have 12 sympathetics strings.

The Kharaj/Pancham "Ravi Shankar" style sitar will usually have either 11 or 13 depending on the "grade". The best from a maker - termed #1, will have 13. The #2 will usually have 13. The #3 often have 11, but some makers, such as Barun Ray (Hiren Roy's Son) may also have 13. I would avoid a sitar with 9 or 10.

How to tune them is, in my opinion, dependent on the individual instrument as well as the raga. Some ragas may only have 5 notes. Some 6 or (often) 7. Sometimes a raga will have both the flat (komal) and the natural (shuddha) of the same note, one in the ascending scale and one in the descending scale.

Regardless, you want to include all of the middle scale notes in the raga in the tuning of the sympathetics. You want to tune two sympathetics to the middle Sa. And you want a high Sa. Often a high Re is included and sometimes a high Gha.

A raga has two important notes: vadi and samvadi. These are a fourth or a fifth apart. Sa and Ma (fourth) or Sa and Pa (5th) for the more common examples. Some will say to double up on those but to me the response of the instrument is key.

Start by tuning the main notes of the raga from middle Sa to high Sa. Then see what sympathetic strings seem weakest and use any spare sympathetic strings to double up on those pitches to reinforce them. If the response in all pitches is good, start with adding the high Re and he high Gha. Anything left over can be used for the 4th/5th or the weakest of ths sympathetics.

Once you determine where you want the extra sympathetics to be, you may have to retune some. Basically you want to start from the longest sympathetic and tune Sa Ni Sa for the Kharaj/Pancham style and, with a ghandar/pancham sitar, Ni Sa Sa. Then work your way up from there. There should be a natural progression of the tuning that reflect the scale of the raga.

Trying to describe this in general is difficult, as different ragas have different scales and key notes. This is where a teacher comes in. But overall, after the main notes are tuned, make a determination based on the instrument's response on what to do with the extra strings.
...Michael
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Panini - the official bread of ICM

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Sitarfixer
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Re: The Sitar and Sympathetic Strings

Post by Sitarfixer » Sat May 11, 2013 1:27 pm

My take on the topic is not so much how many sympathetic strings are on the instrument but how the corresponding pegs are placed. For years on end there has been a vacant spot between frets 9 and 10. This allowed for a 1/2 step fret shift that is still in use for the 2nd. and 6th. degrees of the scale. Frets 8 and 14 would apply. The only performing artist still using this 9 / 10 shift is Pt. Debu Chaudhuri. His Guru / Gharana employed this fret arraingment. The "extra" fret was installed at some point in time and now everybody uses it as standard. Only now is that vacant spot being used to place a bottom string peg. To hold a 13 count of bottom string pegs and still keep the gap there vacant means there will be pegs placed very high up the neck. Doing so increases the chance of crappy fret calibration due to the closeness of the frets up there unless those pegs are perfectly placed. There's a bet I won't take. My recommendation is to go with an instrument that has no pegs placed higher than the spot between 16 and 17. A lot of sitars will have a peg hugging the high side of fret 17 . Your call on that one.

CrushFan41
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Re: The Sitar and Sympathetic Strings

Post by CrushFan41 » Fri May 17, 2013 1:42 am

Great information from everyone!! Thank you!! I did ask a seller about a sitar with 11 and asked if he had one with 13. He said that if I let him know, he could take the one with 11 and as he put, "put in the additional two" at no extra charge. I gave the response an incredulous look as that sounded more like fabricating something that could diminish the quality and perhaps integrity of a potentially perfectly good sitar. I do remember someone had mentioned once that if the pegs are not situated on the correct spot on the neck, they wont sound right. Kind of like intonation on a guitar. Any thoughts?

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