Learning to play the Sitar competently takes a considerable amount of time, discipline, and dedication. Understanding the basics and being able to play some songs can take as long as 5 years. This is because the system used in Indian classical music is more complex and variable than in Western music. Sitar is also more complex relative to a traditional guitar.
Unlike more Western commercial instruments like the drums or guitar, the Sitar comes with a very steep learning curve and is best learned under a teacher’s guidance. Professional sitarists usually start learning sitar at a young age and practice for anywhere up to 8 hours a day to achieve and maintain their level of skill.
The Sitar is one of the most definitive instruments in traditional Hindustani classical music. Formally a Persian instrument, the Sitar is an instrument that requires lifelong learning, personalized training, and regular practice to be properly mastered.
We’ve put together this brief guide to help you understand the steep learning curve that comes with Sitar playing. We’ll also discuss the proper methods and courses offered for learning to play the Sitar.
Is It Difficult To Learn Sitar?
The Sitar is a considerably technical instrument to learn to perform. Experienced musicians may be able to quickly gain a fairly good understanding of the Sitar’s layout and fundamentals, but will still require lifelong learning and practice to be able to perform well. Learning sitar can be much more demanding than more conventional string instruments like the guitar or violin.
Of course, every student progresses according to their sitar teachers and other factors like accessibility or personal skill. Some students may become proficient within a couple of years, while others may learn sitar at a slower pace and become fully competent after 5 or more years.
Traditionally in India, the sitar is taken on as a lifelong commitment, and is tutored under the guidance of a good guru. . Professional sitarists often start at a young age and practice rigorously on a daily basis. Even under intense training standards, it can take over a year for many just to master the basic note and scale system of the guitar.
Very few players of fairly good skill are self-taught. Indian classical music contains twice as many notes as standard Western standards. Without assured personalized training, it can become quite tricky for players to untrain bad techniques in the future.
How is the Sitar Played?
Playing Sitar is a structure-based practice, and requires one to learn a very specific set of movements and articulations. The Sitar is a plucked stringed instrument that is generally played while sitting down, with the instrument balanced between a player’s left foot and right knee.
Players traditionally use their right hand to pluck the strings using a metallic plectrum known as a mizraab. The left-hand presses down on various points of the sitar’s fretboard to determine the notes. Once the fundamentals have been mastered, playing the sitar well is determined by a player’s ability to articulate their intuition without restriction.
Sitars range between 18 and 21 strings. The sitar traditionally consists of 6 or 7 main strings, which are plucked. The remaining strings are known as sympathetic strings (or tarb) and resonate underneath the primary strings along a long hollow neck to create drones. Each string is tuned to a specific sitar Indian note name. The primary strings are all usually tuned around middle c, which is known as pancham kharaj tuning and has a note range of two octaves.
Can I Teach Myself to Play Sitar?
While it is possible to take Skype lessons online, it’s highly recommended to have a master guru teach you the Sitar. Online Sitar lessons can lay a reasonable roadmap of progress, but learning sitar online should only be considered if you can’t find a hands-on teacher.
An experienced and qualified guide teacher can adjust and improve your technique in real-time. Players that learn Sitar under proper guidance can become proficient and independent players within 2-3 years but may have to study for decades to properly master the instrument.
Professional sitarists that play the sitar embrace lifelong learning and have dedicated practice in order to learn to play properly. They also understand that it is nigh impossible to perfect their skills by learning sitar online on their own. A good guru can carefully keep their students’ technique in check and recommend special training to optimize a player’s practice time.
Sitars are made in a variety of styles, ranging from beginner models to professional designs. Sitar prices vary according to things like the materials used for construction and the string count. Self-taught players may often lack the experience necessary to purchase the appropriate Sitar for optimum learning, and this can add years to their progress rate.
Renowned Sitar Players
Possibly the most popular sitar player in modern music is Ravi Shankar. Born on the Indian subcontinent, Ravi Shankar is considered the person responsible for bridging Hindustani music from India into commercial Western society. He is also known for getting pancham kharaj tuning popularized amongst modern sitar teachers.
Popular western musicians that have featured the sitar include George Harrison (The Beatles), Brain Jones (The Rolling Stones), and Dave Mason. The Sitar has also been popularized in the sampling world and has been used by hip-hop and R&B musicians like Lauryn Hill and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Is sitar challenging to learn?
It takes a considerable amount of dedication and skill to play the sitar, more so than that of a guitar, violin, or another string instrument. It is quite tricky to learn sitar with or without prior music knowledge, but it is possible with the right guidance.
How many years will it take to learn sitar?
If players can practice regularly and follow a strictly guided course, they may gain a fairly reasonable grasp of the sitar within 3-5 years. If certain players start learning at an early age, they may develop their skills at a faster rate and should be able to cover the basic standards of Indian classical music within 2 years.
Is sitar the same as veena?
While both the veena and sitar share some similarities, they are two different instruments Below are some of the definitive differences between the sitar and the veena:
- The sitar is much lighter in weight compared to the veena.
- The sitar is played with the strings facing away from the body, while the veena is played in an upright position.
- While both instruments have origins in the Indian subcontinent, the veena is mostly used in Carnatic music from the south. The sitar is used exclusively for Hindustani music, which originates in the north.
Is sitar easier than guitar?
It takes an intensive amount of dedication and good skill to play the sitar, more so than the guitar. Standard western note music consists of much less notation than Indian music, and the Sitar is more complex than other stringed instruments. However, guitar players may have an advantage over others when learning to play sitar.