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aparajit

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Reply with quote  #1 
While all instruments are hard to learn and require a lot of practice, the sarod presents some peculiar challenges:

In order to play it, one must have a well-trained ear. This is not unlike a violin where if you place your finger in the wrong position, you must have the feedback loop to correct it and change your finger position to the right spot so as to refine the process and improve your muscle memory, finally achieving the ability to hit the right note the first time.

While the violin has a shorter vibrating string length and is therefore more difficult to play (each offset from the pure note is a larger error percentage compared to the actual note), the sarod has one unique challenge; it requires that the correct note be achieved by pressing the string against a steel plate with your finger-nail. This means that if you do not have strong nails (such is my poor plight), playing the sarod is incredibly hard. You have to compensate, either by developing calluses and controlling the pressure on the string via the callus versus the fingernail, or applying fake nails that are very strong (gel or acrylic). Some people have tried and succeeded (to their satisfaction, not mine) using Appalachian finger picks and filing them down and pressing the strings with those.

The instrument is inherently heavy. It is made by hollowing out a single piece (I know two-piece instruments are made by having the tail attached as a separate piece but the primary instrument is still one piece) of wood. The walls of the instrument are 3/8 inch thick at some points and sometimes you may end up with an instrument with very poor balance. The steel plate does not help much, making the instrument fairly neck-heavy and wanting to turn the instrument clockwise (viewed from the audience side) when balanced on your thigh at the right fulcrum point to allow proper right-hand placement.

So, how and where do you start. What I am about to describe is relevant to all stringed instruments and not just the sarod.

Most teachers will first start teaching you the Sa Re Ga Ma…scale. I believe that this overwhelms the student and can instill some very poor posture and picking habits that will destroy your ability to play long-term and if nothing will potentially scare you away after the very first lesson. Here is what one has to contend with.
•         Instrument balancing,
•         Picking the correct string,
•         Pressing down on the correct string,
•         Pressing down at the right spot,
•         Coordinating the picking and pressing and
•         Uncomfortable sitting posture

So here is what I recommend a person interested in learning the sarod should do. What I am going to say here is nothing new…it encompasses the principle of breaking something into its parts and then mastering each part and then joining the two.

First, get comfortable with the sitting position without the instrument. If you can already sit Indian style, great, if not, do that first. Take a week or two but make sure that you are able to sit with your left leg folded under your right thigh, close to the butt and the right leg over the left knee and up slightly so that the outer part of your right shin, just above the ankle rests on your left quadriceps above the knee. In this position, your right knee should be low enough to allow for the instrument to come in and sit in your right lap where it will eventually be. If not, push down gently on your right knee and keep doing this every day. Watch TV, read a book, work on your laptop, whatever…just do it in this position so that sitting in this position is no longer distracting. This is the key word here…distracting!! If you are distracted by it, it will interfere.

Next, sit with the sarod in your lap. Do not support the neck of your instrument with the left hand. The right hand hanging over the drum (read my other post on hand and pick positioning and picking) should provide enough support for the instrument to balance on your right leg. It should sit against your belly and some support may even come in from your right rib-cage, although that is not recommended. The instrument should tilt so that a perpendicular line protruding from the skin points upwards at a slight angle, 10 or 15 degrees. Sit this way and watch TV or read a book and get familiar with the feel of the instrument in your hands and body.

Then practice Da Da Da Da (4 times Da on each string, kharaj Sa, kharaj Pa, Sa and Ma). So it would be SSSS, PPPP, SSSS, MMMM, MMMM, SSSS, PPPP, SSSS. Note that the commas are shown for clarity. When you play, there should be absolutely no pause. By pause I mean the length between notes being greater than regular speed. So if the time gap between the fourth kharaj S and the first kharaj P is greater than the time gap between each of the prior kharaj Sas then you are practicing it wrong. Practice DOES NOT make perfect…only PERFECT practice makes perfect. You should become so good at this that you can play without looking and are able to play with some speed without hitting other strings and without missing any strokes.

Then start reducing the number of notes down to 3, 2, 1. So it would be SSSPPPSSSMMM/MMMSSSPPPSSS and then SSPPSSMM/MMSSPPSS and the SPSM/MSPS. Get these various patterns and your practice up to about 30 minutes at least.

Then and only then start working your left hand.

Your first left hand practice should be to identify the second, third and fourth invisible fret. I say invisible because there is no fret really but there is an imaginary one and this is exactly where your nail has to land. If it does not, you will have a bad note. The first fret is all flat notes. The first, second and third finger should align with the second, third and fourth frets. To do this practice properly and develop awesome technique (before you ever ever ever play the SRGMPDNS scale), do the following. Play SR on kharaj S, then PD on kharaj P, then SR on plain S and then MP on plain M string and then repeat backwards from M string back to kharaj S. All of these will be with first finger. At the same time, however, your second and third fingers should be in the location above the imaginary third and fourth frets. When you switch strings, the second and third finger should follow onto the next string and maintain their position above the imaginary frets but only your first finger should press down. At this time, the second and third finger should not move involuntarily but stay where they are. Do not mess with the second and third finger yet. Do this exercise until you have mastered the location of the second imaginary fret and can play properly and in tune. To help master this, you can also start with groups of 4 and then reduce down to 3, 2 and then 1. SRSRSRSR, PDPDPDPD, etc. and then onto SRSRSR, PDPDPD, etc. and then onto SRSR, PDPD, etc. and then finally SR,PD, etc. Please, pay attention to timing, the commas shown should not be executed as pauses.

Once you have mastered the first fret, do the second and third ones. Again, make sure that first, second and third finger always hover about 3 to 5 mm above the string location at the correct imaginary fret locations (this will improve as you go...because you do not know where these are when you first start) and maintain this alignment above and along the strings when you switch strings and make sure that your left hand always appears nicely cupped over the neck. Open palms and third fingers that have to travel 4 inches to come land on the correct note are ugly looking and disadvantageous to your overall playing and speed improvement long term, not to mention accuracy. Your palm should not be touching or supporting the neck.

NOW go and learn the scale from someone….If you try to play the scale on your first lesson, I am sorry, unless you are some kind of genius, you will always set yourself up for future pain of unlearning bad habits.

Do read my post on pick and hand position because I have discussed the proper picking technique there.

Thanks and please do leave comments.

(I do plan on making youtube videos to clarify this post and the other one related to hand positioning)
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Gyurme

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Reply with quote  #2 
Thanks for the informative information regarding the sarod. I have thought of taking up the sarod, I play the oud which is also fretless and requires getting the left hand finger to the right place, more or less!
I have not played or tried lifting up a sarod yet, but your post has given me much to consider. May I ask, how heavy is a sarod in general? I assume that sarods without the metal toomba which attaches to the neck would be a bit lighter?
Next, I have read much on the importance of being blessed with having the right finger-nails to play sarod, and opinions on what is the best length for the finger-nail. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, and so it might help me and perhaps others to get a basic idea of what the preferred finger-nail lenths are by seeing some photos of sarod players finger, with close up views of the nails! Thanks!
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aparajit

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Reply with quote  #3 
Here is a picture of me playing (God knows when...but definitely long long ago cos my hair is all black). This was actually found and posted by another user on this board. You can see my fingernails quite clearly. The length is perfect for me, maybe even a little on the long side. Other players use shorter nails. The main idea is to have the nails stick out far enough that you can effectively use them without losing control. If you look at your fingernail from a perfectly vertical alignment to your nail bed...i.e. hold your fingers out in front of your head palm facing outward, then imagine the nail protruding about 1mm past the fleshy outline of the fingers. That is about enough. In the pic, my nails are considerably longer than that...
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Gyurme

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Reply with quote  #4 
you forgot to attach the pic!
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aparajit

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Reply with quote  #5 
http://www.batesville.k12.in.us/bms/Staff/enneking/images/sarod%20player.jpg

LOL...
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Gyurme

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Reply with quote  #6 
thanks for the pic aparajit, very nice looking sarod you have! Is the length of the finger-nails you have in the photo the average length needed to play sarod properly? I also play oud, and it requires to keep the finger-nails much shorter! Is it possible to play sarod properly with shorter finger-nails?
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aparajit

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Reply with quote  #7 
Yes...

and yes...my nails are a lot longer than they really need to be.
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mukesh gandhi

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Reply with quote  #8 
Wonderful article! explaining basics of learning sarod and i agree fully as i have gone through that stage and after getting in to the basics throughly and rigourously only you enjoy playing .
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wilsaxo

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Posts: 163
Reply with quote  #9 
Wow, Aparajit! Great post! This is much needed information. I can't wait to sit down with my sarod (which sadly will not be for a few days), but I am spending time sitting in the sarod position when I would normally sit only cross legged, in anticipation of practicing sarod. I agree with the logical small steps that you outline before any sargam is undertaken.

Cheers,
David
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wilsaxo

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Reply with quote  #10 
Aparajit, is that a pillow your sarod is sitting upon in your photo? If so, can you describe it?

David
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aparajit

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Posts: 100
Reply with quote  #11 
David,

The pillow in the photo was made by using red velvet, a hanger to give bends and wraps of some kind of craft foam which is not even really a foam but more of a 1 mm thick rubber like spongy material. I cannot remember what it is called. The shape of the pillow is such as to fill the vestigial bow hole at the bottom and provide a softer cushion to sit against my thigh for comfort as well as to raise the sarod a bit.

Thanks for the compliments, hope you read my other post on pick holding and stroke positions.

Apu
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