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Harry D Collier IV

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Hello from a new member,

I play the bass guitar and while I like it a lot I have always had the feeling that I am missing something.  I do not play music professionally but rather play in the morning and evening to just entertain myself.

Recently, I heard a recording of a surbahar and imediately I knew that it was the sound I had been searching for.  It was peaceful and really felt like the soul crying out to commune with the universe.

I am going to buy a surbahar within 6 months and have found a place online that looks decent and has great reviews.  Stillm the thought of this instrument scares the life out me.  
I do not have a teacher locally and so I am worried that I may not be able to figure it out.  The tuning and technique and different things.
I am sure that it wouldn't be a wasted investment and I do not want to learn to play professionally but rather as part of a daily meditation.

I hope to learn a lot in the forums and thank you for having me.

Harry

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dannyzen

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I want leartn too, looks great
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nicneufeld

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Reply with quote  #3 
Just some of my thoughts on your situation, which I can identify with...

Sitar and surbahar are not easy instruments to go in halfway on...they aren't terribly forgiving of the casual approach (few classical instruments are) and please don't assume that guitar or bass background will help you especially...while certain mechanical skills for fretted instruments are common, in general people without a teacher who come from a guitar background end up hampering themselves more than helping with bad habits and bad form (ask me how I know, hah). 

While you may not want to sign on with a teacher (if you can afford to and are willing to invest, I would recommend it, but those are big if's), I would at least recommend getting good instructional material such as the Indrajit Banerjee DVDs sold by Rain City Music.  Not as good as a teacher, but better than nothing.  Early on, having proper form is essential...playing a certain way (outside of correct form) may feel natural or easier at the time, but as you progress, the proper posture, form and technique are required and it is best to start with it properly.  Local teachers are hard to find, sometimes, but even if you only do a few lessons, remote lessons work fine, I did them for many years via Skype or Google Hangouts.

And that kind of segues into another thing...I would recommend considering starting with sitar.  Surbahar is a much more daunting instrument in many respects.  Larger scale, heavier, more range of meend.  I was, like you, initially most taken with the sound of surbahar, and I eventually purchased one, but not after I had some time under my belt learning sitar and while people will (correctly) be quick to point out that the surbahar is not just a big bass sitar, and should not be approached as if it was, many of the rudimentary skills and techniques (as well as the basis of Indian classical music) are the same for both.  Also, finding teachers and instructional material for surbahar is difficult.  I took lessons for 5 years with someone I consider to be one of the world's greatest surbahar players and we only ever did sitar! [smile] 

Another thing to consider...be careful where you buy your instrument from.  If its cheap....it probably is cheap, if you follow....sitars and surbahars known around here as "firewood" are extremely common and a wellspring of frustration to new players who think that because of their modest intentions ("don't want to play professionally" is fairly common, I'm sure I said it! [smile] ) a cheap instrument will suit their needs.  The way these instruments are built, with wooden pegs, etc...a poorly made instrument that won't stay in tune will likely frustrate you to no end, so consider looking into a well reputed vendor, such as the aforementioned Rain City Music who I can attest to, or a few other vendors (the Ali Akbar School of Music had a store that rebranded to something else, don't recall its new name, but it enjoyed a similarly good reputation).

Any questions, just ask...
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barend

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Reply with quote  #4 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nicneufeld
I took lessons for 5 years with someone I consider to be one of the world's greatest surbahar players and we only ever did sitar!..


Who was your teacher Nic?
And to the OP: where do you live?

I agree with everything Nic said. It is hard to find a surbahar teacher. Skype might be the only option. Or start with sitar if you can find a teacher. Then after a year or so switch to surbahar. At least you have a good basic technique by then and you can move on from there. And be sure to find a decent instrument.
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Harry D Collier IV

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Thank you for your replies.  You have definitely addressed some of my concerns.  I am willing to put in the time but the teacher thing is a problem.  I am located in Moscow, Russia and there is a great surbahar player in St. Petersburg but I do not believe he teaches the instrument.  Also, believe it or not I do not speak the local language (Russian) so that is a problem with local lessons as well.
I will try looking for a Skype teacher but cost is a major factor.  It is not that I am unwilling to pay for quality lessons but I have family commitments and the like so it might not be possible.
The shop I found is called AlbaMusicShop and they have sold sitars and surbahars to a lot of people in Russia including the man I know of in St. Petersburg.  I have talked to the owner of AlbaMusicShop and he seems like a decent person and the reviews for his instruments are very high.
I have a lot to think about now.  I really want to learn this instrument but perhaps now is not the time to do it.

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nicneufeld

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Quote:
Originally Posted by barend
Who was your teacher Nic? 

Better than I certainly warranted, that's for sure!  Started weekly lessons with Ustad Imrat Khan in 2011 and we kind of wrapped up about a year ago, health issues, and such.  He didn't do a lot of teaching or playing of surbahar in recent years (like I said, it's a physically demanding instrument, particularly my somewhat cheaper one that is basically a hollowed out tree trunk...the lighter, smaller Hiren Roys are amazing though...I held one of Ustadji's once briefly to put it back in the case when I visited him in St Louis  [eek] [love]).  But he was the first surbaharist I ever heard (youtube video of him playing Yaman in Japan, I think), so it was pretty amazing that a concatenation of circumstances led to me being able to study with him.  A very kind and patient teacher with a tremendous amount of historical and musical knowledge, and a sharply funny wit from time to time!

Harry, good luck with your journey.  What I would recommend doing even before you purchase an instrument is research, learning, and listening.  Learn the fundamentals of Indian classical, such as the sargam, and start listening to lots of recordings of some of the masters (Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Nikhil Banerjee are often considered the triumvirate among sitarists but there are a great many others still with us).  Maybe choose a single raag to focus on (many start with Yaman, it has a pleasing Lydian mode sound and is not too complex) and tune your ear to hear the notes in the sargam (ie, you can follow what notes are being played, Ni Re Ga, etc).  A little immersion in the music makes it easier when you do actually decide to get an instrument and learn.
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Harry D Collier IV

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Thank you again for the advice. I head a raga today called Vageeshwari that I really liked. Looked up some YouTube videos and found the notes on my bass.
I have no idea the concept of ragas yet. Do the notes always go in order or are they more like scales where notes can be skipped over?
I am learning what I can on an acoustic fretless bass guitar at the moment so while I cannot meend I can do long slides to kind of get the sound.
Unless there is a major reason not to I think I will just start with vageeshwari or is it bhageeshwari and keep playing the notes until those sounds become natural to me.
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nicneufeld

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I'm guessing that's an alternate rendering of the raag Bageshri (Bageshree, Bageshwari, Vhageshwari, etc).  That's one that is a little bit complicated, I think, because it skips Pa (the fifth) on ascent and so to my ears it can be hard to center the Sa/root (the ear can quickly start to hear Ma, the fourth, as the root and then it sounds like a mixolydian scale/khammaj thaat...but maybe that's my hangup).

Short, really boiled down version, I'm sure a good pedant could correct many mistakes or overgeneralizations here but I'm keeping it simple...but the notes you use in Bageshri are 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7.  In Hindustani music this is komal ga (flatted third) and komal ni (flatted seventh).  Now, that's just the scale and there are tons of raags that use those notes (categorized as "Kafi thaat", similar to Dorian mode).

With Bageshri though, the important thing is in ascent vs descent.  That is, as you go up the scale, you omit the 2nd (Re) and the fifth (Pa).  So 1 b3 4 6 b7 1 would be fine (get used to the sargam notation, that would be S g m D n S').  As you descend the scale, you add the 5th and 2nd back in.  There are particular movements as to how this is done particularly with Bageshri but that's sort of an "in the ballpark" idea.

As far as playing with your fretless, I used to do just that with both my fretted and fretless bass.  You can very readily approximate the main string tunings of sitar or surbahar on the instrument.  Just detune your E to D, and your Sa is now in the key of D.  D A D G, corresponding to low Sa, Pa, Sa, Ma.  On sitar almost all of your playing is on the Ma string, with your Sa centered around 7th fret position (there are a lot of exceptions to this guys I know [smile] ).  When I was tinkering with electric bass "raag" music, I basically just used the lower strings to occasionally add a bit of drone.  Obviously there are some major components missing (the taraf/sympathetic strings, and the chikari / high pitched drone strings) but no reason you can't start learning fundamentals of music on a bass.  The South Indians in particular are surprisingly adept at adapting just about any kind of musical instrument...I saw a concert live once with a South Indian saxophone player, and recently have seen pedal steel guitar players from India (I've been tinkering with an old tri-neck Fender Stringmaster lately).

Good luck!
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Harry D Collier IV

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OK, just tried the dropped D tuning and what a difference it made.  Also I watched some videos of the sitar today and only the index finger is used for playing the note and it is done from the knuckles.  I practiced a very similiar movement last year for playing chords on my bass so it is almost natural to me.  I just need to only hit one string instead of multiple ones.
Also, all the notes are played on a single string and that is going to take a bit of getting used to but should improve my bass playing (if nothing else) as I need to break away from set patterns and figure out where the notes are in a linear fashion.  I saw that only the index finger is used on the fret board (except the middle finger at a turnaround (according to the lady on youtube)).  This again will take some getting used to but while I am saving up for a surbahar (or maybe a sitar first) it won't hurt practice these things.
Thanks again for all your help.  Most of my doubts have been cleared and I feel like the surbahar is possible.

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nicneufeld

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Yeah, hand positioning can be a big issue.  Right hand technique (the use of a mizrab/plectrum, the anchoring of the thumb, opening and closing the hand as one unit for up and down strokes) is so different from guitar/bass that I wouldn't sweat that until you actually get a sitar or surbahar.  It is a completely different animal.  Left hand technique, that's basically right.  Unlike guitar where you tend to move laterally across the strings, you really don't do that on sitar.  You move up and down the neck.  And you use only two fingers (leaving aside the liberties taken by masters, and rare things like a pinky strike of the taraf strings)...index finger most of the time, and then as you hit the top note of any ascent, middle finger...then as you descend, back to index finger.  Also to clarify my "you move up and down the neck" statement, it is also true that you play across the frets...not across the neck, but on the string bending across the very unique raised frets (the note-bending called meend).  Great players can play whole passages on a single string and fret with perfect precision and clarity!  On a bass, mechanically its different, so nothing to worry about now.
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Harry D Collier IV

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So, I looked up Yaman and that is not only easy seems more straight forward than the raga I was trying it sounds nice on my bass.  I found a video on Youtube of Pandit Kushal Das playing it.  He is the first person I ever heard play surbahar so naturally at this stage my favorite.
I am going to just work on learning the sounds of the notes from this raga until I order a surbahar.  I am thinking I will order in June so about six months of just playing this everyday and listening to others play it and getting a good feel for it.
I know there is years, a lifetime ahead of me, but for now this shall suffice.
Thanks again

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StVitus

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Be aware that good surbahars are rare and generally sell before they’re built. It can take up to a year to get one after you pay for it.
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Harry D Collier IV

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So I am sure I know the answer but there are several websites of makers and eBay stores that claim to make their own surbahars, are all of these unplayable?
I know they might not be the best of quality but for a beginner they would still be no good?
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nicneufeld

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry D Collier IV
So I am sure I know the answer but there are several websites of makers and eBay stores that claim to make their own surbahars, are all of these unplayable? I know they might not be the best of quality but for a beginner they would still be no good?


Roll of the dice, really.  It could defy some of the odds and be a fine instrument.  But from general experience around here, there are a lot of sad tales of eBay specials being wallhangers and virtually unplayable.  If your pegs are constantly slipping, you will never sound good, trust me...it takes a well made instrument to have 20 strings all holding perfect pitch with wooden friction pegs in a hollow neck.  And these instruments, tuning is so critical.  It can be just a hair off and everything sounds dead and murky, but have everything tuned and in sur, a good instrument comes alive.

I have no personal experience with either vendor but here are a couple vendors in the EU, I've heard of them, at least, before:

http://www.sitarsencat.com

http://www.india-instruments.com

If trying to buy direct from a maker in India, I would get a lot more advice from people here with experience (more than me).  Many people who do that actually travel there.  There have been a LOT of stories of people getting taken advantage of.  Personally for me its too risky given the investment.  But when you're evaluating a possible sight-unseen purchase, working with a reputable importer is a bit of a safety net.  Lars of Rain City Music in the US, for example, is a member here and has a good reputation (one that he is not going to want to endanger by shipping someone a shabby or unusable instrument).  You pay a bit more in the short term but if a cheap instrument needs a lot of work to make it playable (if that is even possible) it may make sense.

Like I said, you could get lucky, just understand some of the risk when you buy from an ebay seller.  A lot of those type places have no real knowledge of the instruments, don't perform any setup, and just ship boxes in and out.  If you compare prices from the encat / rain city / musicians mall (the other one I was thinking of: https://www.musiciansmallusa.com/) folks, and you find a surbahar for half the price, odds are greatly in favor of there being a distinct reason for the disparity in cost.

Also, bear in mind surbahars naturally cost a lot more than sitars.  Personally I think you might be happier with a high quality sitar than a low quality surbahar, for probably the same price.  I play Imdadkhani style sitar which uses extra chikari / drone strings in place of the bass strings, but if you play the somewhat more common kharaj pancham style sitar, it has the lower strings that were added to give a surbahar type sound during alap.  In the year or so I had a sitar with those strings on it, I never quite got that purring growl Raviji coaxed out of it but it still gives you that deep tone:








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Harry D Collier IV

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Reply with quote  #15 

I fully understand what you are saying about the risk.  I am not a rich man and so I cannot afford to buy a wallhanger.  I don't want to advertise (I am not sure what we are allowed to post) but for Russia http://albamusicshop.ru/catalog/ seems to be the best option.  I know a few people who have ordered sitars from them and I have talked to the owner who sent me a video of them making instruments in India.  The only surbahar player I know in Russia orders from them.
It does seem very cheap when compared to other websites though.

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