Fact Checked

What is a Sitar?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

A sitar is a musical instrument of the lute family that is popular in India as well as areas of the Middle East such as Iran, Israel and Turkey. At first glance, the instrument may look like a very long-necked type of guitar. The body, or gourd, is made from a toomba, which is a hollowed out and dried pumpkin. The jawari, or bridge, regulates the instrument's tone. A sitar often has 21 to 23 strings, but not all of the strings are played.

The strings are layered in two levels. If one string is plucked, another string resonates, or sounds without having to be plucked. The sitar is considered a difficult instrument to master. It requires good dexterity and flexibility in the fingers because the notes are spaced far apart. The strings also need a lot of pressure placed on them to hold them down.

The sitar is played in India and many parts of the Middle East.
The sitar is played in India and many parts of the Middle East.

Since the frets on a sitar are movable and raised, it usually takes a considerable amount of practice to be able to hit the notes clearly. A guitar player may have an advantage in learning to play one, but the two instruments are still played very differently. Unlike the guitar, the sitar is played in two directions — vertically from top to bottom and horizontally from left to right. These two directions of notes cover the whole scale, and plucking the main string can access up to six notes on the scale. The plucking used is a right to left pulling motion and this is opposite the bending movement used in playing a blues guitar.

The sitar is over 400 years old and is traditionally used in Hindustani classical music. Its music is considered to be emotional and should be played in a heartfelt manner. Ravi Shankar is one of the most famous sitar players familiar to the western world. He taught George Harrison of The Beatles how to play the instrument, and Harrison played the it in at least three Beatles songs including Norweigan Wood. Other rock groups such as The Rolling Stones and Metallica have sitar music in several of their songs.

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Discussion Comments


I thought it was used in Asian music?


I was surprised to know that the body of the sitar is made of gourd, a relative of pumpkin. I have never seen a gourd, but it is a common vegetable in the east.

The best and most famous sitars are made in Calcutta (in the east) and Pandharpur (in the west, close to Mumbai) in India because they produce the best gourd there.

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    • The sitar is played in India and many parts of the Middle East.
      By: TRITOOTH
      The sitar is played in India and many parts of the Middle East.