The sitar (Hindi: सितार, Urdu: ستار, Persian: سیتار ) is a plucked stringed instrument predominantly used in Hindustani classical music, where it has been ubiquitous since the Middle Ages. It derives its resonance from sympathetic strings, a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber.
Used throughout the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the sitar became known in the western world through the work of Pandit Ravi Shankar beginning in the late 1950s, particularly after George Harrison of The Beatles took lessons from Shankar and Shambhu Das and played sitar in songs including “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. Shortly after, The Rolling Stones used sitar in “Paint It Black” and a brief fad began for using the instrument in pop songs.
The instrument is balanced between the player’s left foot and right knee. The hands move freely without having to carry any of the instrument’s weight. The player plucks the string using a metallic pick or plectrum called a mizraab. The thumb stays anchored on the top of the fretboard just above the main gourd. Generally only the index and middle fingers are used for fingering although a few players occasionally use the third. A specialized technique called “meand” involves pulling the main melody string down over the bottom portion of the sitar’s curved frets, with which the sitarist can achieve a 7 semitone range of microtonal notes (it should be noted, however, that because of the sitar’s movable frets, sometimes a fret may be set to a microtone already, and no bending would be required).
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