The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument used in Hindustani and Indian classical music. The instrument descended from lutes and was also influenced by the veena, an ancient Indian instrument. The body is characterized by a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber at the lower end. Teak wood or tun wood are commonly used for the neck and faceplate. The instrument looks a lot like the tanpura, except that it has frets.
Here are a few more sitar facts. This unique instrument has 18, 19, or 20 strings. Six or seven are played strings which run over curved, raised frets. The rest are sympathetic strings which run underneath the frets and resonate in sympathy with the played strings. The frets are movable, which allows fine tuning.
More Sitar Facts
A person who performs on this string instrument is called a sitarist.
Notable sitarists include Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Ashwin Batish, Anjan Chattopadhyay, Annapurna Devi, Reenat Fauzia, Lowell George (Little Feat), George Harrison (The Beatles), Justin Hayward (Moody Blues), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Shri Premadasa Hegoda, Prem Joshua, Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan and The Khan Family, Al Gromer Khan, Gabby La La, Dr. Swarn Lata, Emily Robison (Dixie Chicks), Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar, and Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones).
Lord Ganesha Playing Sitar
The Sitar in Mainstream Pop Culture
Though highly popular in the Indian culture, the sitar gained fame on the worldwide stage when the Beatles featured the instrument in several of their compositions. Sitarist Ravi Shankar inspired lead guitarist George Harrison to play the instrument on the song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1965. “Love You To,” written and sung by George Harrison in 1966, was the first Beatles song to fully embrace Indian classical music.
George Harrison received one-on-one guidance from Ravi Shankar during a seven-week visit to India, which left a lasting impact on his musical style. He promoted Indian music for the remainder of his long and successful career.
Brian Jones played the instrument on The Rolling Stones 1966 hit “Paint It Black.” Another English guitarist, Dave Mason, played it on Traffic’s 1967 hits “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe.” Ravi Shankar described this pop song trend as “the great sitar explosion.”
Brian Jones Playing Sitar
Painting by John Froehlich
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Listen to the Sitar
Performed by Anoushka Shankar
Anoushka Shankar is the daughter of Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Anoushka began training with her father at the age of seven, eventually accompanying him on the tanpura. She was 13 when she performed sitar onstage for the first time at a concert celebrating her father’s 75th birthday. After establishing herself as a respected classical sitarist, Anoushka began composing music. Her unique style blends Indian music with flamenco, jazz, electronica, and Western classical genres. Musical talent runs in the family. Both she and her half-sister Norah Jones were nominated for Grammy awards in 2003.
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