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Equal Tempered Sitar

In addition to studying Hindustani classical sitar, and sort of playing it when I play solo at yoga classes, I also play at a fair amount of Kirtans, both locally in Boulder, CO but also a music/yoga festivals.

The sitar is tuned in just intonation as are most Indian instruments. Two notes in any just interval are members of the same harmonic series. To the ear, the intervals are very pure and there is no ‘beating’ between any two notes when played together. 

Prior to the invention of the ‘well-tempered’ clavier in Bach’s time, most if not all music used just intonation. However, this prevents key changes which ‘well’ or equal temperated solved. In equal temperament, an octave is divided into 12 equal intervals, each the 12th root of 2 apart. While the intervals are not perfect, since they don’t follow any harmonic series, and many intervals have noticeable “beats” when played together, this allows the musician to play in any key, without one key sounding worse than any other. Playing a melody or chord in the key of ‘C’ for example, sounds the same as the same melody or chord in another key, say F#, though obviously higher. Looked at another way, an interval of a 3rd in the key of ‘C’, the note ‘E’, is the same ‘E’ as the 2nd interval in the key of ‘D’. This may appear obvious, but in just intonation, a root note is recognized, say ‘C’ as in the example above and the 3rd is still ‘E’ and has a certain frequency. However if the root note is ‘D’, and the instrument is not retuned, then the 2nd interval has a different frequency than the ‘E’ in the key of ‘C’. This Wiki link explains it better than I can.

Since most Kirtan leaders use a harmonium or a guitar, both equal temperated instruments, a just intonation instrument like the sitar, or sarod can sound out of tune, particularly if the song is in a different root key than the instrument is tuned to. I tune my sitar to a root note (Sa) of ‘D’ and when playing in the Western key of D it sounds pretty in tuner. When playing in another key, such as ‘C’ or ‘G’, some notes can sound quite out of tune.

I brought up this problem to my friend and sitar player extraordinaire Ashwin Bastish and he showed me a sitar that was equal tempered and more or less chromatic. He explained that Bollywood sitarists have instruments like this to play in different keys.

His sitar had two modifications. The first was the addition of the komal (flat) Re and komal Dha frets, which are normally not present on the sitar. If a raga uses either of these notes, the suddah (normal or natural) Re and/or Dha frets are slid down into the komal position. The second modification moved the frets into equal tempered intervals. 

I took one of my sitars and made the same modifications, though I think his sitar also had additional frets in the upper register but I did not add these. I only added the komal Re and komal Dha frets which makes the sitar chromatic on the top or Baj string from the 4th (Ma) to the upper (Sa) or 1 1/2 octaves. The second (Jure or Jora) string is only really in tune for a fifth or sixth above its open note of Sa.

I also adjusted the fret positions using a chromatic tuner to an equal tempered scale which allows me to play in any key. While it sounds out of tune to me if playing solo in the Hindustani style, it sounds much better in Kirtan. This also allows me to tune on stage using a guitar tuner which is very convenient. I avoid the chikari and drone strings when playing in a key where those are ‘bad’ intervals. For example, in the key of ‘A’, the ‘D’ jora string and the two ‘D’ chikari strings are 4ths in the key of ‘A’ and generally don’t sound good.

When I first made this modification, I was frequently hitting wrong notes. I found that when the visual reference of the gap between the Sa and Re frets and the Pa and Dha frets was filled with another fret, I was getting ‘lost’. I’m sure a more experienced player would not have this problem but it showed that I was using this gap to find my way around. I also knew this because of similar mistakes when playing a raga with komal Re and/or Dha.

To solve this problem, I used dark stain to color the threads holding the komal Re and Dha frets on, which makes them much less visible. I also added white dots on the side of the neck as “fret markers’ on the Sa, Ga and Pa frets. With these changes, I make fever mistakes, and only occasionally, particularly when playing in a “difficult’ key, look at the neck and have to pause for a second to see where I am.

  

 

 


The Peace Within is released

My first ‘album’ was released last week. I have CDs for sale or it can be downloaded. Find out more at this page.

This is an entirely self-produced CD, and I’m not sure I want to go through that again! Input and feedback from one or more other people is helpful and I think the songs probably could have been better, and it certainly would have been more fun to have other musicians involved, but that’s difficult in a tiny bedroom studio. I’m fairly happy with the artwork but I’d rather have that done by others. But it was very cheap to produce this way so for a first effort, I’m happy. I want to continue to write songs in preparation for other opportunities.

I didn’t think I was going to be playing a lot in November but it’s turned out to be a pretty busy month. I am headed to California for a month starting December 2nd and have a couple yoga classes I’ll be playing at there. Need to follow up with the teachers and add those to my schedule.

I got a note today from a to-be-named-later artist who wants me to join their Spring tour through the west. I’m pretty excited about the opportunity and there will be lots of opportunities to sell CDs if it all works out. More later when they get dates confirmed.

CD Baby and Festivals

I am now on CD Baby. Two songs should be up soon for download. My artist page is here. The songs will eventually be on iTunes, Amazon and others as well.

Had a great time at the Arise Music Festival. Played at 8 or 9 yoga classes and gave a concert as well. I have a few videos from the concert on You Tube:

Timeless

Raag Khamaj

The Peace Within

I am headed to Bhakti Fest to play with Ananda and Jaya Lakshmi. Hope to see you there.

Boulder Performances 2013

Had the good fortune to play at two Kirtans the past few days. I was invited by Sita and Craig to sit in with them at Om Time on Saturday the 29th. This was a really nice concert because it was simple, compared to the bigger events at Shakti Fest or the Denver Chant Fest. Then last night July 2nd, Jaya and Ananda performed at the Double Rainbow Ranch and Steve Bross and I accompanied them. They  have beautiful voices and really sweet songs. I found it challenging because of the their songs had several chord changes versus the simpler changes of most Kirtan music, and they were not in "base" keys of the sitar or the Mohan Veena for the most part, though often it was the related minor scale. Kept me on my toes though. Ended up playing the Veena 60% of the time which I enjoyed. 

Hanuman Festival 2013

The Hanuman festival in Boulder was really nice this year. The weather was milder for one thing, and there were many great yoga teachers. Santosh Powell performed an opening puja which I played at, and I played once again with Saul David Raye and host of great musicians for a kirtan on Thursday night. A Hanuman video with some excerpts from the kirtan is here.

Shakti Fest 2013

Had a great time at Shakti Fest this past weekend. Played with a bunch of musicians including Tazdeen Rashid, Jim Beckwith, DJ Drez, Tulsi Devi, Melia Kulp and more at a Kali Puja led by Aditi Devi early(!) Saturday morning. Later Saturday morning I played at a class led by Mark Whitwell which was challenging because it was very trancy. No steady rhythm but structured around synth drones, processed guitar, a gong and lots of Tibetan bowls, bells and assorted percussion. Quite a challenge to find a place to fit.

Saturday afternoon I played for Saul David Raye's yoga class with a whole slew of musicians led by Dave Stringer on vocals. Over 200 yoga students rockin' it out. Then Sunday morning at another class led by Saul, Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda Yogiji led an even bigger band featuring Jim, Steve Gorn, Clarity (Dana Delong) and others I couldn't even keep track of. Another full house of yogis and yoginis. 

March 2nd, 2013

It was one year ago yesterday that I arrived in Boulder and it has been quite a year. I'm very grateful to Linda Baird for giving me a bunch of names of musicians to contact, and I am particularly grateful to Jim Beckwith for having me sit in with him at several gigs that realy got me going. Thanks Jim!

I am playing today at 4:00 for Debra Simpson's Yin class at Prana on Pearl St., and tomorrow at Yoga Pod with jeanie Manchester at 9:30a.

There have been a few videos from the Dave Stringer concert appearing on the web and I have created a playlist on You Tube for some of them. 

I expect that my career as a medical device test engineer will be ending on April 5th and I'm really looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I plan to not 'work' through the spring and summer, spending time exploring Colorado, visting friends, practicing all my instruments a lot more (and yoga too!) and hopefully hitting a few of the summer festivals, instruments in hand. I alo plan to train for the Bolder Boulder 10K. 


Saturday 2/23/13

It's been over a week, but the Dave Stringer show was great. He had a really good band and it was good seeing Dave and Joni Allen again. The audience seemed to really be getting into it and if I played even a tiny part in that, then cool. I think that is the largest audience I've ever played for.

I play next Sunday March 3rd at Yoga Pod, 9:30am. Rearranging my song "The Peace Within" so will try that again and perhaps do a new piece called "Three Waters". Also planning on doing John McLaughlin's "A Lotus on Irish Streams" again and transition into "Om Namah Shivaya" from Dave Stringer's new album Ojas. 

Yoga Pod February 10th at 9:30a

I will be playing this Sunday 2/10 at Yoga Pod. Class starts at 9:30a with Jeannie Manchester leading the asana practice. Planning some interesting things including my first public attempt at afro pop. We'll see how it goes! 

Yogathon April 27th

I will be playing the 54 Sun Salutation event at this year's Yogathon presented to benefit the Yoga Initiative. The Wellness Initiative (TWI) was founded in 2006 to provide yoga to students in Colorado and address the growing concern that students of all ages suffer from increasingly stressful and unhealthy lives.

Jeannie Manchester will be leading the Surya Namaskar practice so come join us for a great cause. And if 54 aren't enough salutations for you, there will also be a 108 Surya Namsakar event with Jim Beckwith leading the music. I played with him at this event last year and which room you choose to practice in, it will rock! The event will be held at the Naropa University building on 63rd and Arapahoe in Boulder. Last year the event raised $32,000 so let's beat it this year.

I also found out I will be playing the opening event at Yoga Rocks the Park in Denver on May 26th. Details to follow!

And tonight I got the tracks from Dave Stringer's new live album 'Ojas' which we will be playing at the Denver Chant festival with a bunch of great local musicians including yours truly.