Krsna Kirtana Songs est. 2001 www.kksongs.org
Sitar Tuning Guide
Tuning the sitar can be a very daunting task. Hopefully, this page can make the process a tad easier.
The tuning process is not so difficult if you have some experience in understanding relationships between various notes. Unlike Western tuning where frequencies and pitches are absolute, Indian tuning is based on the individual’s taste and the raga being performed. Each musician will vary. This is one way that will suffice.
The main string, known as the baj tar, is pointed by the ‘ma. You will tune the baj tar to the ma below the main Sa (hence the apostrophe before the ma).
The second string is tuned to the note ‘Sa, one octave below the main Sa. For Gayaki ang sitar players and Vilayat Khan disciples, this string will not appear in your sitar.
The third string is tuned to the note ‘‘Pa. This means the Pa falls in the second octave below the main Sa. It is indicated in parentheses, as this note is bound to change according to raga (for example, Malkauns would tune this to ‘‘ma) or by gharana.
The fourth string is tuned to the note ‘‘Sa. This means the Sa is exactly two octaves below the main Sa.
The fifth string is tuned to the note ‘Pa. This is the Pa below the main Sa. This is also in parenthesis, because this note is also bound to change according to gharana and raga. Vilayat Khan students will tune this note to Ga (or komal ga, depending on the raga).
The sixth and seventh strings are what are known as the drone strings, or the chikari strings. The provide the rhythmic drone and emphasis of the Sa. The sixth and seventh strings are tuned to the main Sa and Sa’ (Sa one octave above the main Sa), respectively.
If you do not have a tuner, these audio clips will help you get a sense of pitch. In addition, you may use these clips to help you tune your sitar.
Harmonium was used for a prolonged sound to assist you.
String 01 – ‘ma (Baj Tar)
String 06 – Sa (Chikari)
String 07 – Sa’ (Chikari)
Here is a video showing the sitar and the strings tuned. The example shows it in C#, but depending on your sitar range, you can pick any Sa, as long as the strings are not too loose or the strings are not too tight. If you want a sitar below B/C or above C#/D, you might want to get one shipped directly from India, which will be really expensive.
It is all based on the raga and personal style. The sympathetic strings are there to help you tune them to the notes of the raga or tune being played. Sympathetic strings range from the instrument size to quality. Usually the smallest number of sympathetics found for a decent sitar is eleven while the highest is fifteen. For general purposes for an eleven sympathetic stringed instrument:
(Tarab 01 is the tarab closes to Main String 7, or the highest chikari string)
TARAB 01 – Sa
TARAB 02 – ‘Ni
TARAB 03 – Sa
TARAB 04 – Re
TARAB 05 – Ga
TARAB 06 – ma
TARAB 07 – Pa
TARAB 08 – Dha
TARAB 09 – Ni
TARAB 10 – Sa’
TARAB 11 – Sa’
This is in assumption that this is a sampurna raga, or a raga that uses all seven notes. For audava and sadava ragas, the omitted notes must be replaced with doubles of a previous note. For instance, Raga Malkauns omits Re and Pa. Therefore, the Re string would need to be tuned either Sa or ga. Likewise, Pa must be tuned to ma or dha.
If there are true accidentals (both forms of a particular note are in the same raga, like Lalita and Khamaja), then try to incorporate all of the notes in the sympathetic strings to the best of ones ability.
UPDATED: June 23, 2009