Indian Masterclass – Edward Powell
Edward Powell’s masterclass, how to play fretless, Indian style.
How to Play Fretless Guitar – Indian Style
The first thing to do is to begin to experiment with open tunings, such as DADGAD (if you play in “D”). My favorite tuning is DADEAD (key of “A”), the “g 3rd” string I use is made of plain bronze because wound stings are not good for sliding, and plain steel strings sound too lifeless at that thickness.
The next thing to do is to learn a few basic Indian scales. You can start with the Dorian Mode (Kafi Thaat), Phrygian Mode (Bhairavi Thaat), Major scale (Bilaval Thaat)… or basically ANY 5, 6, or 7 note scale you can think of as long as you have; -the tonic, -the perfect 4th, OR the sharp 4th, OR the perfect 5th (at least one of these 3 notes) -do not include both the sharp AND flat 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, or 7th tones.
…following these guidlines you can create your own Indian or Indian sounding scales. Or at least it is a very good beginning.
The next thing to do is to somehow aquire as many recordings of Indian Sarod music as you can, and then completely immerse yourself in that for several years! This is no joke. Just listen to as much Sarod as you can and you will slowly start to play like that. This is no torture by the way… in my opinion the Sarod is the most beautiful sounding instrument ever created.
To get the “sarod sound” from your guitar you must play by contacting your fingernails to the fingerboard with your left hand. This works fine if you only play for about 30 or 45 minutes a day. If you play more than that you will not have any fingernails left after a week or so. What most players do is to build the nails up with a mixture of Krazy Glue and baby powder. I only do this in periods of heavy playing because I feel that gluing things to my body is surely toxic and a health hazard. I have experimented extensively with various types of thimbles for the fingertips, but so far nothing has worked out perfectly to my satisfaction.
If you just want to get the “Indian sound” it is not essential to study ragas in depth, although that would surely be the most thorough way to do it. The minimum is to get an understanding of how phrasing is executed in Indian vocal music. That is the essence of it.
To understand the basics it is first important to understand that the “Indian sound” is nothing more that a “style”… it is like learning a new language, or perhaps more accurate, a new ACCENT. Sort of like learning to speak English with an Indian or Chinese accent. In order to do that you simply MUST listen and listen and listen to how they speak… and then do your best to try to take it apart and copy sounds and phrases.
To give a few hints; Indian phrasing is basically a combination of 4 different ways of playing one note. Indian phrasing does NOT use vibrato! All the ornamentations are elaborate combinations of actual and specific notes. (not just “shaking” individual notes – as in Western vibrato). The 4 ways to “hit” a note are; playing “c” 1-from below (b – c, a – c …etc) 2-from above (d – c) 3-from straight on (- c) 4-from “around” (d – c – b – c )
…the most important thing to note here is that -for example- if you play from below, b – c, you “glide” between these 2 notes. The “gliding” between the notes is the main point.
What is hard for Westerners to digest and understand is that the most common way for a note to be “hit” in Indian music is FROM ABOVE! You sort of “fall on” each note.
But finally the most important thing in any attempt to “catch” this style, is to listen listen and listen some more to good Sarod music. My favorite player by far is Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. And of course any amount of private instruction from someone knowing Indian music would be indespensible.