Title: Ustad Ali Akbar Khan: The Forty Minute Raga—Raga Marwa; Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, sarod. Label: Connoisseur Society. Format: LP. Catalogue#: CS 2008. Track: A-1.

Contextual Associations

The sarod is a plucked bowl-lute chordophone of northern India and Pakistan. Today the sarod is an important solo Hindustani (northern Indian) classical music instrument along with the sitar, and is usually accompanied by tabla and tambura. In the past it was also used for vocal accompaniment. The traditional hierarchical master-disciple (ustad-sagird amongst Muslim musicians) relationship through which performance knowledge is closely guarded and transmitted in Hindustani music led, in the late 19th and early 20th century, to the two prominent stylistic lineages (gharanas) of sarod playing that still exist today, one founded by Ghulam Bandagi, the other by Allauddin Khan. These two gharanas differ not only in style but also in their details of instrument design; the sarod pictured here is for performance in the Allauddin Khan style. Historically, performance contexts of sarod playing (and Hindustani classical music in general) were defined by patron-artist relationships, an artist performing for a patron and selected guests. However, modern performance contexts have expanded to large music festivals (sangit sammelan) and urban concert halls. Women do not typically perform sarod or other Hindustani instruments, but the number of female classical musicians of this instrument has been growing steadily since the mid-20th century. Since the 1960s sarodiyas (sarod players) have traveled to major cosmopolitan centers around the world to perform, and one, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (a son of Allauddin Khan), has opened Hindustani music schools in Europe and the United States.


The body of the sarod is carved from a single block of teakwood and includes two separate resonating spaces: one, the resonator proper, is hemispheric and covered with a taut glued-on goatskin, the other, the neck, is rectilinear with tapering sides and covered with a thin, slightly convex sheet of nickel-plated metal. A distinctive waist marks the boundary between the resonator to the neck. The body continues beyond the top end of the neck with a tapering pegblock. A nut made of bone is located where the neck and pegblock meet. The sarod pictured here has a total of twenty-one metal strings all of which pass over or through the large and wide bone bridge (ghora) that rests upright on the resonator soundtable (see Detail photo): four melody strings (one bronze and three steel) and two rhythm strings (cikari) made from steel pass over the bridge; four steel drone strings (javari) pass through a short row of holes drilled in the face of the bridge; and eleven steel sympathetic strings (taraf)) pass through a longer row of holes drilled in the face of the bridge below the row of javari strings. One end of each string is wound around a wooden friction tuning peg, the other is looped around one of five studs on a common metal string holder that is firmly secured to the resonator bowl. The tuning pegs for the four melody strings are located on the far side of the pegblock (as seen in the image on this page), those for the four javari strings are on the near side of the pegblock, the two cikari string pegs penetrate the side of the neck, and the eleven taraf string pegs are arranged in two parallel rows on the side of the neck close to where it meets the resonator. Unlike the other strings, the taraf ones pass through raised holes in the fingerboard and are wound around their tuning pegs inside the resonating chamber of the neck. A spherical metal second resonator is screwed to the bottom side of the pegblock. A triangular wooden or coconut-shell plectrum (not pictured), called a java, is used to pluck the strings.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A sarodiya sits cross-legged on the floor with the instrument resting nearly horizontally across his or her lap with the soundtable and fingerboard facing outward. If the sarodiya is right handed, the body’s waist rests upon the player’s slightly raised right thigh, the java is held in the right hand and used to pluck and strum the strings, and the fingers of the left hand are used to stop the melody strings against the fretless metal fingerboard. (All this would be reversed if the player were left handed, as would the arrangement and placement of the strings, pegs and the bridge.) The above described organization of the bridge allows the player access to three sets of strings each serving a distinct musical function: the melody strings, the drone strings, and the rhythmic punctuation stings. Only the melody strings are stopped; the javari and cikari strings are strummed at their full length only, and the taraf strings are only rarely sounded directly. A sarod is typically tuned to around a C4, which serves as the tonal center or ‘sa’ of the rag (mode) being performed. The six strings passing over the top of the bridge are tuned: F4 - C4 - G3 - C3 for the melody strings; and C5 - C5 for the cikari strings. The four javari strings are tuned to the seventh, second, third and first scale degrees of the rag being performed, and the taraf strings cover all the notes found in the scale of the rag. The player’s left hand fingernails, fingertips, or a combination of both are used to press the melodic strings against the fingerboard. The absence of frets invites the performance of melodic slides, which are characteristic of the sarod style. When played energetically, the instrument’s sound is percussive due in part to the membrane-covered soundtable. 


The sarod is thought to have come into existence in the early 19th century CE, evolving from other South Asian plucked and bowed lutes of the period. As mentioned above, over the course of its short history at least two standard models of the instrument have been established and co- to the present.

Bibliographic Citations

Dick, Alastair. 1984. “Sarod.” NGDMI v.3: 298-299.

Miner, Allyn. 2000. "Musical Instruments: Northern Area." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 5. South Asia. ed. Alison Arnold. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 331-349.

Slawek, Stephen. 2000. "The Classical Master-Disciple Tradition." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 5. South Asia. ed. Alison Arnold. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 457-467.

Wade, Bonnie. 1979. Music in India: The Classical Traditions. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: India

Formation: Indo-Aryan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.321 chordophone--necked bowl lute: the handle is attached to or carved from the resonator, like a neck

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - integral

Resonator design, chordophone: bowl with membrane soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to ridge-nut/s and to fingerboard hole/s

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: plucking (direct) and sympathetically (through air)

Pitches per string course: one and multiple (by pressure stopping against fretless fingerboard)


44.5 in. length

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
string - wire
metal - sheet

Entry Author

Roger Vetter, Toby Austin