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I've been listening to some sarod recently, and what struck me is how much more rhythmic even the alaap of sarod performances tends to be than vocal or other instrumental performances. This seems to be because of certain stylistic conventions -- sarod players seem to strum certain base (fundamental? not wise in the music-theoretic ways) notes almost simultaneously with the melodic lines, which yields not only to a very virtuosic effect, but also much more rhythmically focused music (even without, say, a tabla). See, for example, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's Raga Bageshwari (specifically see 8:00 or 17:00-24:00) or Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's Manjh Khamaj.

I was wondering if there's a name for this technique, and more importantly whether this is simply the usual method of playing sarod or whether this is a style unique to a specific gharana, or to khayal, etc.

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Do you mean something like these? and – Alexander Troup Nov 17 '13 at 23:47
Could you point out specific time spans (e.g. a specific movement) in your linked examples that are good examples of what you are referring to? – Dave Nov 18 '13 at 14:36
Sure, sorry about that: in Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's piece, see 8:00 or 17:00-24:00 or so. – Nilay Kumar Nov 19 '13 at 22:17
up vote 4 down vote accepted

What you're referring to (17:00-24:00)is the Jhala section of the alap (improvisation). The fundamental strings you can hear are called the Chikari, which are strummed to create a syncopated effect, and allowing the sarodist to accompany himself rhythmically. It can be thought of as approximating a percussion instrument such as the pakhawaj.

I'm not sure if playing the chikari is thought of as a technique, as it can be used anywhere to fill in a rest or pause. The busier Jhala isn't really a technique either as much as a stage in the evolution of the improv.

It is not particular to any gharana. They may use the chikari as similarly or differently as the regular strings.

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