The sarod is a Hindustani classical instrument (often said to be the ‘male’ to the sitar’s ‘female’), which has its roots in the Afghan rabab.
In the 19th century the rabab was put through an Indian transformation: its gut strings replaced with steel; its wooden playing board replaced with chromed steel; and up to 15 sympathetic strings added. The goatskin sounding board that carries the bridge, and the solid wood body were retained.
The instrument is plucked with a piece of coconut in the right hand as a plectrum, and the fingernails of the first two fingers of the left hand are used to press the steel strings onto the steel plate to modulate the sound. Slides are made by sliding the fingernails up and down the four playing strings.
In addition there are four strings all tuned to the basic tonic note. These are used as a drone and to provide rhythm. The eleven to fifteen sympathetic strings beneath the main playing strings are not struck, but resonate ‘sympathetically’ with the equivalent notes when played on the strings above. This provides a fuller and more resonant sound.
The best known player of sarod was Ali Akbar Khan, who passed away on 20th June 2009. Yehudi Menuhin considered him the most outstanding musical genius of the twentieth century in any musical tradition.