Sonority - strings

Western music

World music

As well as western instruments, other stringed instruments are found around the world.

Music of India

North Indian instruments

North Indian classical music ensembles have only a handful of players. Mostly, they play their instruments sitting on the floor. There are usually three elements in the ensemble:

  • soloist - either a singer or an instrumentalist playing the melody
  • percussion - usually tabla
  • drone - usually a tanpura, harmonium or electronic box
Woman playing the sitar
Woman playing the sitar

Here are more details about some of the solo instruments.

The sitar

  • Is a long-necked plucked string instrument with movable frets and a gourd resonator.
  • Is played by plucking the strings with a metal plectrum.
  • Has six or seven main strings and twelve or more sympathetic strings running underneath them, which resonate in sympathy
  • Has a characteristic shimmering sound.

Listen to the sitar played by Anoushka Shankar in the extract from Rag Desh.

The sarod

  • Is a plucked string instrument.
  • Is shorter than the sitar and has no frets.
  • Is played by plucking the strings with a large wooden plectrum.
  • Has main strings and sympathetic strings.
  • Can be played by sliding up and down the strings, producing ornaments.
  • Sliding effects distinguish the sarod from the sitar.

The sarangi

Sarangi player
Sarangi player

  • Is a fretless bowed instrument.
  • Is held in the lap.
  • Has three main strings and as many as 36 sympathetic strings.

The esraj

  • Is a bowed string instrument.
  • Is played sitting on the floor, like the sarangi, but has frets, like a sitar.
  • Has a number of sympathetic and drone strings.

String techniques

Pizzicato, glissando, staccato, tremolo, vibrato and a variety of other instrumental techniques are demonstrated in this video.


The string section (violin, viola, cello and double bass) is the foundation of the orchestra. The string orchestra is also its own ensemble. String instruments have been used as solo instruments from the Baroque period through to the 20th century. You can hear a solo violin in the concerto here:

You can hear the strings being a key part of the orchestral texture in Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 here: