How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano - - new book

Additional Information

A collection of 24 Indian Sitar Raags completely reinvented for piano.  Available from On BMIC is a selection of 73 out of 258 pages from the book.

Sheet music for piano solo: a set of 24 raags, newly composed within a traditional raag genre, one for each of night and day, sunset to sunset, encompassing a wide array of moods, and based on over twenty fascinating scales.

Plus: Step by step instructions to play each of the pre-composed and improvised sections of Indian raags, written for pianists who are used to playing European classical music and jazz, Instructions to play any of these raags in a duet or at two pianos, and hundreds of musical examples.

Learn to play North Indian classical sitar music on a piano.  This brand new collection of 24 raags will be enjoyed by good amateur pianists through to virtuosic professionals.  It is suitable for any pianists who enjoys discovering new music, or who had an interest in music from other cultures, or who knows the pleasure of jazz noodling and wants to explore a rewarding and fresh (but centuries-old) form of improvisation.

Indian raags have an extraordinary musical heritage dating back several centuries (from the area that is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) - a truly unique musical genre of fascinating melodic beauty and rhythmic intricacy - freely combining elaborate composed melodies with carefully rehearsed improvisation.

But now the amazing world of Indian raags has been opened up in this sympathetic but thorough reinvention for piano solo (or duet or two pianos) by an award-winning British composer.


Includes these 24 raags:

Kalyani "Bliss" (excerpts:

Hemvati "Golden Mountain Stream"

Latangi "Little Girl"

Desh "Sweeping Landscape"

Vachaspati "Wise Old Man"

Gezellish "Gazelle"

Kalavati "Moonlight"

Bageshri "The Waiting Bride"

Neenda "Sleep"

Paraj "Pollen on the Breeze"

Lalit "Elegant Mischief"

Jogiya Kalingra "Aroma of Saffron"

Chakravaak "Ruddy Goose"

Kofi "Intense Coffee"

Suraja "Morning Sun"

Bilaskhani Todi "Mourning"

Asawari "Full of Hope"

Todi "Lady in the Forest"

Gaud-Sarang "Lunchtime Bell"

Madhuvanti "Flowing with honey"

Patdeep "Stealing my heart"

Charukesh "Beautiful Hair"

Poorvi "From the East"

Puriya "Satisfaction"



Dr Gail Fischler, Piano Bench Magazine December 2017

“Do you want to widen your personal improvisational skills? Perhaps build a compelling world improvisation or composition unit for your late intermediate to advanced students? John Pitts’ How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano might just be the ticket. It is truly bursting with information, ideas and advice-253 of them to be exact.

John is to be commended for tackling such a vast cultural form. Indian sitar players study for lifetimes to perfect their art. To attempt to explain it in a single book so that western musicians can use the elements of a Raag respectfully is a truly monumental task.

…How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano is written in five large sections plus a glossary. The Introduction contains background and general information as a basis for understanding the next 4 sections. The second section illustrates the components of Raag Kalyani and gives many examples to create an improvisation or composition. There are a lot of examples. So many that I found it overwhelming at first. But, once I took John’s advice and started with just one or two that were pleasing to me I had a lot of fun. …”


Christopher Norton (of MicroJazz fame) Christopher Norton – Composer October 2017

“Raag Time… The idea of playing Indian music on the piano is one that has occurred to me as an educator and writer for piano – there are students out there who know something of the sound of Indian classical music and who may well wonder if its flavour could be achieved on an inflexible instrument like the piano.

UK composer John Pitts started to become more familiar with the detail of Indian classical music while on a gap year in 1995. The end result of his research is a book – How To Play Indian Sitar Raags On The Piano. He’s taken on quite a task and I believe that he is up to that task! This book assumes basic reading (and playing) keyboard skills and introduces the scales and ornamentation typical of this distinctive world right away, with lots of instructions about playing freely and trying not to impose too much of a sense of pulse on your improvisations, as well as left and right hand chords and figures that sound “right”.

A variety of raags are introduced, with clear notes about how they are (loosely) constructed and how one might musically and imaginatively extend improvisations within these fluid forms. As a composer, I was immediately stimulated by the sounds and by the methods described to use those sounds. Everything “sounds” good – there is definitely a real composer at work here.

You will have to dig into the book to get out of it even a fraction of what John Pitts has put into it. He suggests taking a broad-brush approach with a particular piece, before going back over the unpacking parts. Use the shampoo, now here’s the science bit…You can do that, but you can also dip in and out of it and enjoy being taken out of yourself and your western sound-world and into a wholly different way of making music. On the piano.
Well done John – a lot of work, but a fascinating and unique product!”

Dr Angela Miller-Niles, American Music Teacher Magazine October 2017

…a combination of a world music textbook, a ‘teach yourself’ book, and a repertoire book…”     “…fascinating…”      “This could be a fun experiment for someone interested in Indian music or just wanting to try something new.”

Dr Jonathan Katz, International Piano Magazine September 2017

“…there is much to praise in this book. Pitts meticulously and imaginatively sets out in staff notation numerous effective and convincing musical ideas in his range of Hindustani ragas. His recommendations for imitating the drone of the stringed tambura, and his suggested renderings of ornaments and portamento slides around notes, are ingenious, and work remarkably well, as evidenced in his own sample performances available through the website for this book (  Despite its shortcomings in musical theory I strongly recommend the book to pianists with an eye and an ear to the East, and I look forward to hearing further performances by John Pitts.”     

 Jonathan Woolf,MusicWeb-International March 2017

“It’s not every day that I come across a book quite this specialised but I’ve enjoyed John Pitts’ compositions on disc and was curious to see how he would set about the task of encouraging the reader to explore North Indian sitar music on their Western pianos. The short answer is very entertainingly and encouragingly.

In this large size paperback, copiously illustrated with music examples, Pitts outlines the key ingredients of the raag (it literally means ‘colour’), India’s semi-improvised music, and how it can be transformed for use on solo or two pianos or indeed piano duet. There’s an enlightening and disarming introduction in which the whys and wherefores are honestly addressed – sample rhetorical question: ‘So, how can Indian music be played on a piano?’ – before the structural niceties of the raag genre are approached.

Pitts includes 24 raags, newly composed, though like a master chef encouraging his novice bakers, he also includes a pick ‘n’ mix section to allow ingredient mixing by fusing raag elements or indeed taking the plunge and composing one’s own. After the introduction, Pitts presents his first raag interspersing instruction, explication and suggestion so as to get the reader au fait with the salient features of the raag – it’s very complex and ornate – after which he devotes fully 46 pages to explaining elements such as drone effects, improvised melodies, decoration, the use of the interlude, and the whole nature of the raag’s structure. Only a thorough study of the instructions will reveal the detail and the profuse help offered to the player and the help is presented with clarity. All the hundreds of musical examples are clear and clean and the interspersed advice on performance equally so: no scrunched or bunched text or music here.

The novice will also receive a non-didactic crash course in terminology and in the music’s pitches and its context, as each raag is associated with a particular mood and this also extends to the time of the day when particular raags are played. There’s a fascinating ‘time frame’ table showing which is the best time to play the 24 rags.

So really this is a cornucopia of raag-related information for the intrepid traveller into the world of raag-piano. The text is broken up by photographs, some rather grainy given the print, that range from a picture of the author himself in a deprecatingly entitled picture called ‘How not to hold a sitar’ to a ruddy goose. You don’t get that in biographies of Mahler.

If you have any interest in this esoteric arena, in improvising from a Classical or jazz background, or even from an ill-defined background, and want to face the challenge of encompassing twenty scales, I can’t imagine a better primer than this.”

Allan Cronin, NewMusicBuff February 2017

“I recall with nostalgia my first hearing of Yehudi Menuhin’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar titled, “East Meets West”.  I was in high school and had not yet heard the exotic sound of the sitar.  Menuhin’s ability to grasp and communicate world music to an audience schooled in the Western European classical traditions is a treasured part of his legacy.Along comes composer pianist John Pitts (1976- ) who encountered raga scales and Hindustani classical forms during a “gap year” in his musical studies in 1995.  This encounter subsequently spurred him to write the present book, a seemingly obvious idea but one that has not been attempted in quite this way as far as I can determine.  Pitts is a highly skilled pianist and composer.

This book assumes no more than a basic grounding in western classical music and at least a modicum of skill at the keyboard.  With that and the present text the interested reader/player will be brought to a fine introduction to Hindustani scales and forms and have a method by which at least some of these ideas can be applied to the ubiquitous piano thereby providing another perspective.

Of course the microtonal aspects of this music cannot be reproduced on a piano but the basic concepts of the scales and the improvisational methodology will surely enhance the imagination and skills of any interested musician.  The book introduces these concepts in a lucid manner and provides notation and methods enabling one to play a variety of ragas at the keyboard in a fairly short time.

I have lived with this book for several weeks now and find it endlessly fascinating.  Even with my limited keyboard skills I have been able to scratch the surface and begin to explore some of the essence of this ancient musical system.  Very likely this text will do much to enhance the compositional imagination as well as one’s keyboard skills.  Some may recall, for example, that Philip Glass developed his mature compositional style after his encounter with this musical system in his work with the same Ravi Shankar whose mastery inspired Sir Yehudi Menuhin to bring this music to a western audience.

Recordings have made so much world music with its varied scales, rhythmic structures and tuning systems available to a much wider audience but much less has been done to provide interested musicians with a more hands on experience.  This book does much to address this gap.  It does not pretend to be a definitive exposition of this musical system nor does it attempt to create more than a basic pedagogy which will encourage further exploration.  This book is very much a continuation of the interest begun by Menuhin, Glass and their followers.

Bravo, Mr. Pitts!”

Dr Mark Polishook, January 2017

“This is a great book. The author conveys a real sense of how to begin improvising with raags. He does that by explaining the subject matter with enormous clarity and insight. And he brings  a fantastic understanding of process to what he explains. There are a lot of books about improvisation out there. But this one’s the real deal. And it’s about improvising in a style that by and large isn’t accessible unless you have access to a master practitioner and teacher. What else is there to say? I’d give it 11 stars if Lulu gave us that option!”

Robert Matthew-Walker, Editor, ‘Musical Opinion’

“a very well produced and informative book” 

John Pitt, New Classics

“unique and fascinating book”


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How to play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano