The northern veena, usually called the bin, consists of a bamboo fretboard of about 22 inches long and two and a half inches wide upon which are fixed on 24 metallic frets, one for each semitone of two octaves. The frets are fixed on the stem by a resinous wax like substance. This fretboard is mounted on two large gourds, each about 14 inches in diameter. The instrument has four main strings for playing; it also has three side strings. Of these two are on the left side, while one is on the right.
The bin is held in a slanting position on the left shoulder, the upper gourd resting upon the shoulder and the lower gourd on the right knee. The strings are plucked with the fingers of the right hand, the left hand passing round the stem and stopping the strings over the frets.
Originally the bin was used only as an accompaniment to vocal music; today it is not only a well established instrument for solo playing but the innovator of a distinctive and well recog¬nized musical style of its own. The bin player masters alap, which is an elabora¬tion of the raga in slow tempo, jod or raga alap in medium tempo and jhala or playing in fast tempo. In these, no tala is used although the rhythm is maintained throughout by means of the chikari or side strings which also serve as the drone. Usually serious classical music of the Dhrupad style is played on this instrument and the main percussion accompaniment is the pakhawaj. In certain musical moods, the player repeats the percussion phraseology of the pakhawaj on the bin in terms of rhythmic musical phrases. This practice is called tar paran.
It is said that during the period between Amir Khusrau and Akbar, the bin had only twelve frets on which a range of three octaves could be played. Subsequent¬ly the numbet of frets was increased. Swami Haridas is credited with having improved styles of playing the bin and standardized the different styles of music played on it.
The bin was very popular during the Mughal period. Thereafter the art of playing it was preserved and nourished by beenkars who were descendants of the famous Tansen. The princes of north India have since then patronised many great masters of this instrument. Wazir Khan of Rampur state, who flourished in the early part of this century, was among the more recent of theni. Some other famous players were Mohamedali Khan, Sadat Ali Khan, Kale Khan, Mushruff Khaa, Imdad Khan, Lateef Khan and Waheed Khan.
The bin is a difficult instrument to play well, and the masters of the northern bin are not very numerous.