To begin with, there are four types of ways that the fingers strum the strings:
i) a downstroke with the middle, ring and little (can also add index) fingers together (|)
ii) a downstroke with the thumb (>)
iii) an upstroke with the thumb (<)
iv) an upstroke with the index finger (^)
These strokes combine in different ways to form different rhythmic patterns called usuls (a term also common to Arabic and Persian music). Rhythmic patterns are repeated like a drum rhythm, whilst the left hand plays the melody. Thus, the dutar is a melody, accompaniment and rhtyhmic instrument in one go(!!). The first pattern I was taught was a simple one, to be used as an exercise for rhythmic steadiness:
| < | < | < | <
My teacher Razia said that it is most important to play this usul with a clock-like regularity. Surely a regular rhythm is required of the learning of all musics, but the percussive sound quality of the dutar means that the rhythmic quality is very audible and its exactitude is crucial for the playing to sound good.
Another usul I learnt is called the tanovar (or tanâvar), a form of dance.
A description by Nancy Rose Aktas about tanovar can be found here (as Part II of ‘Women’s Dances in Uzbekistan’, the third paragraph of the page. Just search ‘tanovar’). It goes like this:
| < ^ | < ^ | ^ | < ^ | < ^ | ^
a 3 + 3 + 2 pattern. It is important to play the first two downstrokes slight lower down to allow the thumb to play the upstroke. The third stroke needs to be played lighter as to let the index finger play the upstroke easily. As one learns to play this usul up to speed, the strokes would melt into one continuum with only the downstrokes emerging. Just think when these patterns combine with the mesmerizing melodies on the left hand, how fantastic a resultant sound we would get!