If you are a fan of Indian classical music, there’s a very high possibility that you’ve seen a tabla in action. Almost always, it’s either a tabla or a dholak which handles the rhythm section of the Hindustani Classical Music. So, if you have any intentions of getting your hands dirty with the instrument, you absolutely have to know the fine details that defines it. So, let’s get started.
Physical build of the tabla
Tabla has two drums: A Dahina/Daya (also called tabla or chattu) made of wood and a Baya (also called dagga) made of metal. Both of these have a membrane which is usually made of goat skin and have a patch of syahi (ink) which is generally made of starch. The Syahi serves to impart a unique set of tones to each drum.
The Daya, is the higher pitched drum which is smaller and has a cylindrical hollowed out wooden structure. It is usually played with the dominant hand of the player (Daya translated to “right” in Hindi). It has a hoop around it with thick laces running along its side and 8 wooden cylinders (called gattas) to adjust the tone of the tabla. It is usually tuned to the key of the accompanying instrument.
The Baya, is the bigger, lower pitched drum and has a round kettledrum shape. It is usually played with the recessive hand of the player (Baya translates to “left” in Hindi). It too has a hoop around it with laces and 8 gattas to adjust the tone. It is usually tuned to Sa and around 5 octaves below the tabla.
A brief history of Tabla
Original article: History of Tabla
Tabla is an ancient instrument and has its root as far back as the Vedic Period. The origins of tabla have been a topic of debate for a long time and experts still differ as to whether it originated in the Indian subcontinent or in the Middle East. However, increasing amount of evidence points to it originating in the Indian subcontinent itself.
The basic structure of compositions
Taals form the root of all the compositions played on the tabla. A Taal is essentially a musical meter, which serves to bind all the music in a particular number of matras (beats). More importantly, the compositions played have to abide to the taal structure. Not only does the taal define the total number of matras, but also dictates the pattern of the compositions. Each taal has a certain point where it starts (sum), taali, khaali and vibhaags (measures). For understanding these seemingly alien words, have a quick look at this article.
Compositions can be divided into two main categories:
1. Smaller compositions like tukras, parans, uthaans etc.
2. Longer compositions like Peshkaras, Kaidas, and Relas etc.
Most compositions would follow in multiple avartans (cycles). If you are new to tabla (which you probably are, since you are here), all this can seem alien again. To keep this article concise, we have not included explanation for these terms, but we sure have you covered.
Different schools (Gharanas) of tabla
Original article: Gharanas in tabla
Gharanas in Hindustani music represent different schools or musical styles. All Gharanas have their own distinct flavour. There are six Gharanas in tabla:
1. Delhi Gharana – The oldest. Distinct feature being the use of two fingers, and a particular softness (or elegance).
2. Ajrada Gharana – Similar to Delhi (Geographic reasons). Compositions are elegant and soft.
3. Lucknow Gharana -The popularity of dance in the city has visibly affected the style and therefore tukras and parans form an important part of performances.
4. Farukhabad Gharana -Very similar to Lucknow.
5. Banaras Gharana –Music style is characterized by loud and impactful bols.
6. Punjab Gharana – Pakhawaj has affected the music style and long compositons like kaydas are extensively played.
How do I learn tabla?
Here’s a step-by-step guide for learning tabla from scratch.