Basic bols on Tabla

Each composition on a tabla – theka, kaida, peshkara, tukra, paran etc. – can be broken down into its constituent bols. Therefore, a bol is the most basic element of music on tabla. Masteriong your basic strokes should be one of the first steps while learning tabla. This article is aimed at equipping you with all the information about the types of bols, the sound they produce and how to play them.

So let’s get started. There is a nice heirarchy in the type of bols as you would see further. Broadly, bols are of two types:

  • Single handed bols
  • Two handed bols

Single handed bols

These bols require the use of only one hand. Meaning that these are played only on the Daya or the Baya.

Daya Bols

The essential daya bols are:

Ta/Na  (ता / ना)

Ta is usually the first bol we learn and the most characteristic sound of a tabla. The high pitched sound emanating from the baya is almost always, Ta. Playing ta is fairly simple, but it may take some time to get it just right.

How to play: Keep your ring finger at the Maidan (between the Chanti and the Syahi) with the middle finger raised. Now keeping the ring finger as a firm pivot, and keeping the middle finger in the air, hit the edge of the chanti with your index finger. This should produce a high pitched bol, ta.

Tin  (तिन)

Tin is logically the second bol we are going to learn. While being quite similar to ta in its methodology, the change in position of hitting the tabla gives a quite distinct sound.

How to play: Keep your ring finger at the Maidan again with the middle finger. Now proceed exactly as in the case of Ta, but instead of hitting the chanti, hit the maidan with your index finger. This should produce a less prominent and a weaker sound than a ta.

Tu  (तू)

Tu is a different sound from ta and tin, in a way that it produces a resonant sound which is of  lower pitch and of a totally different quality.

How to play: The ring finger is still kept at the maidan, and the midle finger in the air, at the beginning of the bol, However, expect the ring finger to losely/freely move across the maidan as you hit the centre of the Syahi with the edge of your index finger, producing a resonating sound.

Te  (ते)

Te is very different from the three bols we have discussed till now. It is not a high pitched sound resonating, but rather a short lived slap like sound.

How to play: While this might vary slightly from gharana to gharana, Te is played by hitting the syahi with your middle finger or (more popularly) middle finger+ring finger together, to produce a slap-like non-resonating sound.

Tete  (तेटे)

Tir is essentially an extension of Te

How to play: Start with the bol Te, and immediately raise both middle finger and ring finger, while hitting the centre of syahi with your index finger. This would produce two sounds in succession, Te and the other from the index finger.

Baya Bols

The essential baya bols are:

Ka/Ki/Ke/Kath  (का / की / के / कथ)

These sounds are analogous to Te on the daya. Meaning that these are also slap-like non=resonating sounds.

How to play: Rest your wrist on the skin of the Baya in such a way that it is just away from the edge of the Syahi. Now, keeping the wrist as the pivot, hit the Syahi with the fingers stretched out. This should be done in such a way that the palm and fingers are both hitting the syahi with a perfectly flat hand. Kath is slightly different from the other three in the sense that it is louder. This loudnes is achieved by shifting the hand slightly backawrds and using the fingers to generate a harder slap.

Ga/Gha/Ge/Ghe (ग / घ / गे / घे)

These are the sounds which produce the low-pitched resonating sounds.

How to play: Rest your wrist at the edge of the syahi and in such a way that the fingers stretch out in the direction of the syahi. Now curve the hand in such a way that it arches vertically upwards from the skin and proceed to hit the skin with your middle finger and ring finger (or sometimes your index finger). This should be done in the form of a deep tap on the skin which lets the sound stay for some amount of time.

Two handed Bols

Two handed bols, as the name suggests, require the use of both hands to produce. These can be of two types as well:

Single bols

These are the bols which require the use of both hands and produce a single sound.

Dha  (धा)

This is played by playing both the Ga (on the Baya) and Ta (on the Daya) to produce a loud and impactful sound.

Dhin  (धिन)

This is played by playing both the Ga (on the Baya) and Tin (on the Daya) to produce a less impactful sound than the Dha.

Compound Bols

These are the bols which require the use of both hands and have more than one elements that are played in succession to produce a single compound bol. (Much like the Tete on the Daya)

Tirkit  (तिरकिट)

Tirkit is essentially: Tete + Ka + Te in quick succession.

This completes our discussion of the basic bols on the tabla.Two important things should be noted in this context:

  • This is not an exhaustive list. This list does not include all the bols across all the gharanas. Therefore this should be treated as a starting point only and more bols should be learned along the way. The author of this article feels that any more information would do more harm than good to a beginner.
  • The methodology has been simplified. The technique to play a bol varies from player to player and gharana to gharana. There is no perfect or absolutely correct way to play a bol. Many of the techniques mentioned above vary considerable, but the essence of the bol always remains the same. As you start playing tabla, you would find yourself modifying your technique. This could be by observing  experienced players or by realising the limitations your technique puts on your playing style.

All efforts have been put to ensure that the information is correct and error-free. However, if an error has inadvertently creeped in or if you feel that some essential piece of information is missing, do not hesitate to leave a comment down below.

Also, if this article helped you in any way, please share it with your friends and family members who also aspire to learn tabla. That would mean the world to us. Thank you!

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5 thoughts on “Basic bols on Tabla”

  1. I was thinking: ought the bayan -side bending -motion of the wrist and the fingers that: after the stroke is made; take a course over the syahi to almost touch the palm of the hand only to return to their place above the skin: o’er the syahi: be mentioned as a beginners guidance; since it is so grucial to producing the “-ing” of “DHIN” or a “Dha-a”, the curvelike swooping -sound, the bow wow -effect? So essential to tabla music.

    I personally as a fin(finnish citizen) ended up developing a totally new: scandic “kehrwa” as the results of feeling awkward banging karnatic or hindustani kehrwa in Helsinki Finland!!
    It goes “Dhin Tin – Na Kat – Tin Kat – Dha Ta”, for those interested! 🙂
    Never denying it though, how eventually most positively the mentioned bow-wow -effect on the bayan gets enlightened with as practicing evolves, anyhow, even when it wasn’t described in the very basics of bols. It is an effect created after the bol gets striked, like a way to pronounce a word, when bols are words used for talking the tabla!

    1. Thank you for pointing this detail out. The “bow-wow” effect, as you call it, is produced by the movement of the wrist on the Bayan as it just touches the Syahi and comes back to its place. It’s an essential part of the bols on the Bayan.

      I completely agree with what you say: ” It is an effect created after the bol gets striked, like a way to pronounce a word, when bols are words used for talking the tabla!”. I think it’s a topic that deserves an entire article to itself. I’ll add a link to that article here, if (when) I write it, because even though it isn’t a basic bol, it’s necessary to learn to be able to play the tabla in way that it sounds good to the ear.

      Also, congrats on coming up with original compositions! As long as they fit nicely in the Taal you are playing it in, you can play anything. Keep practicing 🙂

    1. If you only have your index finger on the table while playing NA then you table might be louder than you want it to be but if you have your index+you ring finger on the tabla then the sound is more controlled and more sweet.

  2. “The high pitched sound emanating from the “baya” is almost always, Ta”…. Needs correction- should be daya instead of baya

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