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The Tabla is a percussion instrument used in Indian music. The word ‘Tabla’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘Tabl’ which means ‘drum’.

Lets learn more about this wonderful musical instrument.

Tabla Construction


The Tabla consists of two drums – one big and the other smaller in size. The smaller drum is played with the dominant hand. It is made out of a conical piece of wood (mostly teak or rosewood) that has been hollowed out. It is called the ‘Dayan’ or the ‘Dahina’. The bigger drum is played with the other hand. It is called the ‘Bayan’ or the ‘Dagga’. It is usually made out of brass or copper. Sometimes aluminum and steel are also used. Both the drum shells are covered with a head made out of goat or cow skin. An outer ring of skin is overlaid on the main skin and these skins are bound together with a complex woven braid to give strength and tension to the entire assembly. The head of each drum has a central area called the ‘Syahi’ which is made up of multiple layers of paste made from either rice or wheat starch mixed with a black powder. This ‘Syahi’ is responsible for modifying the  drums natural overtones, which results in the different sounds.

Method of Playing the Tabla

A Tabla is played with the fingers and palms of both the hands, in order to create a variety of sounds. These sounds are called ‘bol’s. The heel of the hand is also used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion in order to change the pitch of the sound.

Tabla Gharanas

Playing the Tabla is rooted in a number of ‘Gharana’s or lineage of teaching and repertoire. These ‘Gharana’s are the different schools or traditions of Tabla playing, classified by the places where the particular style originated. The most notable of these ‘Gharana’s are:

  1. Delhi Gharana
  2. Lucknow Gharana
  3. Ajrara Gharana
  4. Farukhabad Gharana
  5. Benaras Gharana
  6. Punjab Gharana

Tabla Terminology

Some of the different terms used in Tabla playing include:

  • Ustad / Pandit: A master of the Tabla technique and Gharana. Hindus are referred to as Pandit.
  • Gharana: A school of Tabla, often representing a particular style that originated in a specific area.
  • Bol: The the mnemonic syllables and a series of notes that are produced when the drum is stroked. For example: Na, Tin, Dhin, Dha etc.
  • Tal: The meter. For example: Teental, Dadra Tal, Keherwa etc.
  • Vibhag: A section of the Tabla Tal where Bols can be placed.
  • Tali: A Vibhag that is signified by a clap.
  • Khali: A Vibhag that is signified by waving of hands.
  • Theka: A series of Bols that form a rhythmic basis of Tabla accompaniment for a given Tal.

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