What is a Tabla?

"The tabla (or tabl, tabla) is a popular Indian percussion instrument used in Hindustani classical music and in popular and devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. The term tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabl, which simply means "drum"."

"Playing technique involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different sounds, reflected in the mnemonic syllables (bol). The heel of the hand is used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion on the larger drum so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay."


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Tabla History

"A common legendary account credits the 13th century Indian poet Amir Khusrau as the inventor by splitting a single pakhawaj drum into two. ('toda, tab bhi bola - tabla': 'When broke, it still spoke' - a fairly well-known Hindi pun) None of his writings on music mention the drum, but this apparent tradition of late invention, combined with the absence of the instrument in South Indian music and the closed-ended, paired design that relates it to the Western clay-drums and tympani, altogether supports the view that the tabla is a comparatively recent development in northern Indian music. Other accounts place the invention of this instrument in the 18th century, and the first verifiable player of this drum was Ustad Suddhar Khan of Delhi."

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What does Gharana Mean?

"In Hindustani music, a gharānā is a system of social organization linking musicians or dancers by lineage and/or apprenticeship, and by adherence to a particular musical style".

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"The gharana concept gained currency only in the nineteenth century when the royal patronage enjoyed by performers weakened. Performers were then compelled to move to urban centres. To retain their respective identities, they fell back on the names of the regions they hailed from. Therefore, even today, the names of many gharanas refer to places. Some of the gharanas well known for singing khayals are : Agra, Gwalior, Patiala, Kirana, Indore, Mewati, Sahaswan, Bhendibazar and Jaipur."

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Purchasing a Tabla

"There are different woods which Dayans are made of. The most used and well-known types of wood are Shisham, Neem and Babla Wood. Basically it is not possible to choose a good Dayan only from the kind of wood it is made of. Of course the wood is important for the continuous sound of a Dayan but also other factors such as the quality of the skin, the quality of the Gab and of course the manufacturing are important. When the manufacturer chooses the wood, then 1st priority is that the wood is completely dry. As the situation in India is that the manufacturers of Tablas have worldwide orders for many months, they do not get enough good wood. They send abroad whatever they can get. The wood very often is not dry enough. This is a very big problem".

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Tabla Maintenance

Tabla is a very delicate instrument. The following rules must be followed:

Tabla should be kept away from extreme heat such as radiators or open fires. The cold also has a negative impact so avoid winter drafts and windows. Both conditions cause the skin to over stretch and eventually burst.

Keep the tabla upright at all times.

The top of the tabla should be kept clean with cotton wool.

Cover the top part of both Dayan and Bayan with Gaddians (the rounded shaped padded cushions) before storing. This will help to keep the tabla top skin dry and will protect from dust and moisture.

Do not play tabla with wet hands. If you sweat while playing, dry your hands and use ordinary talcum powder on your palm before playing.

The tabla is best tuned at a lower pitch for storage as extreme dryness may hamper the instrument causing the skin to burst.

Do not attempt to tune the tabla. This should only be carried out by your teacher or expert.

How to Find a Good Teacher

"In my years abroad, I have seen countless tabla players come to me who learnt tabla in India (or elsewhere) for a few years (most likely, not seriously but as a hobby) and then migrated abroad. One of the first things they do upon migration is teach tabla. Why? Because with a few hours of work in the evening, they can cover their basic expenses at the least. To me, this is an absolute crime. They are not necessarily even qualified performers, yet alone, qualified teachers. But they do it and get away with it because they can find the students – people who did not do their research and decided to learn from the person closest to them"

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Improving your Tabla Practice

"Develop a good sense of rhythm. Since the tabla is a percussive instrument, its role in maintaining beat is huge! If you want to learn tabla well a steady beat is a must. Practice tapping out different kinds of beats on your tabla, with an emphasis on maintaining steadiness."

Further Reading

Famous Tabla Players

Ustad Alla Rakha                               Zakir Hussain                           Trilok Gurtu

Kishan Maharaj                                 Afaq Hussain Khan                    Tanmoy Bose

Enayet Hossain                                 Hindol Majumdar                       Shubhankar Banerjee

Shamsuddin Khan                             Amir Hussain Khan                    Sharda Sahai

Qader Baksh                                    Sandip Banerjee                        Abhijit Banerjee

Latif Ahmed Khan                             Keramatullah Khan                     Habibuddin Khan

Shaukat Ali Khan                              Altaf Hussain Tafo Khan              Tapas Yagnik

Akram Khan                                     Shankar Ghosh                         Arvind Mulgoankar

Bikram Ghosh                                  Bashir Khan Karachiwale            Wajid Hussain Khan

The West London School of Tabla
South Harrow HA2 8EH

Tel: +44 208 8646343


Text Message: 07877740248



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