About Tabla - The Indian Percussion Instrument

Information About Tabla - The Indian Percussion Instrument

The tabla is a popular Indian used in the classical, popular and religious music of the and in Hindustani classical music. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. It's derived from Tabl, an arabic word which means a drum.

The history of this Indian percussion instrument, tabla has been the topic of heated debates many a times on several pretexts. According to the most common historical account the 13th century poet invented the instrument, by splitting the Pakhawaj, which is also an Indian Percussion Instrument, into two parts. Thus the tabla was born. 

Another common historical narrative represents the tabla as being around for thousands of years. This assumption is  based on slipshod interpretations of iconography. The most authentic and reliable historical evidences place the invention of this tabla in and around the 18th century, and the first recognized and verifiable player of Tabla was Ustad Sudhar Khan who belonged to Delhi.

Various Gharanas in table are the Delhi Gharana, Lukhnow Gharana, Ajrara Gharana, Farukhabad Gharana, Banaras Gharana, and Punjab Gharana. Read more about about various Tabla Gharanas

Dayan is a type of table that is a smaller version of tabla or drum, played with the dominant hand. It is made from a conical piece of  shesham or teak or sagaun wood in majority of cases. Also with the rose wood hollowed out to approximately 50% of its over all depth. One of the primary tones on the tabla is tuned to a particular note, which as a result contributes to and complements the melody. The tuning range of tabla is limited. Although capable of producing different sounds in different sizes, each with a different range. For a given tabla to achieve harmony with the soloist, it will usually be important for it to tune to either the tonic, dominant or subdominant key of the soloist.

Then there is the larger drum, that is played with the other hand, and is called the dagga. Dagga has a much deeper bass tone, much like the kettle drum, popular as dagga's far off cousin! The dagga could be made from any of a number of materials. Brass being the most common. Copper the more expensive, but generally considered to be the best. Where as use of aluminum or steel is often found in the inexpensive models which also obviously don't give the results like the ones made in brass or copper do.  One sometimes finds wood used, especially in old daggas from the Punjab region. Clay is also used, though not really preferred for its lack of durability; these are mostly found in the North-East region of Bengal.

The skill and technique to play tablas of all types involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various ways and configurations to create a wide variety of sounds in various pitches; these are reflected in the mnemonic syllables the bol. On the tabla or dagga the heel of the hand is also quite often used, to apply pressure, or in a sliding motion, so that the pitch is changed during as the sound's decays. This modulating effect on the bass drum, tabla or dagga and the wide range of sounds possible on the  instrument as a whole is the main feature that makes tabla as unique amidst all Indian percussion instruments.

Both drum shells are covered with a head made from the skin of goat or cow. An outer ring or edge of skin is overlaid on the main skin and this serves to suppress some particular natural overtones. These two skins of goat and cow are bound together with a woven braid that gives the entire assembly enough strength that finally can be tensioned onto the shell. 

Coming to the completed head construction, it is affixed to the drum shell with one single piece of cow or camel skin strap laced between the braid of the head assembly and another ring which is also made from the same strap material is placed on the bottom of the tabla or dagga or drum. The strap is then tensioned according to requirement to achieve the desired pitch of the tabla. Besides this, the Ghatta - which are the cylindrical wood blocks, are inserted between the strap and the shell which allows the tension to be adjusted with the help of their vertical positioning. To fine tuning this percussion instrument, the player strikes lightly with the help for a light weight, small hammer vertically on the braided portion of the head.

The skins of both Tabla and Dagga also have an inner ring on the head known as the syahi or ink in English This is made with the help if multiple layers of a paste made from starch. This starch is made from Rice and is mixed with a black powder of various origins. This specific construction and shaping of the particular area is very important and crucial as it helps the modification of the drum's natural overtones, which result in the clarity of pitch and offer variety of tonal possibilities which are unique to tabla or dagga. While buying tabla or dagga the buyer has to keep this aspect  at the top on the mind. Its this skill that is the main differentiating factor in the quality of a particular instrument. And only an experienced, knowledgeable and skilled craftsman can achieve this.

For stability while playing, and minimize movement of tabla each of them is placed and positioned on a chutta or guddi,- which is a toroidal bundle consisting of plant fiber or  malleable material which is properly wrapped in cloth to help the tabla balance while it is being played. 

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