Tabla – History & Info

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Tabla, rich in its varied tonal qualities, is a major Indian percussion instrument that came to India during the era of Persian Muslims. Tabla is used as an accompaniment instrument as well as for solo performances.

It comprises two drums. The drum that is kept on the right hand is called “dayan”. It is made from a conical piece of teak and rosewood by hollowing it out to half of its total depth. This drum is tuned to a specific note, which complements the melody. This drum is small then the left-hand drum.

The tuning range of Dayan is limited although different sizes of dayan are crafted and each produces a distinct range. `Ghatta’ are cylindrical woods that are inserted between the strap and the shell that enables the tension to be adjusted by their vertical positioning. Fine tuning is achieved while striking vertically on the braided portion of the head with the help of a small hammer.

The left-hand drum is known as “bayan“, which can be made from metal, terracotta or ceramic. Each of these drums employs a different playing technique. It has a much deeper bass tone. The bāyāñ may be made of brass, copper, aluminum, steel and sometimes wood, especially the ones crafted in Punjab. Use of clay is also common, although not recommended for people looking for durability. Brass is most common, copper being too expensive and aluminum and steel are the inexpensive models.

Heads of both the drums are covered with goat or cow skin. An outer ring of skin is overlaid on the main skin. This helps to control some of the natural overtones. The two skins are woven together in a complex braid that optimizes its strength for tensioning required on the shell.

The head is attached to the drum shell with a cow or camel hide strap which is placed between the braid of the head assembly and the bottom of the drum.

One of the major reasons for the popularity of the Tabla is its distinct tonal quality, which is mainly derived from the complex manner in which the instrument is constructed as mentioned above.

While making the Tabla the most important factor relates to “sur” or sound. The pitch of the Table depends on the diameter of the drums, bigger the diameter, lower would be the pitch.

The method of playing Tabla drum requires maximum exercise of the fingers and movements of palm. The synchronization of both drums produces various sound effects.

The right hand drum “dayan” can itself make 12 different types of sounds. ”Bayan” can make 2 different sounds, but on applying a little pressure to “bayan”, the pitch gets changed. The skin of the drum shells is fabricated from goat.

In addition to the sound, craftsman concentrates on selecting surface skins which can last for a long period. An expert can tell if a skin will give good sound by just looking at it. A good playing skin is more flexible in terms of tuning and can be tuned with a range of up to two to three notes.

The drum shell also bears a thick black disc, which is known as ‘shiai’ that is prepared out of flour, ferric oxide powder and starch. It is fixed in the centre of the shell to allow the emanation of sounds.

The tuning of Tabla is done by striking the wedge called the ‘guli’ or ‘ghittak’. For fine tuning, the braided part of the head called the ‘pagri’ is thumped with the help of a metal hammer. To ensure constancy while playing, a cushion is placed below each of the drums.

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