Chapter 1 : Introduction to the Tabla

Introduction to the tabla: The tabla is one of most popular percussion instruments in the world. It originates in the Indian Subcontinent and is its primary native percussion instrument. The centuries old instrument has evolved immensely and received global recognition through the hands of it’s masters.

Introduction to the tabla
Anatomy of Tabla, Percussion instrument, तबला, ताल वाद्य यंत्र, তবলার বিভিন্ন অংশ, তাল বাদ্য


Introduction to the Tabla

The exact origin of the tabla, is a subject of controversy. One of these theories suggest, tabla’s ancestral instrument “pakhawaj” was accidently split in two, thus giving birth to the idea of a split drum, I.E, the tabla. Popularly however, 18th century sufi poet and musicologist “amir khusrau” is crowned for it’s development, even though there aren’t substantial evidence to prove this theory.

The tabla is an instrument that is split in to two parts. One of these drums, physically larger and typically metallic, produce a bass sound, that can be slightly modulated during playing. The other drum is smaller, wooden and is responsible for treble, finely tuned to a fixed scale and played using different sound effects achieved through a variety of different strokes.

Usually, the bass drum is played with the left hand and is called “baya” or “dagga” and the treble drum to be played with the right hand is called “daya/daina” or “tabla”. Of course, In case of a left-handed person, the orientation of the tabla may be mirrored, but the designated names will remain the same. Both the drums can be tuned. The baya is usually tuned on the 1st or 5th notes of the required scale but the daina requires precision tuning on the tonic of any scale.


Tabla, Percussion instrument, तबला, ताल वाद्य यंत्र, তবলা, তাল বাদ্য


From the top view, the black spots on the center of both the drums are called “gab” or “siyahi”. Some master tabla makers vouch for “secret ingredients” for the perfect siyahi however, generally processed material made from boiled rice and iron dust are the usual ingredients. It is a perfect circle at the center, that covers around 30% of the total diameter on the tabla’s surface. It is created, making individual layers on top of each other, once every layer has dried. The siyahi, is responsible for the bass or “gravity” of both the drums.

The surface of the tabla is made of 2 types of goat skin. The area surrounding the gaab, till the very edges is called the “maidan”, made of processed white goat skin. This portion is also called “sur”. Around the edge, is another layer of skin, called the “kinar”. Using these three parts on the surface, The tablas are played using different kind of single or compound strokes through various hand techniques to produce music.

The maidan, finishes with a hard outer ring called the “pagri”, depicting a turban. The pagri is responsible for maintaining the tension on the entire surface of tabla. Besides surface tention, it also an essential part of fine tuning the tabla through a hammer, which can alter it’s tension when struck. It is also made of exceptionally hard skin.


Tabla, Percussion instrument, तबला, ताल वाद्य यंत्र, তবলা, তাল বাদ্য


The ”pagri” can be seen fastened with a constant flat belt called “chot” or “dowal” that crosses up and down throughout the entire exterior of the tabla. These are made out of cow/camel skin and have extremely low elasticity. This technique is applied to most percussion instruments that has a membrane, to keep fixed tension required for it to produce sound.

Between the “chot” and the wooden body of the tabla, 8 wooden cylinders can be found. They are called “guti” or “guli” and play a key role in tuning the instrument. Moving them up or down brings substantial change to the scale of the tabla, since it is altering the overall tension of the chot. Once the tension brings a satisfactory tuning, hammering the pagri takes care of further fine tuning.

Besides the actual tablas, a table needs a few more things to be able to start playing. A special ring made of hay and covered in velvet called “bira” is used to rest both the tablas on. The tablas are almost impossible keep stable if placed on bare floors. A good set of bira, is a must. A good tuning hammer is a must. Of course, any hammer can be used to tune the tabla, but in addition to looking good, traditional tabla hammers are designed the right way for ease of tuning through the pagri, guti and chot. Any kind of skin instruments are very sensitive to moisture.

Playing table can sometimes make the palms sweat, which can permanently damage the skin of the tabla. To evade this, a tabla player resorts to the use of talcum powder on the hands. This not only takes care of the sweating problem, but also drastically reduces friction on the surface of the table which aids playing immensely.


Tabla, Percussion instrument, तबला, ताल वाद्य यंत्र, তবলা, তাল বাদ্য


Tabla, being very popular, can be bought at almost any instrument stores in the world, regardless of it’s quality. For a complete beginner in table, pristine quality instruments is not an absolute must. However, good quality instruments do have a fair share of advantages that include ease of playing besides the superior tonal quality.

Generally, bayas are priced in terms of weight. 3 to 3.5 kilograms are recommended for a mid-quality baya. The daina, is sold in different scales and diameters. New table students can pick any scale they want, however, D scale in 5-5.5 diameter is recommended, for its balance in sound and good surface area for beginners to learn. The baya is made of brass or steel, while the daina uses “sheesham” or “neem” wood.

A good tabla requires time to build. There are hundreds of tabla makers in the Indian subcontinent. Some have perfected their art of making table and have created a pristine brand name. Brands like, Qasim khan niyazi, Rhythm by Mukta Das, Somnath kakade and maharaja are all masters of their craft and are endorsed by stalwarts of table. Of course, the price of these tablas are premium but definitely worth it. A pair of tablas currently can cost anywhere from $80 to $400.


Tabla, Percussion instrument, तबला, ताल वाद्य यंत्र, তবলা, তাল বাদ্য


Tabla gurukul has a detailed video class on the “introduction to tabla” on it’s facebook and youtube channels. We recommend our readers to watch it for a detailed visual class on the topic for better understanding. Good luck!


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