Tabla is an instrument used in several traditional musical settings in North India and Pakistan. The origins of the instrument are somewhat of a mystery. Some people consider Amir Khusrau (pictured) as the creator. He was of Persian descent and lived in the 13th century. However, there are no known compositions for the instrument until those of Siddar Khan (18th century), the founder of the Delhi Gharana (school), the oldest of the six gharanas. The other five gharanas are Farukhabad, Benares, Lucknow, Punjab, and Ajrara. Each school has a different approach to the instrument and hence there different styles of compositions.
The tabla is an Indian percussion instrument. It consists of two separate hand drums, the dayan and the bayan. The date of invention and inventor of the tabla are unknown, though the tabla is at least a few centuries old (500-600 years), which is considered young for an Indian instrument). The tabla has been adopted by musicians around the world to spice up their percussion repertoire. Uses of TablaThere are four main categories of music from the North Indian region. They are: Classical, Semi-classical, Light music, and Folk. In all of these forms the primary function of the tabla is accompaniment. However, during the past century the tabla has grown in popularity as a solo instrument in the classical setting.With its mysterious origins and unique sound, tabla is now being used in many non-traditional settings. The vastness of its potential is absolutly amazing.
The drums of the tabla are placed in front of the player side-by-side. The dayan is on the right, while the gayan is on the left. The drums sit flat on the floor, or on small cushions for support. The player sits on the floor in a cross-legged fashion. One hand could be playing the dayan while the other plays the gayan, or both hands could be playing a single drum.
The different hits, or strokes, on the tabla are known as bols. Each bol is represented by a syllable--such as Dha, Ga, Ka, Ta, Ti or Tin. Each of these syllables can be strung together to create rhythms. Stringing together bols is a popular way of notating and sharing tabla beats.
To play, the heels of the hand, palms, fingers and fingertips are used in various combinations to play the tabla. Often, fingertips will be used in a rapid swiping motion on the dayan to produce a roll. The heel of the right hand can be pressed on the head of the gayan to create muted tones. The heel can be moved from the inside of the head to the outside or vice versa to create changes in pitch.
It is now only in India that one finds so much handwork involved in the making of musical instruments. In the rest of the world instruments are generally mass produced by machine, with hand-crafting of instruments being the very expensive exception. In India individual hand making of instruments is the normal tradition and very little machinery is involved. Today, when one buys a good quality Indian instrument, whether it be sitar, tabla, harmonium, or something else, one is purchasing the product of one particular craftsman's genius and life's work. This is why every instrument is truly an individual work of art.