The Indian tabla, a two-piece percussion instrument, is the principal rhythmic accompaniment to most North Indian classical (namely khyal) and light music. It is said to have its origin in the two-faced drum called mridangam (used in South Indian music) and the pakhawaj (used in the accompaniment of the north Indian genres dhrupad and dhamar). In her book, 'The Tabla', Rebecca Stewart traces the word tabla, to the Arabic word tabi, a generic term meaning drum. Although the construction of the instrument is similar to kettle-drums that were in use for centuries, the first visual images of an instrument similar to the tabla can be traced only to 1808. The instrument in its current form is probably less than a century old.
The Tabla consists of two upright drums that are played with fingers
and palms. Each drum sits on a ringed base of padding. Tablas are arguably
the most complex drums in the world. Each head contains three separate
The larger rounded drum, called the duggi or the bayan (literally left, since the instrument is generally played with the left hand), has a body consisting of either clay or, more commonly in modern tablas, metal (nickel-plated brass, brass, copper or aluminum). The top is covered with a leather membrane held with thongs and, like the dayan, is also adorned with a round black patch. The baya has a larger diameter than the daya and provides the bass. The tabla player's index, third, and fourth fingers as well as the palm and heel of the hand strike the surface of both drums to generate the rich treble and low bass tones that make up the tabla bols (percussion notes). Combined, the dayan and bayan, can produce an extraordinary array of sounds (more than 20) and rhythms in the hands of accomplished tabla players.
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.
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