Origin of the Tabla:

Tabla are akin to the two-headed barrel-shaped drum known as the pakhawaj.
The story goes that in the 13th century Amir Khusrau attended a competition for pakhawaj drummers and that a prominent player who was jealous broke his drum in half before the contest, after this Amir repaired the two halves separately creating the two-drum set known as tabla and of course he returned to the competition years later triumphantly winning the contest.
Although this is just a legend and not taken too seriously it appears to be a very popular story and is usually brought up whenever the origin of the tabla is discussed. Other theories suggest it was derived from the middle eastern drums known as tabl or a pair of Persian. Drums known as naqqara, drums resembling the tabla are found in temple carvings dated around 500 BC so the true origin will never be known.


The first recognised tabla master was Sudhar Khan who lived in the 18th century. He is the founder of the Delhi tradition or gharana. Gharana is derived from the word ghar which translates as home and is the classification of regional area where tabla training has been passed down through tradition from guru to pupil.
There are six main gharanas of tabla: Delhi, Ajrara, Farukhabad, Benaras, Lucknow and Punjab. All these gharanas descended from the Delhi gharana and Sudhar Khan except Punjab which descended from the pakhawaj.
Of these six, there are four distinct styles of playing or baj. Delhi baj, Ajrara baj, Purab baj and punjab baj. Delhi, Ajara and Punjab have there own distinc baj while Lucknow, Benaras and Farukhabad all fit under the purab baj.
At the beginning of the 1900's most of the famous tabla players of this era were cross trained in multiple baj (styles) and tabla maestros today usually incorporate several of these styles in there performance.

Brief description of the tabla and it's parts:

Both drums together are called the tabla, tablas (plural) is not really the correct term for these drums but it has become universally accepted.
The smaller higher pitched drum is the Dayan , the larger bass toned drum is the Bayan. The wood used for the Dayan is a strong fibre with capacity, to hold sound within itself. The lighter the Dayan is, usually the cheaper the drum.
The same usually goes for the Bayan which is made out of brass, clay, wood or other metals.
The tabla drum head or skin is called the pudi, the outer ring of the head is called the kinar , the inner or main skin is called the maidan or sur and the black circle in the center is most commonly known as the syhia but can also be called the gob.
The leather wrapped ring around the top head is called the gajra or pagri, the leather straps are called vaadi or chot, the wooden blocks are called gattha's and small leather ring around the bottom is called pendi. In brief these are the main parts of the Tabla.
The cloth rings the tabla rest on are called birha's or chumbal's.

Tips on sitting posture and playing:

The ideal sitting position is cross legged, yoga style, keeping your back and spine straight. The tabla are usually positioned evenly in front, tilted slightly away from the body and towards each other.
Some players position the smaller Dayan more in the center. This has to do with arm length.
The arm from the elbow to the fingertips needs to be somewhat straight. One way to do this is to make a military salute then move your arm down placing your hand on the drum. Keep the fingers together placing the tip of the middle finger on the middle of the gab. When learning to play tablat it is a common problem to let your hand curve to the right or left, the hand should remain straight at the wrist as in a salute.

Tabla Shorthand:

These are helpful tools for English speaking tablaji's irrespective of the fact that it may be more beneficial to learn or write boles in certain Indian languages.

Simple tabla shorthand can be obtained by following a couple of basic steps.

#1 Remove the H from all boles Dha becomes Da, Dhin = Din, Dhere =Dere etc.

#2 You may remove the E on many boles TE TE becomes TT, Ghe GE = GG.

#3 You may try removing both the above on some boles or removing the vowels altogether viz. Dhere Dhere = DR DR, Kitataka = KTTK, Terekita =TRKT, Gerenaga GRNG. Na can become N but is troublesome if you're trying to diferentiate Na from Ne. TA can also be difficult to reduce as it gets confused with TE.
A good rule of thumb is not to reduce many boles less than 2 letters:
KTTK = Ketetaka
Tabla short hand can be very useful especially when your guru is reciting lengthy boles in a short period of time, unfortunately it can also be devastating, for example when you are not familiar enough with your own shorthand and realize you can't remember if the abbreviated phrase DT was DHETE OR DHATI etc. etc...

Brackets in notation:

Another important aspect of writing in short hand is to use brackets ( ) anytime a phrase is repeated then followed by the number of times the phrase is repeated. Example: [DTI GN DNGN]3 or 3x.
It is visually useful to change bracket shapes when repeated phrases are used inside one another. {D (DRDR [DTI GN DNGN]3 )2 D D}3 D.
Timing is also critical and an easy way to clarify timing when using type is to use a comma Dha, Dhin, Dhin, Dha.
A popular way is to draw ellipses under the boles to represent beats. This is hard to achieve when typing.
Another way is to put a single line between beats or underneath the beginning of beats. Example: DTI | GN or | | under D and G. This is problematic when using brackets to repeat phrases because timing marks frequently change on repeated phrases.
It is sometimes possible to forgo timing marks because compositions often follow a 2, 3 or 4 meter per beat phrasing. Example: D TT D TT DD TT DG TN KN. This is a 16 beat phrase timing so marks are not necessary. Note that this form of short hand spacing has no bearing on time. Pauses in time should always be marked by a dash - and each dash should be relative. Example: D- TT TT D- - a two dash pause theoretically would be twice the length of a one dash pause.
Timing can be a tough cookie and a show stopper so depending on your personal taste you should decide when and where to use timing marks. Consider using it on a kaida theme and then variations may not have to be marked.


Using the term theme is sometimes useful when writing out compositions. If you can consider the base kaida composition a theme, then you can just write the theme anytime that part of the composition is used. Example: kaida theme "D TT D TT DD TT DG TN KN".
A variation could be written like this "D TT D TT D-]2x + theme".
Another useful mark is to use a ' to signify the end of a kali phase "D TT D TT 'DD TT DG TN KN". In this example (tali) dha tete dha tete 'dha dha tete dhage tina kena (kali is played) ta tete ta tete 'dha dha tete dhage dhina gena, the" ' " is where the baya returns.
Note: usually in kaidas the final boles of the tali section or theme as in this example end without the baya "tina kena" then switch at the end of the kali to "dhina gena". For example: Tali = "D TT D TT 'DD TT DG TN KN" kali ="TA TT TA TT 'DD TT DG DINA GENA".
It is also useful to think of bole combinations as single words. For example te te kat ta, dhe re dhe re, kit ta ta ka, ghe re na ga, te re ki ta, dhin na ghe na gha dhi ghe na tun na ke na as single words. It's much easier to conceptulize and memorize tetekata, deredere, kitataka, gerenaga, terekita, dinagena gadigena tunakena.
Finally it is a good idea to use today's tools, such as the computer, to copy understandable versions of your compositions to save and print copies. Any tablaji who has been playing for a long time has usually lost compositions either in notepads, having them get wet, or pages falling out or just not being able to understand their own handwriting, or short hand.
Tabla compositions can be priceless and sometimes lost for ever if they were not written down and the master is gone.


There are an estimated 350 talas in North Indian music. They are not as heavily accented as the sam, but serve to divide the tala into smaller sections as do the sam and khali.
In written notation, the tali are numbered, starting with the number two, as the sam is the first tali. For example, the sam is written the second tali is 2, the khali the third tali 3, and so on.
In this World Wide Web presentation, tabla bols written as one word have the same time value within a tala. Rests are written as "*". Each word or rest within a tala is of equal duration. These words or rests are each equal to a beat, except in sitarkhani, ardha jaital, upa dasi, and chartal ki sawari tala, where each word or rest is an eighth note in duration..

Teental: 16 beats, divided 4 + 4 + 4 + 4:

|: dha dhin dhin dha dha dhin dhin dha na tin tin ta ta dhin dhin dha :|

Sitarkhani: 16 beats with 3-3-2 eighth note pattern, divided 4 + 4 + 4 +4:

: dha * ga dhi * ge dha * dha * ga dhi * ge dha * dha * ka ti * ka ta * ta * ga dhi * ge dha * :|

Keharwa 8 beats with 3-3-2 accent pattern, divided 4 + 4:

|: dha ge na ti na ka dhi na :| Dadra 6 beats, divided 3 + 3:

|: dhi dhi na dha tin na :|

Rupak 7 beats, unusual in that sam and khali fall on the same beat, divided 3 + 2 + 2:

|: tin tin na dhin na dhin na :| Jhaptal 10 beats, divided 2 + 3 + 2 + 3:

|: dhi na dhi dhi na ti na dhi dhi na :|

Ektal 12 beats, dvided 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2:

|: dhin dhin dhage terikita tun na kat ta dhage terikita dhin dhage :|

Deepchandi 14 beats, divided 3 + 4 + 3 + 4:

|: dha dhin * dha dha tin * ta tin * dha dha dhin *:|

Chowtal 12 beats, divided 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2:

|: dha dha din ta kat dhage din ta tete kata gadi gena :|

Dhammar 14 beats, divided 5 + 2 + 3 + 4:

|: kat dhe te dhe te dha * ge te te te te ta * :|

Ardha Jaital 6 1/2 beats, divided 3 + 2 + 1 1/2

|: tin * na * teri kita dhin * na * dha ge na :|

Upa Dasi 10 1/2 beats, divided 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2:

|: tin * ta * teri kita tin * ta teri kita dhin * dha ge na dhin * dha ge na :|

Chartal Ki Sawari 11 beats, dvided 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2:

|: dhin * teri kita dhi * na * tun * na * kat * ta * dhin * na dhin * na :|

Excerpts from an old book on tabla which describes the thekas as they relate to the movement of animals:

Teental (16 beats divided 4/4) : The movement of this theka follows the movement of the horse. The the horse walks with regular time in each step. In race, the time of the steps remain regular and uniform.

Keharwa (8 beats divided 2, 4, or 8): This tala resembles more the walk of the donkey who is a poor and simple animal. The donkey can very easily walk the plain, the hill, straight, narrow, or curved paths. Keharwa, like the walk of a donkey, is played in every type of song.
In dance form, Keharwa is also known to resemble of the peacock that takes four steps rightwards then turns and takes four steps leftward.

Dadra (6 beats divided 3/3): This theka is popular in bhajans, Gazals, Geets and dadra. The movement of this tala is like that of a jumping bird. Like kerharwa there are many styles, Duggan, Tiggan, Chauggen etc.

Ektala and Chartala are popular talas of 12 beats (divided in 6 groups of 2 ). The Bada Khayals are 'specially sung in this tala. Played very slowly in vilambit Laya. The movement of this tala resembles the walk of the *elephant.
When Chartala is played in double or triple time this bole looses the movement of the elephant and resembles more the race of the deer where the musician sings his songs leaping from one note to another.

Ada Chautal was formed by the Dhrupad musicians by adding two matras to Chartal. Ada Chautal so formed started to take the place of the Dhamar Horis of royal families.

* Gyan ghosh described Dhamar tal as the elephant tala.

"Hi, I'm Warren Ashford. I wrote this article and I teach tabla in Austin, Texas.
Over the last 20 years I recieved my training from the late master Pandit Gyan Prakesh Ghosh and later studied under the premeire tabla maestro Zakir Hussain as well as Ravi Shankar's famed tabla accompanist the late Ustad Allah Rakha. I live in Austin Texas, offer private tabla lessons and teach a weekly tabla workshop on Saturdays for beginning and intermediate students.
For more information you can e-mail me or call 512-249-2943"

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