The Tabla (तबला), Tablā, is one of the main percussion instruments that are used in Indian music. Right from the North Indian classical music to the most recent types of music, Tabla has been able to keep its place and popularity among the listeners. Table has replaced almost all other percussion instruments due to the dexterity of sound and variation that can be adopted while playing it. Incidentally, it is the only percussion instrument that originated in India, or an Indian drum, that is two-piece. All other Indian percussion instruments are single piece, and no wonder that this unique aspect of shape of Tabla helps it to be used anywhere and everywhere.
History of Tabla
Well, like many other historical things, the problem with Tabla is also there—there are many heated arguments about the origin of this instrument; however, the most convincing of them is that the 13th century Indian poet and musician Amir Khusrau was playing Pakhawaj, and it broke off—he tried to play the broken parts and it worked: and this was the beginning of the great instrument that we know with the name of Tabla.
Structure of Tabla
As it has already been mentioned that this is the only percussion instrument originating in India that has 2 pieces—the left piece is bigger one and is called Bāyān (बायाँ) and the right one is called Dāyān (दायाँ), which literally means left and right.
Sometimes, the left one is also called as Duggā and the right one as Tabla. The nomenclature of these two pieces differs from person to person and schools of instructions and training. However, almost all the names are commonly understood by almost all people who have a little bit of knowledge about this drum.
The left part of Tabla is quite big and is often made of some metallic parts: steel, copper, and brass are frequently used for making the drum. This part often resembles a Nagārā, which is quite big in size. The right side is made of high quality wood and is quite small than the left side—almost half of that.
As it is clear that the left part of Tabla is bigger, it produces bass sound as compared to the treble sound produced by the right piece. Technically, the left part is tuned to the lowest octave (first in case of a harmonium), while the right one is tuned to the third octave of notes.
The heads of both pieces are made of skin of some animals—goats, camels, etc. in the central part of the right piece, there is a black mound, which is called Syāhi, which literally means ink. On the left part, this Syāhi is not exactly in the centre of the head but is somewhat displaced. This black part is a very unique aspect of all the percussion instruments of India, as it produces very good quality of notes. It also allows modulating the notes and allows lengthening the sound of notes. World famous physicist of India, Prof. C. V. Raman did a lot of research work on this black part of Indian drums and he found out that this part allows Indian drums to produce the perfect quality of sound according to the definitions of Physics.
The heads of both pieces can be tightened with the help of wooden stocks that are inserted in the ropes that are run through the circumference of the heads. Striking finds, palms, and different parts of the hands produces different sounds from these heads, and it is left to the creativity of the exponent to experiment and improvise when it has learnt the basics of beats.
Style of playing Tabla
The style of playing of Tabla is bit different from Pakhawaj: there are many continuous beats—Thekas (ठेका), as they are called in local language—that are played for accompanying a performer, either vocal or instrumental. In classical rendering, Tabla provides company and often involves Jugalbandi (जुगलबन्दी), which means making similar notes as is made by the singer or a leading non-percussion instrument. This is one of those parts where exponents are called to be playing one another and testing the capabilities of each other. There are many tempos of beats that can be played in Tabla, which ranges from very very slow to very very fast. The mastery over Tabla requires a lot of co-ordination with the time period so that the continuity of beat can be retained.
Tabla is surely one of the finest percussion instruments that you will get ever in the world, just because of sheer dexterity that it provides in its sound quality and playing techniques. In its evolution in size, structure, and materials used, it has made itself a suitable accompaniment for classical, semi-classical, sufi, ghazal, folk, devotional, and almost all other types of singing, which clearly defines the versatility of this instrument. The tradition of schools of instructions in Tabla has formed a sort of trend in India and abroad. Very recently, it has become a worthy and one of the few percussion instruments that are presented in solo concerts, and now wonder that the art of playing Tabla will achieve more peaks in the coming time.