The tabla (or tabl, tabla) (Hindi: तबला, Marathi: तबला, Kannada: ತಬಲ, Telugu: తబల, Tamil: தபேலா, Nepali: तबला, Urdu: طبلہ, Arabic: طبل، طبلة) is a popular Indian percussion instrument used in Hindustani classical music and in popular and devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. It is a membranophone instrument. The term tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabl, which simply means “drum.”
Playing technique involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different sounds, reflected in the mnemonic syllables (bol). The heel of the hand is used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion on the larger drum so that the pitch is changed during the sound’s decay. The history of this instrument is uncertain, and has been the subject of sometimes heated debate. Rebecca Stewart suggested it was most likely a hybrid resulting from the experiments with existing drums such as pakhawaj, dholak and naqqara. The origins of tabla repertoire and technique may be found in all three and in physical structure there are also elements of all three: the smaller pakhawaj head for the dayan, the naqqara kettledrum for the bayan, and the flexible use of the bass of the dholak.
The smaller drum, played with the dominant hand, is sometimes called dayan (lit. “right”; a.k.a. dahina, siddha, chattu) but is correctly called the “tabla.” It is made from a conical piece of mostly teak and rosewood hollowed out to approximately half of its total depth. The drum is tuned to a specific note, usually either the tonic, dominant or sub-dominant of the soloist’s key and thus complements the melody. The tuning range is limited although different dayañ-s are produced in different sizes, each with a different range. Cylindrical wood blocks, known as ghatta, are inserted between the strap and the shell allowing tension to be adjusted by their vertical positioning. Fine tuning is achieved while striking vertically on the braided portion of the head using a small hammer. The larger drum, played with the other hand, is called bayañ (lit. “left”; a.k.a. dagga, duggi, dhama). The bayañ has a much deeper bass tone, much like its distant cousin, the kettle drum. The bayañ may be made of any of a number of materials. Brass is the most common, copper is more expensive, but generally held to be the best, while aluminum and steel are often found in inexpensive models. One sometimes finds that wood is used, especially in old bayañs from the Punjab. Clay is also used, although not favored for durability; these are generally found in the North-East region of Bengal.
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