Origin of the Tabla
The more colorful version of the history of the tabla is that Amir Khusro, the chief councilor of Allauddin Khilzi, invented the Tabla in the 13th century. Some believe he invented the Tabla set by dividing the Pakhawaj (or Mirdinham) in half. However, the Amir’s court recorder, Abul Fazil, made no mention of this momentous cultural break through in music. So it is unlikely that Khusro is the inventor. Since the word tabla, may derive from the Arabic tabl (drum) or the Turkish dawal, it is more likely that these cultures introduced the design into Indian culture. Even this is speculation since the earliest depictions the tabla in Indian literature does not occur until the 18th century.
Today, Tablas are part of the standard Indian musical society. They give the beat to the orchestra, accompanying sitars and tamburas. They also provide the beat for dancers. With skill the Tabla can be played alone providing a pleasing performance in double, triple and fourth speeds.
Description of the Tabla
The Tabla is really a two drum set. The cylindrical, wooden drum is played with the right hand. This drum is called the Dayan, Dahina, or the Tabla. These Dayan are usually carved of toon or rosewood wood. They are approximately 9-10 inches tall and have a head diameter of 6 inches. Expect considerable variation in the head diameter, and be specific about the diameter of your drum when ordering replacement heads. The base of the drum has a slightly larger diameter that the open head.
The “left hand” drum is slightly conical and bowl shaped. This drum can be made of metal, wood, or ceramic. It is called the Bayan, Duggi, or Dagga. These are approximately 10 inches high and have a head diameter of roughly 10 inches
The heads of both the dayan and the bayan are multi layered goatskin called a puddi. They are made on multi-layered membranes. Think of the main skin as a circle. It has a diameter sufficient to overlap the opening of the drum by one to two inches. Now imagine two skins that have the same diameter as the main skin, but they have had their centers cut out. The main skin is sandwiched between these two donut-shaped skins. These donut-shaped skins cover only the outer edge of the main skin. Near the center of the head, is a black spot, the siyahi. The phonetic name of this spot is the Cee-Hi. This black raised area is applied in layers, and is usually made of rice, glue, graphite, and iron fillings. The siyahi is essential to the sound of the tabla. Be careful not to allow the siyahi to become damp, this will loosen the layers. Once the siyahi has been damaged the drum must be re-headed.
Mid-East carries several styles of Tablas for the beginner and the accomplished player. Each set comes with a tuning hammer, cushions, covers, and in a carrying case.
The Standard Tabla Set with Aluminum Bayan (TBSS) and wooden dayan offers good craftsmanship and good savings. Both are tuned by lacing. A cylindrical carrying case is included.
Our Bolt Tuned Tabla Set with Brass Bayan (TBBD) has the standard wooden dayan paired with a deluxe nickel coated brass bayan. Both are bolt tuned, which makes changing the heads faster and can be done by the novice. A professional side-by-side fiberglass case is included.
The Professional Tabla Set (TBSP) has a deluxe nickel coated brass bayan and wooden dayan. Both are tuned by lacing. A professional side-by-side fiberglass case is included.
Mid-East also offers a very attractive Tabla Set with Embossed Brass Bayan in gold color (TBSG) and nickel coated (TBSE). Both are tuned by lacing. A professional side-by-side fiberglass case is included.
Tabla Accessories and Instruction
Along with the sets you can purchase each drum separately. You can also purchase the standard nylon case (NCTB) or the professional case (TBCL). Mid-East carries accessories as well, including tuning hammers (HAMR), cushion sets (TBCH), tabla lacing (TBLC), and replacement heads for the dayan and bayan (TBHD, TBHB). If you are a student of Tabla consider our two volume set of Learn to Play Tabal books (LTB2). Ran Avtar `Vir’ authors this set. They cover Parts of tablas, sitting positions, Boles, time and rhythm, tuning exercises, history, care, beginning tals, advance talas, and more. An additional learning aide is the Exotic Percussion of the World (VIDE). This video has several advanced players demonstrating techniques on a number of drums.
Tuning The Tabla
The tuning of the tabla is dependent on the raga being played. The wooden dagga should be tuned very low, but, not so low that it does not compliment the tabla.
Tabla drumheads are attached and tuned by lacing. The lacing is looped through 16 holes on the edge of the head, over the body, and around a rawhide ring at the base of the drum. The lacing is pulled tight. For tuning, 8 tabla blocks are held under the lacing. These blocks are tapped with the tuning hammer to slacken or stretch the lacing. The subtle movement of the blocks alters the pitch of the drum. Tapping the blocks lower, increases the tension on the lacing and puddi, and raises the pitch of the drum. Fine tuning can be achieved by tapping the edge of the puddi or laces. It is important to have equal tension around the drum for proper tuning.
Re-heading a laced tabla requires some patience. Pay special attention to the way the lacing is wrapped before you remove the old head. It may take some time to re-lace, and some sweat to pull the lacing tight.
There is a nut and bolt style tunable tabla set which is often preferred to the lace tuning sets. The nut and bolt tuning allow fast replacement of the heads as well as ease of tuning. This is especially helpful for the novice.
That is the siyahi (pronounced cee- hi). It helps give the tabla its distinctive sound. The siyahi is delicate and should not be scratched at or allowed to become damp. Once the siyahi is damaged the tabla must be re-headed.
The siyahi is a very important and critical part of the tabla. It is usually made of rice, glue, graphite, and iron fillings. It is located on the Dayan and Bayan heads. The black applied in layers on the heads off center. Each layer is a bit small that the previous one. If you look closely you can see distinct layers. When it is finished the siyahi bulges slightly above the head surface. Get out a magnification glass and look at the siyahi. There should be some sheen to its surface. Look closely and you will see hairline cracks on the surface of the layers. These cracks are an integral part of how the siyahi operates. If the siyahi were solid and inflexible it would act as a damper on the sound of the head. The cracks act as expansion joints that let the siyahi flex while the drum head is vibrating and still remain intact. As a head ages, these cracks will widen. Eventually small bits of the siyahi will dislodge and flake off.
The siyahi can be damage by rings on the fingers or accidental strikes to the head by hard objects. Always protect your drum heads. Mid-East tablas come with cushions and head covers. Keep the head cover handy and use it whenever you are not playing.
Moisture is the biggest threat to the siyahi. Moisture can wick from the skinhead to the siyahi. Once damp, the siyahi can be loosened from the head. If the layers of the siyahi are damaged the drum must be re-headed.
Turn the dent toward the wall. Really! We are not trying to be sarcastic. A dent rarely affects the sound. It may not be nice to look but don’t worry about it. When the time comes and you are ready to re-head your drum you can work on the dent then. With the head off you can beat the dent out from the inside. You can use a rubber mallet, a baseball or even a plain hammer with a thick covering of cloth. Just work slowly and you should be able to remove the dent.
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