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What are Tablas?

Matthew F.
Matthew F.

Tablas are 18th century Indian hand drums used today in popular, classical, and artistic music. They consist of two short drum of different sizes, one played with each hand. Often played during religious ceremonies, tablas are an important part of Indian culture and music, and are the primary drums for popular and classical music north of India.

Tablas are typical non-frame drums. The tabla is a set of two drums, of different shapes, played at different timbres. They are often played sitting down, with the drum across the lap or in front of it. They can be played with the fingers, thumbs, palms, and knuckles, and produce different sounds based on the size of the drum. Tablas feature a perfect tunable pitch and because of its acoustical properties, the tabla is capable of many different notes.

A tablas' drum head is made by stretching goat skin over the face of the drum.
A tablas' drum head is made by stretching goat skin over the face of the drum.

Tablas are made of many materials. Unlike many ancient Middle Eastern drums, a tabla shell is generally made from brass, aluminum, or metal, though it can be made from cheaper materials. Like most of its predecessors, though, the drum head is generally made by stretching goat skin over the face of the drum.

Tablas consist of a right hand drum, called the dayan, and a left hand drum, called the bayan. The dayan is a cylindrical shell made of hard wood, as most Indian drums are. The dayan drum is slightly larger at the base than it is at the top. The bayan drum, made most effectively from polished brass, has a semi-circular shape, rounded on the bottom and flat on top. Both drums stand less than 1 ft (30 cm) high, while the dayan is 5.5 in (14 cm) wide at the head and the bayan is 8.6 (22 cm) across.

Tablas are descended from a long line of Middle Eastern and Indian instruments from ancient times. They are directly descended from the Indian mrdangm and puskara, which were seen in pictographs as early as the sixth and seventh centuries. Tablas were developed from these lap-drums in the 1700s. The name, from the Arabic word tabl for drum, comes from the Arabic invaders of India who played an integral role in the Indian music of the period.

The playing of tablas typically follows six different styles of Indian classical music, called gharanas. The teachings were developed in order, and include many styles. Among these styles are different styles of improvisation, special notes, continuous playing, powerful strokes, and delicate and sensitive playing with a curved ring finger.

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Discussion Comments


Tablas are very unique drums. They are considered the most complex drums in the world. Each head consists of three separate skins. The smaller drum is played with the right hand and is made of oak or hollow rose wood. The top is covered with stretched and layered leather held in place by leather braces. There are wooden pegs between the braces and the drum which adjusts the tension, controlling the pitch.

There is a black spot in the center of the tabla which is made from a mixture of mucilage, carbon black, and iron fillings gathered from the sides of Indian railway lines. That mixture is rolled into a sticky ball and applied as spiral layers until the black spot is formed. These black spots are very delicate and should only be struck with your hand.


@cellmania: Timbre refers to the quality of the sound that is produced by a vibrating object. It is dependent on the natural frequency of sound waves produced by a particular object. All objects have their own natural frequency at which they vibrate. Some objects vibrate at a single frequency and produce a pure tone. For example, a flute vibrates at a single frequency so it is said to produce a pure tone.


In the second paragraph of this article, it refers to timbres. What exactly is that?

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    • A tablas' drum head is made by stretching goat skin over the face of the drum.
      By: LittleSteven65
      A tablas' drum head is made by stretching goat skin over the face of the drum.