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.
DulcimerShofar 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.
DulcimerShofar 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). DulcimerShofar
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
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
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
Click here for tabla re-heading.
- What is that black spot on the tabla head?
- I dented my Bayan, what do I do?
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
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
The siyahi can be damage by rings on the fingers or accidental strikes
to the head by hard objects. Always protect your drum heads. DulcimerShofar
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.