TablaTabla is the most famous percussion instrument of North India. It is most commonly used in North Indian classical music, but its versatility in all musical styles has enabled it to become the most popular percussion instrument in all of India. The level of sophistication and tonal beauty it possesses has elevated the instrument to an unmatched status in the world of percussion.

Tabla, a set of two drums, is the modern caretaker of an ancient rhythmic tradition that is perhaps 5000 years old in a part of the world that is considered a birthplace of civilization. I began studying tabla with a master teacher fifteen years ago after years of traditional Western percussion studies, and continue to be humbled by the tradition, complexity, and magic that are inherent in this study. I will try to touch on a few aspects that will hopefully illuminate an instrument that for many people is both exotic and fascinating.

The history of classical music in India is considered to be at least 5000 years old as represented by a continuum of musicians passing the music down in the oral tradition. As one of the oldest musical traditions in the world, there are qualities that many feel bridge the gap from the divine aspect of the creation of sound itself to musical expression. The first references to the melodic and rhythmic systems of Indian music are found in the Vedas, a sacred collection of literature in the ancient Sanskrit language dating from 1500 BC. The first mention of ragas (melody) and talas (rhythm) are in the Vedas and these ancient eternal qualities are still used in modern classical music.

The tabla is a set of two drums that are played while sitting on the floor. The larger drum, called Bayan, was originally made from clay, but is now constructed of metal (bras, steel, or copper). The Bayan is considered the bass drum of the set, but there is a tremendous range of expression possible by using certain techniques employed by a skilled drummer. The right-hand drum is called the Dahina, and is made of a seasoned hard wood and hollowed out like the Bayan.