My teacher Swami Muktananda, tells a wonderful story about tablas; it is said that a long long time ago, seers, deep in meditation, heard beautiful, celestial music. They wanted to create instruments replicating this divine music, so that mortal peeps (like myself) could be inspired into a state of bliss, similar to what they felt, when hearing celestial music. Muktananda stated that there are 7 instruments in Indian music created out of this inspiration. You may be familiar with the sitar, Ravi Shankar's instrument. This along with the tamboura, veena, sarod, saranghi, tablas, and the ektar. Give yourself the gift of hearing tablas played live. It's a visual treat as well. Hypnotic!
History and Construction
Tablas are part of an ancient music tradition dating back 5000 years. The tablas predecessor is called by many names; mrdangum, pakhawaj, and more. This two-headed drum, shaped much like a conga, is played laying on it's side. At one point this drum was divided into two halves, then placed upright, creating the first tablas, around 500 B.C.
The "r. & d." put into these tablas is obvious. Look closely and see that they actually have 2 skins each. All other hand drums have just one. There is one skin that completely covers the shell and another that is braided into the first, covering only the outer inch of the head. This creates more variety in the tones produced. The black center is a paste made from a variety of ingredients, depending on whats locally available. This paste also adds another dimension, as it is like having another head on the drum, producing very snappy slaps.
The Ultimate Rhythm Section
In western music (i.e. rock, jazz, blues, etc), the foundation of this music is what's called the"rhythm section", comprised of bass and drums, Together, they create a basis for the other musicians to play "over". The rhythm section provides the groove for the band and the more the bass player and drummer are connected empathically, technically, and spiritually, the better the groove. Well, there is no more solid a rhythm section than when you have one person playing both parts. This is some of the magic of tablas. Playing these together is quite evocative as the tabla player "dances" between melody and rhythm
The smaller (the "tabla") has 3 beautiful, distinct, bell-like tones, along with many other tones that make it the more rhythmical of the two drums. The larger drum (or "bayan") is a deeply resonant and melodic drum, akin to the talking drum from Africa. Over an octave of notes can be played on the bayan, making it the most melodic drum played today.
You may have heard jazz scat sung before. You know, when the vocalist starts riffing with syllables like "adoobeedaabee adoobeedaa aboombamma whambamma adiddleeedee". Classical Jazz has lots of great "scat" moments. The origins of these spoken rhythms are in African and Indian music. To this day, African and Indian rhythms have spoken syllables. In fact each stroke on drums from Africa and India has a different "name" or spoken syllable. Here are a few: "na tun da din tet diri te re ke". Playing a stroke on the bayan while simultaneously playing a stroke on the tabla produces a different name. For instance, "na" played with "gi" is called "da". Tada!
This language is a great tool for learning rhythm. One doesn't have to be at the drums to be practicing rhythm. You can sing these rhythms while doing dishes, hiking in the woods, or walking on the moon!
And when you return to the drums you have embodied the rhythm and your playing is improved. Of course, it's also quite fun to know a spoken rhythmic language. You just never know when you might "need" it.
Played Like Piano
Most hand drums are played with the flat palm. Tablas quite different in that each finger can be played independently or together, making tablas more like piano than other hand drums. I took a few years of piano lessons in my early teens. So, I actually had a head start at the tablas. Remarkably, many of the strokes on the tablas are akin to the fingerings on the piano. There is even a parallel between piano and tablas in that the right hand plays both the tabla and the treble clef; both are higher pitched, providing much of the "lead" of the instrument, while the left hand plays the bayan and the bass clef; both providing the rhythmic and melodic foundation.
A Night of Sacred Song
Please join us for an evening of sacred song! On the night of Saturday November 30 at 7:30 p.m, we'll be extending the
holiday of Thanksgiving with an evening of chanting and kirtan. Through sacred healing mantras and prayers, we'll create a space for love for ourselves and all Life. For this evening it's my honor to host Jens Jarvie
and Terri Ann Gillette. Two exquisite musicians who bring such delight to song. For information, call me at (707)824-1796.
In gratitude for the Gift of this blessed life. Peace, Sahar