World Music Instrument: The Tabla

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that students in World Music in the Schools enjoy working with . . .

The tabla is a paired drum set from the northern regions of South Asia (North India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and parts of Afghanistan).  Consisting of a high drum (dayan) and a low drum (dagga or bayan), the tabla is played with the fingers, using a variety of different strokes and hand positions, to produce up to twenty different sounds.  Each of these sounds in turn has a name, or a syllable.  Together, these syllables (for example: ta, tin, dha, dhin) are used pedagogically as a rhythmic solfège—the syllables are sung to the student in order to teach rhythmic phrases, which are then reproduced on the drums.

Although the tabla was invented and popularized in the Mughal courts of Delhi approximately 300 years ago, the systems of music it stems from are over two thousand years old.  The tabla, in a sense, is a modern instrument that reflects South Asia’s embodiment of the ancient and the new—it has both Hindu roots and an Islamic Mughal past while continuing to thrive as a vibrant tradition, both within the contexts of North Indian Classical music as well as in the global musical landscape.

—Miles Shrewsbery, World Music in the Schools Teaching Artist

See the tabla in action on YouTube: Tabla Legend Ustad Alla Rakha | Interview with Zakir Hussain (Alla Rakha’s son) | Miles Shrewsbery Tabla Solo

Learn more about Teaching Artist Miles Shrewsbery and his music at tablamiles.com.