Most musical instruments are easy and fun to learn because you can start getting the sounds right away. But for many people Tabla and bamboo flutes are the hardest to start. These instruments are fun to play once you know how to get the sounds out, but in the begginning, they takes patience and hard work. Tabla cannot be played without learning the real strokes and sounds. You can not just start banging the heads and hope that something beatiful will come out, it won’t. And there is no magical way to learn the sounds in one session either. After a lot of hard work and determination, eventually the fun is awaiting.
Tabla has ten main sounds (boles). All other boles are combination of these sounds. These ten sounds are divided into three basic categories:
Dayan’s (right side’s) sounds:
1. na or ta
2. tin or ti
3. din or thun
Bayna’s (left side’s) sounds:
7. Ge or Ghe (pronounced gay and ghay)
8. ke (pronounced kay)
Sounds played with both hands at the same time:
9. dha ( ‘ge’ plus ‘na’ or #7+#1)
10. dhin (‘ghe’ plus ‘tin’ or #7+#2)
Here are the techniques. Please don’t skip to the next sound until you learn correct the hand positions of one sound. Soon there will be video instructions.
1. ‘Na’ or ‘Ta’: put your third finger on the edge of Sihaee (ink) and hit the Chanti (edge) with your index finger. The middle finger should not touch anything. The index finger hits and bounces off right away (just hovering above the head, don’t pick you hand up). This is the most used sound and is the tuned sound too, so work hard on this one. Do not move your third and fourth fingers. This is a bad habit that will be hard to get rid of. Keep your thumb close to your index finger when playing. Keep your hand loose and wrist lifted up. Your elbow and your wrist should be parallel. This way your hand will not tire easily.
Think of the tabla head as a light metal lid of a pot. If you hit the lid with you finger and let it bounce off, the lid will ring. If the finger stays on the lid, the sound will be muted. The same rule applies here. By trying this experiment on a metal lid, you may also see that it is easier to get the ringing sound if hand and fingers are loose. The bouncing happens with the laws of Newton, rather than you pulling the finger away from the Tabla. You do not need to hit Tabla very hard to get this sound, if you are getting a ‘tik’ sound, you are hitting too hard and your hand is stiff. Read this paragraph a few times while trying to play. If you got this sound, half of your battle is over. Why is this sound called Na and Ta? These are the names of the same sound used by different schools of Tabla.
2. ‘Tin’ or ‘Ti’: third finger stays on the Siahee, the index finger hits the ‘Luv’ (the middle part between ‘Sihaee’ and ‘Chanti’). Again, it bounces right off the head to let it ring. Whenever this sound comes by itself, it is always called ‘Tin’. But when it is followed by ‘Na,’ then it is written as ‘ti.’ So when you see ‘tina,’ play and pronounce it as Tin+Na (two sounds).
3. ‘Din or ‘Thun’: when all four fingers together hit the Sihaee and are picked up right way, that is the ‘Din ‘ or ‘Thun’ sound.
4. Tu: this is achieved by hitting the Sihaee by index finger. It is an open sound too.
5. Te: when second, third and fourth fingers hit the Sihaee and stay there, that is the ‘Te’ sound. Staying means that this is a ‘muted sound.’ The fingers do not let the head ring.
6. Re: when hitting the Sihaee with the index finger. it is also a muted sound and it often follows ‘Te’.
7. ‘Ge’ or ‘Ghe’: this is a Bayan’s sound. When hitting the ink part of Bayan with index finger’s tip and it rings, that is ‘ge’, if hit by the middle finger that is called ‘Ghe’. When playing these sounds back part of your left hand should be resting right on the head and pressure of palm will give the Bayan sounds their distinguish bend. Hitting the head by bending your fingers on 90-digree angle makes these sounds. Also, Ghe is supposed to be played with a little more pressure than Ge.
8. Ke: when hitting the Bayan with all four fingers flat, that is ‘ke’. It is a muted sound.
9. Dha: ‘ge’ plus ‘Ta’ or ‘Na’ is ‘Dha’.
10. Dhin: ‘ghe’ plus ‘tin’ is ‘Dhin’. Sometimes this sound is also written as ‘Dhi’. In those cases it is folloed by the ‘Na’ sound. So when you see ‘dhina’ play and read ‘Dhin+Na’.
These are all the basic boles (sounds) of Tabla. Then there are some bigger boles that are created by joining two or more boles together. Some combined boles are explained below:
Combination Boles (sounds):
Combination boles are not played at the same time, but one after another. Here are a few examples of these combined boles. These boles will be used in Taals. When you read a Taal and have any doubt about any bole (sound), please refer to this list:
Tina: When ‘Tin’ and ‘Na’ come back to back, they are pronounced together as ‘Tinna’. Here written as ‘Tina’.
Dhina: Same as ‘Tina’ this is the combination of ‘Dhin and Na’ together. Pronounce it as ‘Dhinna’.
Tuk: ‘Ta’ and ‘kay’ make ‘Tuk’.
Kit: It is a combination of ‘Kay’ and ‘te’. Mostly it follows ‘Tir’ or ‘tit’ described below or is followed by ‘Tuk.’
Tirkit: This is a very common Bole. It is a combination of four boles back to back:
Te, re, kay, te,
Kuta: It is combination of ‘kay’ and ‘Ta’. Pronounce it as ‘Kattaa’.
Dhit: When Right hand plays ‘Tit (Tir or Te+re)’ and left hand adds ‘ghe’ with it. It becomes ‘dhit’.
Gadi: Combination of ‘Ge’ and an open Dayan sound ‘din’ or ‘di’.
Gan: ‘Gan’ mostly follows ‘Gadi’. If these both boles are played in one beat then they will be written like ‘Gadigan.’ ‘Gan’ is combination of ‘ge’ and ‘Na.’
Truk: ‘Truk’ is combination of ‘te’, ‘re’ and ‘kay’. It is always played together quickly otherwise it almost sounds like ‘tirkit’
Det: it is combination of ‘din’ and ‘ta’. It is pronounced like ‘they-ta’ with a very soft ‘T’.
Nug: This is a combination of ‘Na’ and ‘ge’.