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World renowned percussionist Pete Lockett shows us
how to recreate the sublime rhythms of the tabla\u2026
guide to
f all the drums in the world, the
tabla has to be one of the most

complex, with its intricate and
finely articulated stroke combinations
and highly developed rhythmic
systems. It\u2019s truly amazing how many

distinctly different sounds can come
from such a tiny set of drums, and
programming something that sounds
even close to an authentic tabla part
can be a huge challenge. Of course, if
you have 30 years to spare, you could
always learn how to play the instrument
yourself, but I doubt the record
company would wait that long for the
master mix. Fear not, though \u2013 here I\u2019m
going to show you how create that
realistic tabla vibe using nothing more
than a MIDI editor and a set of samples.

Let\u2019s start by looking at the drums
On the DVD
All our tabla MIDI parts and
samples are in theTu t o r i a l
files folder, as well as two

Battery kits and an MP3
talkthrough to accompany
the walkthroughs

make music nowPercussion programming
this particular drum.
The treble drum is tuned by

knocking the wooden blocks with a
small hammer. Fine tuning is carried out
by hitting the leather hoop. The drum is
tuned to the tonic or dominant note of
the scale of the piece of music to be
played. The bass tabla isn\u2019t actually
tuned to any particular pitch because
of the essential glissando pitch-
bending that features so heavily in its
playing technique.

To get that essential tabla
resonance, paste patches are applied
to both heads. These patches (\u2018shyahi\u2019)
are made from a paste of iron fillings,
flour and ground hill stone. In India, a
chemical is also sometimes added to
stop ants eating them \u2013 not particularly
a problem in the UK, of course.

Balancing act
When I record tablas in the studio, I
prefer a stereo pair of mics \u2013 left for the

bass tabla and right for the treble tabla.
This gives a good level of control over
the two drums later in the mix. With this
in mind, we\u2019ll be making the overall
sound of our tabla from two sets of
samples: one for the bass tones and
the other for the treble tones. In the
Battery kit on the DVD, the tabla are
already panned left and right \u2013 so if
you\u2019re using that, you can leave them
just as they are (unless you want to
create a different effect, that is). For me,
these pan settings are ideal as they
provide a good balance between the
two drums.

All the grooves we\u2019re going to put
together in our walkthroughs, including
the glissando on the bass tabla, will be
created with single-shot samples \u2013 no
loops will be used at all. I recorded the
hits in a top London studio, including
bass tones at various pitches so we can
create the glissando effect by sheer
force of programming. Let's begin\u2026cm

themselves before moving on to some
practical programming concepts
for them.

Turning the tablas

The tabla originate from North India and
comprise of a set of two drums \u2013 treble
and bass. They\u2019re distinct from most
other drums in that each is played with
a different hand. Very seldom do you
see both hands playing one drum. The
tablas have a regal history dating back
centuries to the time when Indian
palaces had resident court musicians.

The performer sits on the floor with

the drums in front of them, nestled in
two supporting rings called \u2018adharas\u2019.
The high pitched drum is cylindrical in
shape and about 10" tall. It\u2019s made from
wood, usually shisham or nim, and is
hollowed out from the top, like a cup,
remaining sealed at the bottom. The
drum has only one skin, which is
generally about 5" in diameter, and the
shell is wider at the bottom than the top
by about 11/2".

The bass tabla is essentially a small,
single-headed kettle drum made of
nickel alloy (although occasionally you
might see one made of clay). Both drum
heads (\u2018puri\u2019) are made of goatskin and
held in place by a complicated hoop
(\u2018pagri\u2019), which is woven around the
edge of the skin. The heads are fixed to
the drum with a long leather strap
(\u2018chot\u2019), which is threaded through the
hoop and underneath the drum via a
small leather ring. A thin rim (about 1"
wide) runs around the edge of the skin,
both inside and out; this is known as
the \u2018kinar\u2019 or \u2018kani\u2019 and is also made of

goatskin. Tensioning the skin is done by
pulling the long leather strap \u2013 the
treble drum is pulled a lot tighter and
has small wooden blocks (\u2018gattha\u2019)
inserted between the shell and the
straps to get it up to the pitch required.
Sometimes you see even smaller
wooden blocks used for the bass tabla,
and in Benares, things are done
completely differently, with rope and
metal rings used to set the tension of


InfoAbout the author

Pete Lockett is one of the most
versatile and prolific percussionists
in the world. Renowned for his
remarkable ability to bring
traditional instruments out of their
original cultural setting, he\u2019s

recorded and/or performed with Bj\u00f6rk, Afro Celt
Sound System, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, The
Verve, Nitin Sawhney, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Zakir
Hussain, Viku Vinayakram, Mandolin Shrinivas,

Texas, Craig Armstrong, Transglobal Underground,
Mel C, Bedlam, Beth Orton, Kula Shaker and
Vanessa Mae, amongst others. He\u2019s also played
on numerous film soundtracks, including the
three most recent James Bonds, City of Angels,

Moulin Rouge, The Insider, Plunkett and Maclean

andSnatch, and has four critically acclaimed
solo albums to his name. To learn more about
the world of percussion, or to contact Pete
himself, visit his website.

And here are some bols used to
describe pairs of consecutive strokes:

Dhe:G e + Te

There are many other stroke
combinations and sounds in the tabla
vocabulary, but these are the
essentials to get you started.


Bass drum closed
stroke, played with the
whole hand flat.


A resonant bass tabla
stroke, played with the
finger tips. The wrist bends

the pitch of the drum.


strikes the treble
drum with the third
and fourth fingers
down, and the index
finger raised. A soft
version of \u2018te\u2019.


Treble drum closed
sound with flat
fingers. Staccato.NE

Ring finger on the edge of the treble drum. A soft

sound, almost like a grace note.
Open resonant
treble drum
Treble drum
inner rim sound

played with the
index finger, the second finger
raised, and the third and fourth
fingers damping. Similar to \u2018na\u2019
but with slightly more bass.

Treble drum sound with the index finger striking
the edge of the rim, the second finger raised,

and the third and fourth fingers damping. This
creates the characteristic ringing tone of the tabla. There\u2019s also
the closed \u2018na\u2019 stroke, which involves leaving the finger on the
skin after the stroke, creating a sharp \u2018chick\u2019 sound.

Rather than a system of written notation, Indian percussionists use
a special vocabulary of syllables to describe the patterns they play
(\u2018bols\u2019, which translates as \u2018word\u2019). These syllables are intended to
mimic the sounds that come from the drums. Each stroke, or
combination of strokes, has its own word or set of words that
combine into an alphabet of phrases, out of which longer and
longer patterns are composed. The words have no meaning beyond
the patterns they represent, and generally they\u2019re the first thing a
student studies when learning tabla. Here are some example bols,
along with an explanation of the strokes that they describe:

The Indian phonetic system
Q&A focus
make music now
Percussion programming

Select All but MIDI from Battery\u2019s drag and drop
options. This means that when you drag a sample from
say C2 to C1, then the note will sound when you strike

C1 and not when you strike C2.>>

To do this, first import all of the required samples
towards the bottom of Battery\u2019s interface, just to get
them all in there before actually positioning them.>>


Having normalised and trimmed our individual hits, we
need to import them into our sampler \u2013 in this case,
Battery, but any will do. We want to lay the samples out

across the keyboard in a way that makes it easy to play parts
in by hand without crossing over awkwardly.>>

This second part is similar to the first, but with just a little more space. We\u2019re going to look at a few treble drum patterns before moving on to the bass parts;

notice that we\u2019ve not put any open bass sounds in our
Battery kit. We\u2019ll be building a bass tabla kit a little later.>>
Here we have our first simple part, using two sounds on
the treble tabla. The pattern is \u2018Na tin tin tin\u2019. We\u2019re

using two slightly different \u2018tin\u2019 samples to make the
sound a little less mechanical. It\u2019s always a good idea to put
a few different versions of each sound in your sampled
percussion kits for this reason. Velocity variation is another
way of getting a more natural sound.>>

We\u2019ve dragged the sample from Row C, Column 1 onto
Row A, Column 1 to duplicate it, and then deleted the

original. Go through this process note by note, putting
each individual sample on a key that suits your fingers. Of
course, you could just import each note individually but that\u2019s
more time consuming.>>


Now we have the characteristic open \u2018thun\u2019 tone. This
sound really cuts through and leaps out of any mix. Like
all the sounds in the treble tabla kit, it's on the same

mute group. Think of the high tabla in the same way you
would a hi-hat \u2013 it can only make one sound at a time.

Here we\u2019ve introduced the closed \u2018na\u2019 sound. This is an effective tone for enhancing a groove. It\u2019s articulated by the finger remaining on the skin after the stroke.>>

This type of treble tabla part is commonly found in folk
styles. It\u2019s this style that you usually hear applied to a

contemporary western environment. Looking at the MIDI
part, we can see how short the notes are. The sounds are
fairly short too, but this is academic as they\u2019re one-shot
samples that sound until another member of their mute
group is triggered.>>

STEP BY STEP Treble tabla concepts
make music nowPercussion programming

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