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T
he South Indian rhythm system of Carnatic music is based
largely on mathematics for stringing together rhythm cells of
various durations to t a given rhythm cycle. e rhythm system
of North India is based primarily on xed, extended composi-
tions rendered on North Indian tabla. e goal of this article is to adapt
shorter tabla phrases into potent grooves for accompanying music in
practical, real-world applications.
Before presenting specic examples, here is some general background
of North Indian music.
TERMINOLOGY
Dayan: Although the pair of drums is called tabla, the term “dayan” is
applied to the high drum made from wood. Dayan literally means
right or right drum.
Bayan: e metal low drum that produces bass tones. Bayan literally
means left or left drum.
Bol: is means “word” and refers to the syllables that are an onomato-
poetic representation of tabla sounds. Bol can also represent an entire
composition.
Tala: e rhythmic component of North Indian classical music per-
formed on any percussion instrument such as tabla, pakhawaj, or
naqqara.
Sam (pronounced Sum): Beat one of a given rhythmic cycle, emphasized
by a clap of the hand, notated using “+”.
Bharee: e portion of a tabla phrase that is emphasized with bass tones
of the bayan. Literally meaning “full.”
Khali: the portion of a phrase not emphasized by bass bayan tones. Khali
means “empty” and is indicated by a outward wave of the hand, no-
tated using “o”.
Matra: Meaning “stroke” or beat.
Kinar: e outer portion of the dayan that is metallic in character. e
kinar stroke (na/ta) is the most commonly used stroke on tabla.
Sur: the harmonic tone (tin) that results when the dayan is struck di-
rectly between the kinar and the gab.
Gab: Black circle for closed tones: tete/tira kita, made from rice powder
and iron lings, formed into a paste, rubbed onto the goatskin in lay-
ers.
RHYTHMIC CYCLES
Tintal: 16-beat cycle subdivided into four equal groups (4 + 4 + 4 + 4 =
16)
Jhaptal: 10-beat cycle subdivided into four groups (2 + 3 + 2 + 3 = 10)
Kaharwa: 8-beat cycle subdivided into two equal groups (4 + 4 = 8)
Rupak Tal: 7-beat cycle subdivided into three groups (3 + 2 + 2 = 7)
Dadra Tal: 6-beat cycle subdivided into two equal groups (3 + 3 = 6).
CLASSIFICATION OF TABLA BOLS
One of the more challenging and beautiful aspects of tabla is the use
of spoken syllables (“bols”) to represent drum sounds. However, this
language-based system can be somewhat daunting to students trained
using drumset notation. Always try to speak each phrase clearly to grasp
the inherent rhythmic “poetry.”
Drumset variations are derived using a general categorization of tabla
Drumset Adaptations of North
Indian Tabla
By Jerry Leake
bols. To avoid hampering improvisation and variation we will not es-
tablish a strict system. Below is an abridged list of tabla bols with basic
classications of sound quality: sustaining or non-sustaining tones, high-
pitched, bass sounds. To the right of each bol are suggested drumset
interpretations. e third column includes western notation.
Drumset Notation
Dayan (high drum)
ta/na: single stroke on high cymbal, hi-hat,
drum, metallic in sound. snare
Long sustaining tone.
tin/tun: single stroke, cymbal, hi-hat,
produces the open “ring” of snare
the tabla. Long sustaining
tone.
Bayan (low drum)
ge/ga: single stroke, bass drum or toms
bass tone, sustaining.
Tabla and Bayan,
sustaining tones cymbal or hi-hat
dha (na + ge) most with snare or bass
common stroke on drum, strong
tabla strong emphasis. emphasis.

dhin (tin + ge) open hi-hat or bell
open “ring” of tabla with of cymbal with
low bayan, emphasis bass drum;
receives emphasis.
non-sustaining tones
te te: paired strokes on paired strokes on
dayan,medium drumset, eighth note
tempo (eighths). ride or hi-hat.

tira kita: four successive four strokes
strokesusing dayan and hi-hat/cymbal
bayan. Fast tempo and snare;
(sixteenths). paradiddles.
KEHARWA ON DRUMSET
Keharwa is a popular 8-beat “folk” tal that transcribes to one- or two-
bar grooves on drumset. Variations are often derived by starting from
dierent beats of the phrase resulting in unique and evolving develop-
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ment. Phrase displacement requires no change in technique; however,
the rhythm will sound and feel quite dierent. Annotations will indicate
which phrases to displace.
Each example includes the tabla language followed by the corre-
sponding drumset transcription. Always speak the phrase rst (refer to
the video link), speak while playing drumset, and play drumset without
speaking.
STYLISTIC POSSIBILITIES
Each variation can be played at slow, medium, and fast tempo. In slow
to medium tempo these examples work well in Latin settings; by swing-
ing the phrase they work in contemporary jazz and hip-hop styles. A
more Jo-Jo Mayer-inspired “drum’n’bass” approach results at fast tempo
with rim clicks on snare replacing open drum tones.
1.
2. (Also start from the 2nd beat.)
3. (Also start from the 2nd and 3rd beat.)
4.
5.
6. (Also start from the 2nd beat.)
7. (Also start from the 4th beat of bar 2.
See a video of examples given in this article by accessing the digital
version of this issue at www.pas.org/publications/jan13digitaledition/
Video
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8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
KAIDA ON DRUMSET
Among the many tabla compositional forms, kaida is most widely
used because of the tremendous variety of rhythm and variation. A kaida
consists of a main theme with variations derived by extrapolating and
developing elements of the original theme, shuing the deck of possi-
bilities. Presented below are nine tintal (16-beat) kaida themes, with the
player encouraged to explore variations by shuing the elements.
1.
2.
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3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
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9.
VIDEO
(1) practice the spoken tabla phrase; (2), hear phrases played on tabla;
(3), hear phrases played on drumset; (4) hear phrases played simultane-
ously on tabla and drumset. My New England Conservatory student
Zach Para is heard playing all drumset examples.
CONCLUSION
Rhythmic inspiration can be derived from seemingly unlimited sourc-
es, cultures, and concepts to broaden a player’s vocabulary and imagina-
tion. ese ideas are not designed to make you sound like a tabla player;
the sounds of each instrument are unique. However, by discovering the
ancient origins of world music, one may fully realize the innite possi-
bilities.
Jerry Leake is an Associate Professor of Percussion at Berklee College of
Music and the New England Conservatory. He leads the world-rock-fu-
sion octet Cubist (cubistband.com), which performs compositions from
his 2010 acclaimed Cubist CD. In 2011 he released Cubist Live with re-
nowned Berklee faculty, and Mobeus with jazz legend Rakalam Bob Mo-
ses. Jerry is cofounder of the world-music ensemble Natraj and performs
with Club d’Elf and the Agbekor Society. Jerry has written eight widely
used texts on North and South Indian, West African, Latin American
percussion, and advanced rhythm theory (Rhombuspublishing.com). Jer-
ry is also former president of the Massachusetts PAS Chapter, and was a
presenter of his “Harmonic Time” concept at a 2011 TEDx Seminar in
Cambridge, Mass. PN

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