Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music
Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music

Introduction to the Tãla

The term tãla literally means rhythm. The rhythm is a fundamental element of music. A melody consists of two things - a sequence of notes and the definition of time intervals for which these notes are to be played.

In Indian classical music, the tala can be quite complex and intricate. There are two main characteristics of the tala which differentiate it from Western music.

In Western music each segment or measure has the same number of beats like, say 3+3+3 or 4+4+4+4, whereas in Indian music each sub-division can have different number of beats. For example the Jhap tãl has a 2+3+2+3 pattern. This means it has four sub-divisions with the first and the third sub-divisions having two beats and the second and the fourth divisions having three beats. Another tala the Dhãmar tãl has a pattern of the form 5+2+3+4. Each sub division is called a vibhãga or khand and the beats inside the vibhãga are referred to as mãtrã-s.

Even if two sub-divisions have the same number of beats, the pattern that they signify could be changed by laying different emphases on the first beat marking the beginning of the sub-division. In Indian music there are three different kinds of beats :-

  • The Sam signifies an emphatic beat
  • The Khãli signifies an empty beat or rest
  • The Tãli signifies other beats

This means that the drummer plays the sam with a hard stroke and the khãli is represented by a distinctly soft stroke. The sam is generally the initial beat of the tãl. It has a special significance for the soloist as well and more often than not the soloist sings of plays an important note like the vãdi or samvãdi on this beat. So the sam is also emphasised by the music.

The main percussion instrument in North India is the tablã. The instruments consists of two drums which differ in shape and character. The sounds that can be produced by the tabla are often depicted as bols or spoken words which are then adapted by the tabla player in his playing.

Theoretically there are over hundred tãl-s but there are only about twenty or so that are in use today.

Posted by Manu Mahajan on 15th June 06.

References and Recommended Reading

NĀD - Understanding Rãga music by Sandeep Bagchee

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