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last updated October 10, 2009
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Understand Tal
  Understand tal
Knowledge of tintal theka

The most common time cycle in indian music is tintal - 16 beats. Each sound or syllable on the tabla has a name, which resembles the sound of the drums themselves. Each tal has a theka - or theme - which you need to learn to be able to recite and recognise. Your improvisation will take place within this time cycle with your phrases adjusted so that you always arrive back at the correct place when Sam the first beat of the cycle is sounded.

Here is the theka for tintal. In actual performance, the tabla player will elaborate this and you will need to learn to still recognise the tal even in its decorated form. Your tabla player will help you either by simplifying, or an accent or playing a flourish leading up to Sam.

Practice saying this pattern over and over again until it becomes automatic. Also listen to a tabla machine or real tabla player and try to recognise the different sounds - when you watch a real tabla player notice the flat handed gesture he or she uses in the khali section.


Ability to clap sam and khali

Each tal also has a clap and wave pattern which helps you to keep in tal. For tintal it is Clap, Clap, Wave, Clap on the main beats which are shown in the diagram with +, x and o.

In this diagram + means sam, the first and most important beat, x means the two other emphasised beats, o shows the khali or empty part of the tal. When you hear tintal you will notice that following khali there are a series of sounds which do not use the deep sounds of the left hand or bass drum. Khali is the key to knowing where you are in tintal.

Practice listening to tintal, clapping on sam, the clap and wave pattern, saying the theka, listening to tabla player and keeping in tal. Ultimately you need to be able to know exactly where you are in the tal all the time without paying conscious attention to it - so that you can be free to be at your most creative in your improvisations, but still land back on sam at the right point.


Ability to play the gat with composed tans in tal with tabla

Each gat is written so that a particular note is played on sam. This is usually a very important note in the rag. You must therefore start the gat at the right point, and then continue in time so that you stay with the time-cycle.

Practice starting at the right beat by setting your tabla machine going and counting or listening for the right point to begin.


Ability to play composed jhala in tal with tabla

Once you have learned a composed jhala, practice it over and over again with the tabla. Listen out for where the Sam and khali come in your jhala. Practice your jhala counting out the tal out loud - because you are likely to be playing at speed you will probably need to simplify this to just counting the 4 main beats. Ultimately, you need to be absolutely secure with exactly where you are in the tal all the time.

If you develop this foundation, you will later on be able to play and improvise jhala which go off the beat, and still securely bring your performance back to the tal at will.


Knowledge of indian terms for different tempos

Learn the following terms:

Vilambit - slow
Madhya - medium
Drut - fast

You can add the word ati meaning very to make ati drut - very fast or ati vilambit - very slow.


Ability to play palta and say/hear in your head the tal

Practice a palta for the rag whilst saying the theka for the tal out loud, and once that is established saying it silently in your head. This helps strenghten your feeling for the tal and gets used to how long a complete cycle is. Do the same with other simple exercises varying the palta with bol strokes or playing it twice at 2x speed.


Ability to play gat and composed tans and say/hear in your head the tal

Do the same exercise as the above saying the theka for the tal out loud, and once that is established saying it silently in your head, whilst playing gat and composed tans. This helps you know exactly where in the theka each part of the gat comes.


Using your hand to create improvisations

Your hand is a very useful device to create improvisations which fit into the tal. Use it to count whilst making up a tan so you are certain it fits before learning that tan and then playing it with tabla. Here is how to use your hand to count tintal. Use your thumb to point at each of the joints as you count.

Say the tan you are inventing whilst counting on your hand - if it doesn't fit, adjust it until it does. Then practice saying it until it is fixed in your mind. Then practice on your sitar.

Once you are satisfied with your tan, you can write it down if you want so you can practice it over the next few days.


Ability to play irregular patterns making 16 beats

To be completed.

Ability to improvise tans and say/hear in your head the tal

Practice improvising tans whilst saying the theka out loud. At first this will tend to limit the quality of your tans. But stick with it. Eventually this will give you the confidence that you know exactly where you are in the tal at any time.


Cyclic rhythms

To be completed.


Theka and clap pattern: