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Getting Started: The Tabla
The story goes that when tabla maestro Zakir Hussain was just a few days old and brought home for the first time after his birth, his father, the legendary Ustad Alla Rakha whispered in his ears not holy words but the notes of the tabla!
Learning how to play the tabla is an art that takes years of discipline and the guidance of a guru. Here we bring to you a small glimpse of what the process involves.

Indian music is based on two major concepts; ‘rag’ and ‘tal’. Rag is the melodic aspect while tal is the rhythmic aspect. The interpretation of rag and tal differs across the styles of Indian music. There are two main traditions of classical music in India – North Indian (Hindustani) and South Indian (Carnatic).
The tabla is the most prominent percussion instrument in Hindustani music and here are some basic Hindustani music terms related to the tabla that you must know:

Bol – A vocal syllable representing the rhythmic sounds and drum strokes of the tabla. It is often described as the language of the tabla.
Bhaari/Taali – The beat of the rhythmic pattern that is stressed by a clap.
Gharana – Refers to a traditional school and lineage of music, characterised by a distinctive style of composition, tradition and performance. There are six acknowledged gharanas of tabla: Dilli (Delhi), Farukhabad, Benares, Lucknow, Ajrara or Ajrada, and Punjab.
Khayal/Khyal - A popular form of Indian classical vocal music (originated in the 18th century); comes from a Persian word meaning ‘imagination’, or ‘creative thought’.
Khaali – The less stressed (empty) beat of a rhythmic cycle; is denoted by a wave of the hands. (opposite of bhaari/taali)
Laya – Tempo or rhythm. Generally classified into 3 speeds - vilambit (slow), madhyam (medium), drut (fast).
Matra – Beat

- India has one of the oldest musical traditions in the world tracing its roots to Vedic chants and hymns. Although Indian music has evolved and transformed since then, one of the fundamental traditions that still remains from Vedic times is the method of teaching. Music is taught orally by a guru (teacher) and the teacher-disciple relationship is of utmost importance in the learning process.
- The tabla has evolved through centuries of experimentation and improvement. There are many theories about its evolution, some concrete, and others without highly documented proof. However it is generally agreed upon that the tabla developed as a hybridized drum, influenced in particular by drums like the mridangam and the pakhawaj. One legend states that the tabla was formed when the pakhawaj was divided in two by court musician Amir Khusro.

US-based tabla player; protégé of Ustad Alla Rakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain
“About starting out learning any instrument that one is interested in, I say go for it and see how it goes! Some will fall in love with it, some will decide it’s not for them. As for the optimum age to start learning - I don’t think you’re ever too old to learn. It’s always best to start young because you’re like a sponge at that age so you are at an advantage but I don’t think it’s a problem [if you start late]. I think people should do what they love and the only way to find that out is by trying things out. After that it just really depends.”

US-based tabla player, singer and teacher; disciple of Ustad Jari, Ustad Mahmmud Shah, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Patiala gharana

Bangalore-based tabla player; Studied under Guru Chakraborty, Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri and recently assisted percussion maestro Taufiq Qureshi (son of Ustad All Rakha and brother of Zakir Hussain)

Besides being a professional musician and tabla teacher, Siddharth is currently producing and directing a series of film projects guided by original music compositions. To view and listen to all of Siddharth’s film & music, art & photo, visit his website at:

The Record: When did you start playing tabla?
RB: I’ll say I’m still trying to start! I have been playing tabla since I was 8. I took some lessons from my older brother Rashid Bhatti. Then I became a disciple of Ustad Tari Khan and also his younger brother Ustad Jari Khan.

SK: I don’t know the exact time or year when my association with tabla began. I have a photograph with my mom, when I was probably 3 years of age, with the bayan in front of me..... [Smiles] I may have started learning from a teacher at the age of 6.

SM: I was introduced to tabla when I was about 9 years old, when my father took me to see a local Indian music concert. It was there I met my first tabla teacher, whose name I will not mention. He was not an inspiration to me and actually caused me to want to quit learning tabla. After three years with the same teacher, it was obvious I had no interest learning from him and he too had no interest in teaching me. My real interest now lay in learning the drums. Since my parents did not approve of my new interest, I really had to fight and persevere to learn the drums by myself.
I experimented with all types of music for a couple years as well as taking up the guitar and songwriting. I then took tabla lessons from Ustad Tari Khan, a Pakistani tabla player who showed me how to approach the tabla with better finger technique and clarity. After spending a few years learning from him, I went on my own path and developed my own style of playing. In October 2005, after about twelve years of intense playing and practicing, I started Sangeet Studios: World Music Performance & Learning Center in order to preserve and teach the Art of Tabla: Classical & Contemporary Solo Tabla of India.

You can read the rest of our special feature Getting Started in the February 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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