When children learn tabla, they learn a percussion instrument. The tabla is well known in India. It has its origins in North India and is widely used in Hindustani classical music. The word tabla is derived from an Arabic word that means drum.
The tabla is believed to have been invented by the Indian poet Amir Khusrao of the 13th century. He broke a barrel shaped drum (the mridangam) into two and found that it still produced a musical note. Two kinds of notes are produced by the tabla - the taals and bols. The tabla produces a light and sweet sound that is pleasing to hear. This makes it an ideal musical instrument for accompanying other soft instruments like the sitar. The tabla is a unique instrument since it can produce almost any rhythm that the musician composes.
The tabla is essentially a pair of hand drums of different sizes and timbres. The drum on the right side (dayan) is made of solid hard wood and is mostly cylindrical or conical. One end of the dayan is open and is covered by a membrane. The bottom diameter of the dayan is slightly more than the top diameter. The dayan can be tuned according to the music. The dayan is about 25 cm tall and its head measures approximately 14 cm. The left hand side drum (bayan) is more like a hemispherical bowl. The bayan is made of copper, brass or bronze. The open end of the bayan is also covered by a membrane. Unlike the dayan, the bayan has an infinite pitch. The bayan is also about 25 cm tall and its head measures approximately 22 cm. The membranes of both the drums have three layers. The outer layer, middle goat-skin layer and black iron layer are known as the kinnar, the maidan, and the syahi respectively.
Playing the tabla involves developing a technique. One must use one's palms and fingers extensively in various ways. The notes produced vary according to the movements that are made. Usually the sounds are produced by striking the centre of the drum head with either the full hand or finger tips. To change the pitch of the notes, you must apply pressure on the larger drum or bayan using the heel of the hand. The drums are always placed at a slight angle.
The tabla is very rarely played by keeping the drums on a table and the person sitting on a chair. In fact, this posture is least recommended. The ideal posture is to play the tabla sitting on the ground in the Indian yoga position. This helps in radiating maximum energy on the tabla.
Renowned artists such as Ustad Zakir Hussain have contributed greatly to making the tabla well known around the world.