The Tabla is considered as the queen of drum and percussion instruments and is the most popular Indian rhythm instrument. It consists of two drums, the Bayan (large bass drum) and the Dayan. The two are nearly always played together. The term Tabla is used for both drums as a pair as well as for the Dayan alone which is also often called Tabla.
Both drums have a corpus that is closed at the bottom. The top is mostly covered by goatskin. Around the edges of this main skin there is a ring of a second skin (Kani). In the centre of the skin there is the so-called GAB, a black spot that gives the instrument a special sound and makes the variety of sounds and modulations possible. It is a fine art to apply this GAB, made from a paste which consists mainly of rice flour and iron filings, in the correct mixture, consistency and thickness (of up to 8 layers). When playing, the two drums are placed on rings (Bira) which support them.
The playing technique requires a differentiated fingering in connection with the complex composition of the skin membranes. The combination of the two drums produces an incredible fullness and details of different rhythm structures and this fullness of expression is unmatched by any other rhythm instrument.
The skins of the Tabla are likely to wear out and have to be changed from time to time, depending on how often the instrument is played and what kind of conditions it is exposed to. Even if the instrument is very old, it can be restored to a wonderful instrument by a new skin, if the substance i.e. the wooden body is okay. This task should generally be done by an expert.
The Bayan takes over the bass part of the drum duo. The body of the Bayan is mostly made of chrome-plated copper. The Bayan is played by the index finger and the middle finger of the left hand alternately or with both fingers simultaneously. While doing this, the heel of the hand rests lightly on the edge of the skin or modulates the pitch by slightly pressing the skin.
The Dayan or Tabla
DThe Dayan is made of different types of wood. On this point, see also the explanations in the next paragraph about the significance of the wood in relation to the quality of a Dayan. It is customary, especially in Kolkata, to hollow out the inside of the corpus of a Dayan quite roughly. The tuning wedges that are held by leather straps at the sides are meant for tuning the instrument. Depending on whether the wedges are beaten upwards or downwards by the tuning hammer, the sound gets lower or higher. A precise fine tuning is done by beating on the woven ring around the skin with the tuning hammer. The size of a Dayan is defined by the diameter of the skin. Standard sizes are between 5 1/4 inches and 5 1/2 inches with tunings around A, C, C sharp and D. Sizes of 5 to 6 inches are in use. The measurements can also be given in centimetres. The tuning of a Dayan normally depends on the skin diameter. The smaller the skin, the higher is the sound of the Dayan; the bigger the skin diameter, the lower it can be tuned. Specially low or high Dayans are played together with correspondingly high or low melody instruments. A Tabla skin, however, can also be processed in a way that e.g. a very high tuning can be achieved on a relatively large diameter. See also our e-Dayan » which has the advantage that it can be played very well with medium-sized hands and that the larger diameter produces a warmer sound with more echo than the small ones.
TYPES OF WOOD FOR THE TABLA AS QUALITY FACTOR
A number of different kinds of wood are used for making Dayans. The most used and well-known types of wood are Shisham, Neem, Mahogany and Babla Wood. Basically it is not possible to deduce the quality of a good Dayan merely from the kind of wood it is made of. Of course the wood is very important for the consistent sound of a Dayan. Apart from other important factors such as the quality of the skin, the quality of the Gab and of course the appropriate manufacturing, the first priority is that the wood is absolutely dry. In India they use very much good wood with a good density for the furniture industry and export it. This leads to a lack of wood for making instruments. Since, in addition, there is a high demand of Tablas worldwide and the manufacturers in India are well provided with orders, the easily available wood is mostly used for making the Tablas, whatever the quality regarding good density (vibrating quality) and a good through drying. This is a very big problem.
Another important factor in judging a good wooden corpus is the density of the wood, depending on which part of the tree the wood is taken from, the thin upper or the thick lower end of the trunk or if the wood is taken from a thin trunk. The thicker end of the trunk of good-quality wood is mostly used for the furniture industry. This leads to really good wood of a sought-after kind being hard to come by. It can be the case that you find a Shisham Dayan which signals that it is a good quality Dayan, and then it turns out that it is not the quality you expected. It needs a well experienced person with a keen sense of quality to be able to identify good wood.
All these factors put the type of wood as basis for judging the quality of a Tabla into perspective. Sometimes a no-name wooden corpus of a Dayan with a fantastic density which is fully dried through and well manufactured can have a notably better sound than a desirable top of the range wooden corpus. Buying a fantastic Dayan is a matter of trust. You should turn to an experienced supplier who has set the goal for himself to make it his business to separate the good from the substandard instruments and who wants to sell only good ones.
Still, in the following, we want to go into some of the well-known and sought-after types of wood:
Has top priority as type of wood that is in great demand, but it is essential that it was really taken from the thick trunk with a good density and good vibration qualities and that it is well dried through. Otherwise there is no guarantee that such Shisam wood is suitable for a good Tabla.
Also a very desirable wood. Must also stem from the thick trunk, otherwise it will easily split over time. If, on the other hand, the wood is really taken from the thick trunk and is completely dried through, then even a crack that develops over time, does not influence the good sound.
Its quality is similarly good as Neem and the same criteria apply as for Shisham wood.
The wood of the Five Star Quality
Thanks to the great efforts of Tabla maestro Sajal Karmakar, we always get an excellent quality wood with a high density and best vibration qualities. Sajal Karmakar chooses the best available wood and, to be absolutely sure, he submits it to a special drying process over several months. It is due to his idealistic efforts to make a professional instrument that we are able to offer such a high-end Tabla. We primarily use Shisham or Mahogany wood.
The Tabla maker Sargam
'Sargam' was founded in 1964 and is among the most important Tabla manufacturers. This was made possible by the tireless efforts of the owner Kamal Kumar Das (Kundu Babu). The Tablas made by him have been played by many great Tabla maestros such as Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirkwa, Lt. Pt Gnan Prakash Ghosh, Lt. Pt. Santa Prasad, Pt. Kisan Maharaj, Lt. Ustad Afaque Hussain, Lt. Ustad Keramatulla Khan, Pt. Sankar Ghosh, Pt. Syamal bose, Lt. Ustad Latif Ahmed, Ustad Nizam-Ud-Din etc. His Tablas have been supplied to, among others, the Ali Akbar Khan Music College for many years. Sargam exports Tablas to Japan, Germany, France, England, Italy, America, Bangladesh, Austria, Belgium and Greece.
The Tabla maker Narayan Badya Bandhar
This is also an excellent Tabla maker in Kolkata. It is a family business in the third generation. They produce the Tablas very carefully and with a sense of detail and achieve an excellent quality. World-famous regular customers such as Anindo Chatterjee or Swapan Chaudhuri vouch for the quality of the Tablas from this firm. Also other drums and percussion instruments such as Pakhawaj, Mridangam, Khol, Dholak, Kanjira, etc. are manufactured by Narayan Badya Bandhar in excellent quality.
Repairs of Tablas
Should your Tabla skin or a leather strap get torn, you can purchase the respective spare parts from us and re-head your instrument yourself or you send us an enquiry regarding re-heading. We will then submit an offer.