The North Indian Tabla

Picture of North Indian Drum

Cave Hand

Further study on this subject: Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities:
Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali and India.

By Matthew Montfort. Ancient Future Music (1985).
ISBN 0-937879-00-2. Book/CD Set- 74.95. SALE! $53.95:

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The tabla is a North Indian drum set comprised of two drums with goat-skin heads. The bayan is the larger and lower in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set. Its pitch is variable. The tabla or dayan is the smaller and higher in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set.

Tabla Bols

North Indian drumming has a language all of its own. For every sound produced by the tabla (a North Indian pair of drums with goat-skin heads) there is a corresponding syllable. These syllables, known as bols, are combined to form innumerable rhythms. The bols become almost inseparable from the drumming itself. A list of these bols can be found in the pronunciation guide to Indian drum syllables.

The Bols of the North Indian Tabla as a MIDI Map

The North Indian rhythm exercises from the book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities are arranged for General MIDI conga and bongo for Internet presentation, as shown in the North Indian tala examples. To set up playback of these thirteen talas on a MIDI synthesizer or sampler instead, use this MIDI map of the sounds of the North Indian drum to map the MIDI data to appropriate sounds.

The system used here to map the bols to MIDI notes involved creating an interpretation of the tabla compositions for the Roland U220 tabla samples that were used to create the audio files for the Ancient Traditions – Future Possibilities: Audio Guide Tracks CD set. Ingenuity was required to arrange the material for tabla samples, as there is not always an exact correspondence between the syllables used and the drum strokes themselves. Additional compromise was necessary to arrange the tabla compositions for general MIDI conga and bongo for cross platform playback, but the general feeling comes through.

The notes can be re-mapped to high quality tabla samples. Tabla samples and a detailed sample map with descriptions of the tabla bols is included in Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves, a complete collection of groove tracks from the book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities.

The Tabla Drum

The higher in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set has both open and closed sounds. The most completely open sound of the tabla is a minor or major seventh below the tonic that the drum is tuned to.

Suggested substitutions: sampled string harmonics mixed with conga or bongo.

The Bayan Drum

The lower in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set is variable in pitch. To simulate this using the Roland U220 sample, an auto bend function was used. The parameter was set so that it would not activate on staccato notes. Staccato notes where set to decay quickly, which allowed for the simulation of both an open variable pitch sound and a closed staccato sound with one sample. The notes were then mapped to coincide with the conga samples in the GM Standard MIDI setup.

Suggested substitutions: sampled timpani mixed with conga.

MIDI Maps

Tabla MIDI map (all channel 10):

Tabla (Dayan)                          Bols
 
D#3 = open sound, 7th below tonic      tun
D3 = slightly dampened sound, tonic    di, din, ti
C#3 = half dampened sound, tonic       na, ta (long a)
C3 = dampened sound                    ne, te, tet, ti, re, ri
C3/D3 = half dampened sound, tonic     tin
C3/C#3 = dampened sound                ta (short a)

slashes = notes played simultaneously to represent a single stroke
 
Bayan MIDI map (all channel 10):
 
Bayan                                  Bols
 
E3 = open bayan                        ga, ge, gen
D3 = closed bayan                      ka, kat, ke, ki
 
 
Tabla/Bayan MIDI map (all channel 10):

Tabla                  Bayan           Bols
 
C3 = dampened          E3 = open       de (re + ge), dhe (te + ge)
C#3 = half dampened    E3 = open       dha (na + ge)
C3/D3 = half dampened  E3 = open       dhi, dhin (tin + ge)
D#3 = open             E3 = open       dhi (tun + ge)
C3 = dampened          D3 = closed     ka, kat, tre kre (te,re, ka,te flam) 
C#3,C3,D3,C3 = four dampened strokes   terikita (te,ri,ki,ta flam)

commas = notes played in succession to represent a series of strokes 

Re-Mapping Suggestions

With the rise of virtual samplers, many instrument sounds not included in the General MIDI specification are now readily available. Using the above information, the MIDI data files can be re-mapped to work with high quality tabla samples. Refer to your sequencer manual for information on MIDI mapping in your particular environment. It is a complicated subject, so be prepared to put in a fair amount of time to accomplish this.

But Mac and PC users can save many steps using Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves, a complete collection of groove tracks from the book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities. The collection includes tabla samples and a detailed sample map with descriptions of the tabla bols and instructions for re-mapping them. For PC's, there's a link to a free VSTi sampler plug-in and a patch bank file with the tabla samples already mapped. For Mac's, there is a GarageBand file that features all of the Indian drum compositions ready to playback on tabla samples so you can loop them for practice, change their tempos, or use them as a tabla machine.

Further Resources

Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves

Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves: Audio and MIDI Percussion Groove Tracks from the Traditions of Africa, Bali, and India. Want more audio and MIDI files? Get this complete collection of groove tracks from the book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities. For a limited time, get both the book and the enhanced audio CD set with MIDI files for only $53.95 (SALE! Normally $74.95): Add 1 to Cart. Buy 1 Now.

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