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Issue 8, Spring 2006: North Indian Music

Welcome to the World Rhythms News, an infrequent newsletter dedicated to world music education. This issue is deadicated to North Indian music. To subscribe, use the form below. Follow instructions thereafter, and make sure to check "World Music Education" in the "Interests" section of the sign up process.

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In this issue:

North Indian Rhythmic Cycles

The concept of the ever-recurring cyclic rhythms of the universe is one of the basic tenets of Hindu philosophy. The perception of the cyclic nature of life is reflected in Indian classical music through the device of tala,  a recurring time-measure or rhythmic cycle.

In the same way that raga can be described as a “super scale,” tala is a “super time signature,” a recurring time-measure or rhythmic cycle with distinct sections. The most important beat is the sam, the first beat of the cycle, anchor of all melody and rhythm and the leading beat to which all returns, which is shown with a hand clap. The khali is the “empty” beat, an unstressed division of a tal shown by a wave of the hand. It has a very different feeling from the sam: empty and open. There are other important beats known as tali showing the grouping of the rhythmic groove of the tala that are also shown with a hand clap.


There are an estimated 350 talas in North Indian music, of which ten are in common use. These ten, along with three unusual ones, are presented here. Each tala is a number of beats in duration. The beats have different degrees of emphasis within a tala, and are marked with a system of hand claps, hand waves and movements of the fingers. The most important point of rhythmic emphasis is the sam,  the first beat of the tala and point to which all variations eventually return. It is represented by the symbol "+," and is marked by a hand clap. The khali,  literally the empty beat, is the unaccented beat of the tala. The lack of accent is emphasized, making the khali a very important beat. It is marked by a wave of the hand and is written with the symbol "0." Talas have other accented beats known as tali,  also marked by hand claps. They are not as heavily accented as the sam, but serve to divide the tala into smaller sections as do the sam and khali. In written notation, the tali are numbered, starting with the number two, as the sam is the first tali. For example, the sam is written "+," the second tali is written "2," the khali "0," the third tali "3," and so on. In this World Wide Web presentation, tabla bols written as one word have the same time value within a tala. Rests are written as "*." Each word or rest within a tala is of equal duration. These words or rests are each equal to a beat, except in sitarkhani, ardha jaital, upa dasi, and chartal ki sawari tala, where each word or rest is an eighth note in duration. To practice reciting theka, use this pronunciation guide to Indian drum syllables.

Click on the tabla heads Tabla Audio Icon below to listen to MIDI audio of each of the talas:


Tabla Audio IconMIDI

16 beats, divided 4 + 4 + 4 + 4:

   +                 2                 0             3     
|: dha dhin dhin dha dha dhin dhin dha na tin tin ta ta dhin dhin dha :|


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


16 beats with 3-3-2 eighth note pattern, divided 4 + 4 + 4 + 4:

   +                       2    
|: dha * ga dhi * ge dha * dha * ga dhi * ge dha *
   ^        ^        ^     ^        ^        ^
   0                       3
   dha * ka ti  * ka ta  * ta  * ga dhi * ge dha * :|
   ^        ^        ^     ^        ^        ^


Tabla Audio IconMIDI

8 beats with 3-3-2 accent pattern, divided 4 + 4:

   +            0
|: dha ge na ti na ka dhi na :|
   ^         ^        ^       


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


6 beats, divided 3 + 3:
   +          0
|: dhi dhi na dha tun na :|


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


7 beats, unusual in that sam and khali fall on the same beat, divided 3 + 2 + 2:
   0          2       2
|: tin tin na dhin na dhin na :|


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


10 beats, divided 2 + 3 + 2 + 3:
   +      2          0     3
|: dhi na dhi dhi na ti na dhi dhi na :|


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


12 beats, dvided 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2:
   +         0              2      0      3              4
|: dhin dhin dhage terikita tun na kat ta dhage terikita dhin dhage :|


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


14 beats, divided 3 + 4 + 3 + 4:
   +          2             0        3
|: dha dhin * dha dha tin * ta tin * dha dha dhin * :|


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


12 beats, divided 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2:

   +       0      2         0      3         4
|: dha dha din ta kat dhage din ta tete kata gadi gena :|


Tabla Audio IconMIDI


14 beats, divided 5 + 2 + 3 + 4:
   +                 2     0        4
|: kat dhe te dhe te dha * ge te te te te ta * :|

Ardha Jaital

Tabla Audio IconMIDI


6 1/2 beats, divided 3 + 2 + 1 1/2
   0                    2           3
|: tin * na * teri kita dhin * na * dha ge na :|

Upa Dasi

Tabla Audio IconMIDI


10 1/2 beats, divided 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2:

   +        0           2        0
|: tin * ta * teri kita tin * ta teri kita dhin
   3        4         5
   * dha ge na dhin * dha ge na :|

Chartal Ki Sawari

Tabla Audio IconMIDI


11 beats, dvided 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/2:

   +                2          0          3
|: dhin * teri kita dhi * na * tun * na * kat * ta *
   4         5
   dhin * na dhin * na :|

This tala was the inspiration for the song Eleventh Heaven on the classic early Ancient Future album, Natural Rhytthms:

Tabla Audio Icon Eleventh Heaven by Ancient Future. Composed by Benjy Wertheimer.


World Rhythm Training Manual

The study of tala is a part of the training for all Indian classical musicians. A good resource for learning North and South Indian rhythm is the book “Ancient Traditions--Future Possibilities: Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali, and India.” The above rhythms are from the audio guide tracks to this "world beat bible" by Matthew Montfort, leader of the popular world fusion music ensemble, Ancient Future. The book takes the student on a musical voyage through the traditions of Africa, Bali, and India with a series of exercises that require no instruments to perform. A must-have for all students of world music:

Ancient Traditions -- Future Possibilities: Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali and India. By Matthew Montfort. Kentfield: Ancient Future Music, 1985. ISBN 0-937879-00-2. Comb Bound Book, $33.95 (SALE! Normally $46.95): Add 1 to Cart. Buy 1 Now. Book/Enhanced 2 Audio CD Set with MIDI Soundfiles: $53.95 (SALE! Normally $74.95): Add 1 to Cart. Buy 1 Now.

The rhythms are now also available in audio format:

Ancient Rhythms--Future Grooves: MIDI Percussion Groove Tracks from the Traditions of Africa, Bali, and India PLUS Complete 2 CD Set of Audio Guide Tracks . By Matthew Montfort. Ancient Future Music (2005). Companion 2 Volume Enhanced Audio CD set with MIDI Soundfiles, 28.95 (SALE! Normally $39.95): Add 1 to Cart. Buy 1 Now. A complete 2 CD set of audio guide tracks PLUS a CD-ROM presentation of MIDI files based on the book Ancient Traditions--Future Possibilities.

This two CD/CD-ROM set of 115 audio tracks for playback on standard CD players and 128 MIDI files helps reinforce the material in the book and insures practicing correctly and in rhythm. Volume I and covers the exercises in the West Africa and Bali chapters of the book. Volume II covers the exercises in the India and Future Possibilities chapters. The General MIDI sound files of the exercises in the book can be used with a web browser for playback, or can be loaded into a MIDI sequencer for greater control. Change the tempo, listen to individual parts, or remap the sounds to different MIDI instruments. The CD-ROM even includes MIDI maps of West African, Balinese, and Indian percussion sound assignments enable custom re-mapping to your patches and instructions to turn your sequencer into a tabla machine using VSTi plug-ins and included tabla samples.

Ancient Future: Guitar-Sitar Jugalbandi

Habib Khan and Matthew Montfort



"Jugalbandi" is a classical North Indian musical duet (literally "tied together"), in this case with the unusual configuration of sitar and guitar accompanied by tabla. Matthew Montfort is a pioneer of the scalloped fretboard guitar (an instrument combining qualities of the South Indian vina and the steel string guitar). This internationally recognized musical team has enthralled audiences from California to Beirut, Lebanon, where Pandit Habib Khan was described as the "Jimi Hendrix of the sitar" by L'ORIENT LE JOUR, Beirut's French language newspaper.

The linked audio below is the song "Socha Socha," which is this ensemble configuration's contribution to the Planet Passion CD.

Tabla Audio IconSocha Socha by Ancient Future. Composed by Khan/Montfort.

Purchase Planet Passion CD (Ancient-Future.Com AF 2001): $17.98 Add 1 to Cart. Buy 1 Now. Planet Passion

About Raga

A raga is a melodic recipe for a mood. Each raga has certain moods associated with it, and a specific time of day that it is meant to be played. Raga could be described as a "super scale" using a set of notes in ascending (arohi) and descending (avarohi) order, sometimes including prescribed alternate or zig zag routes (vakra chal), a hierarchy of note importance including king notes (vadi) and prime minister notes (samvadi) a fourth or fifth apart, and a key phrase that shows the heart of the movement of the raga (pakar).

This ancient system is both an art and a science of how musical notes create certain moods. The recipe for each raga holds the key to an unlimited number of potential melodies, each perpetuating the mood contained in the raga, but each a unique work of art.

The music performed by the Guitar-Sitar Jugalbandi version of Ancient Future is based on this ancient melodic knowledge.

All compositions, recordings, video, and text in this article © 2006 Ancient Future Music. All rights reserved.