tab·la (tä'blə, tŭb'lə) n.
A small hand drum of northern India.
[Hindi tablā, from Arabic ṭabla, from Aramaic ṭabl, drum, perhaps of Persian origin; akin to Middle Persian tumbag,

tablaTabla is a pair of drums. It consists of of a small right hand drum called dayan and a larger metal one called bayan.

The tabla has an interesting construction. The dayan (right hand drum) is almost always made of wood. The diameter at the membrane may run from just under five inches to over six inches. The bayan (left hand drum) may be made of iron, aluminium, copper, steel, or clay; yet brass with a nickel or chrome plate is the most common material. Undoubtedly the most striking characteristic of the tabla is the large black spot on each of the playing surfaces. These black spots are a mixture of gum, soot, and iron filings. Their function is to create the bell-like timbre that is characteristic of the instrument.

Although the origin of tabla is somewhat obscure, it is generally belived that it evolved from the barrel shaped drum called pakhawaj. This was about three hundred years ago.

The tabla is the most popular percussion instrument used in the classical and popular music of the northern regions of South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, northern India, Pakistan). The history of this instrument is at times the subject of heated debate. Reliable historical evidence places the invention of this instrument in the 18th century. Another common historical narrative portrays the tabla as being thousands of years old, yet this is mere conjecture, based on slipshod interpretations of iconography. The term tabla is an Arabic word which means "drum", and this attests to its status as a product resulting from the fusion of musical elements from indigenous Hindu and Central Asian Muslim cultures that began in the late 16th century.

Nomenclature and construction

The smaller drum, played with the dominant hand, is called dāyāñ (lit. "right"; a.k.a. dāhina, siddha, chattū) and can also be referred to individually as "tabla." It is made from a conical piece of wood hollowed out to approximately half of its total depth. One of the primary tones on the drum is tuned to a specific note, and thus contributes to and complements the melody. The tuning range is limited although different dāyāñ-s are produced in different sizes, each with a different range. For a given dāyāñ, to achieve harmony with the soloist, it will usually be necessary to tune to either the tonic, dominant or subdominant of the soloist's key.

The larger drum, played with the other hand, is called bāyāñ (lit. "left"; aka. dagga, duggī, dhāmā). It is a bowl shape made of metal (or sometimes clay or wood, although not favored for durability). It has a much deeper bass tone, much like its distant cousin, the kettle drum.

The playing technique for both drums involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different sounds. On the bāyāñ the heel of the hand is also used to apply pressure, or in a sliding motion, so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay. This "modulating" effect on the bass drum and the wide range of sounds possible on the instrument as a whole are the main characteristics that make tabla unique among percussion instruments.

Both drum shells are covered with a head (or puri) constructed from goat or cow skin. An outer ring of skin is overlaid on the main skin and serves to suppresses some of the natural overtones. These two skins are bound together with a complex woven braid that also gives the entire assembly enough strength to be tensioned onto the shell. The completed head construction is affixed to the drum shell with a single continuous piece of cow or camel hide strap laced between the braid of the head assembly and another ring (made from the same strap material) placed on the bottom of the drum. The strap is tensioned to achieve the desired pitch of the drum. Additionally, cylindrical wood blocks are inserted between the strap and the shell allowing the tension to be adjusted by their vertical positioning. Fine tuning is achieved by striking vertically on the braided portion of the head using a small hammer.

The skins of both drums also have an inner circle on the head referred to as the siyāhī (lit. "ink"; a.k.a. shāī or gāb). This is constructed using multiple layers of a paste made from cooked rice mixed with a black powder of various origins. The precise construction and shaping of this area (especially on the smaller drum) is responsible for modification of the drum's natural overtones, resulting in the clarity of pitch and variety of tonal possibilities unique to this instrument. The skill required for the proper construction of this area is highly refined and is the main differentiating factor in the quality of a particular instrument.

For stability while playing, each drum is positioned on a toroidal bundle called chutta, consisting of plant fiber or another malleable material wrapped in cloth.