The tabla is a percussion instrument consisting of a pair of Indian drums, usually a smaller wooden drum (dayan) and a larger metal drum (bayan). The player produces sound by hitting their hands on the drums' skins in intricate rhythms, which are a fundamental component of Indian classical and traditional music. Tabla usually measure 25cm in height and are made of wood.
History of the Tabla
The tabla is a relatively recent musical tradition in India dating back 300 years. Indian classical music and ceremonial tradition involving music goes back for hundreds of years but the invention of these popular drums is far more recent. It is thought that in the 1700s, drums were required to accompany the vocal singing style of ‘khyal’ and the origins of tabla may begin here, influenced by Persian musical traditions. However, many sources disagree, arguing that the first documented evidence of tabla is the late 18th century when they were first used for courtesan music playing Hindustani music. While we might never know the exact origin or inventor, there is evidence to suggest tabla evolved from another drum-like instrument known as pakhawaj. These barrel-shaped drums were roughly twice the size of tabla and look like two of the drums stitched together. Tabla technique was developed by local traditions in India that then became standardised in the 20th century. Today the tabla are usually tuned to the melody (or raga) of the piece and rhythmically played to the tala of the musical piece. Tabla are considered essential elements in classical indian and hindustani music in India today.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

$200 - $1,500

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How to Play

A pair of small drums used in traditional Indian music, played with the hands.

In Popular Music

Tabla has been used in many popular music songs seeking an Indian influence on the music. Popular examples of tabla in popular music include ‘Black Mountain Side’ (1969) by British rock band Led Zeppelin and ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ (1971) by Derek and the Dominoes in which drummer Jim Gordon plays the instrument.

Famous Players

Zakir Hussain, Alla Rakha, Anindo Chatterjee

Close Relations

Dholak, Mridangam
Video Credit: darbarfestival
Understanding the Tabla




18th century






Instruments of Music

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