Tabla Taalim: A Study in North Indian Percussion

Guidebook for students of tabla; 140 pages. By Sejal Kukadia

Tabla Taalim: A Study in North Indian Percussion takes a comprehensive look at the rich percussive art of tabla.  From the ancestral lineage of gharanas to the analysis of the rules of tabla compositions, this tabla textbook covers all facets of tabla. Tabla Taalim serves as a theoretical and practical guide, describing the fundamentals behind taal and the role of a tabla player during accompaniment.  The text is written in an easy-to-follow language.


  • Comprehensive look at tabla over time, across geographical regions and music styles
  • Practical guide for students of tabla; 140 pages
  • 70+ color graphics, including rare photographs and gharana lineage charts
  • Biographies of great tabla maestros
  • Tabla solos in 15 different taals (Tintaal, Rudra Taal, Dhamaar Taal, and more)

Recommended for:

  • Students of music who may utilize the text as a study manual
  • Music teachers who may use it as a teaching guide
  • Music professionals who wish to add to their existing musical knowledge
  • Music-lovers who are spellbound by the Indian classical music concerts taking place worldwide

What Maestros Have to Say:

  • The treatment of all topics are to the point and authentic.” – Late Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena, Ajrada Gharana
  • “This a great source of information for all students of Indian music.” – Late Ustad Shafaat Ahmed Khan, Delhi Gharana
  • “I am very much impressed with the work she has done.” – Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Lucknow Gharana


EXCERPTS From the Book

Excerpt from the chapter “Objectives of the Tabla Artist”

1. REPRESENTATION OF GHARANA The compositions of tabla and the specific styles in which they are played are unique to each of the six gharanas. One of the goals of a tabla player is to be a sincere representative of the particular gharana in which he was trained. The successful tabla artist will be creative and inventive in his playing, while at the same time take care so as not to step beyond the boundaries of his gharana. Today, it is acceptable and in fact, quite common, for contemporary tabla artists to periodically play compositions of a gharana other than their own, for the purposes of exploration and expansion into new and different territories of their art.

2. TONAL QUALITY The production of clear, rounded, crisp notes is a criterion for all tabla artists. In fact, it takes years of practice and sadhana to produce a perfect Ta, one with accurate tone and clarity, on the kinar of the daya. Scrupulous tabla players aim to produce high sound quality and crispness of notes from their instrument.

3. BALANCE OF DAYA AND BAYA The daya is representative of a male due to the aggressive, prominent, fast notes which are produced on it, and the baya a female because low, subtle tones and soft meends can be produced on it. The daya and baya, although two separate instruments producing contrasting effects and sentiments, must be presented as a single unit. This can be accomplished by playing the daya and baya in a balanced manner and by giving equal importance in weightage to the two.

Excerpt from the chapter “Riyaz” (Practice)

The Indian classical musician treats his practice as a time of personal reflection and meditation. With eyes closed and mind free, with healthy body and healthy spirit, he delves into his practice deeply, for only through whole-hearted practice will his art flourish and develop. The classical artist has been long known to sacrifice common pleasures in order to become a recluse, only committed to his practice, his art and his guru.

Excerpt from the chapter “Biographies of Tabla Artists” USTAD LATIF AHMED KHAN (1942-1989)
Ustad Latif Ahmed KhanUstad Latif Ahmed Khan was an honored virtuoso who is remembered for his mastery over the Delhi gharana of tabla. Born into a family of musicians in Delhi, Khan Saheb was trained by his uncle and khalifa of the Delhi gharana, Ustad Gameh Khan, and by his son Ustad Inam Ali Khan. Ustad Latif Khan was known for his tonal precision, proficiency of the bols Tita and Tirakita, and his total control of the baya. To this day, he is celebrated for his brilliant interpretation of the composition DhaTita, in which his impeccable tone and skillful renditions of the paltas are incomparable. Khan Saheb tuned his baya to the same pitch as that of the kinar of his daya (the note Sa), and this allowed for a very low, deep and full tone of the bass notes. Ustadji was praised for his skillful control of these bass notes. On one occasion, while sitting on stage awaiting the start of a major concert, Khan Saheb noticed a tear in the skin of his baya. He placed his wrist down to cover the tear, and then performed a flawless one-and-a-half hour concert, during which he did not lift his wrist from the instrument. Such was the mastery and power of his playing. At the conclusion of the concert, as he hit the last note and lifted his wrist, the tear ripped straight across the skin of the baya. Ustadji was proficient in all four forms of tabla playing: solo, dance accompaniment, instrumental/vocal accompaniment and semi-classical music. Additionally, he was an avid composer, and composed the complex taal called Latif Taal, which is a rhythmic cycle of 5-and-a-quarter beats. He was a highly respected, authoritative and imposing personality in the Indian classical music scene of his time; his musical genius allowed him to be. Traveling all over the world and performing extensively in Europe, Khan Saheb played with many of the musical stalwarts of the time, including Pandit Nikhil Bannerjee, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Imrat Khan, and dancers Durga Lal, Birju Maharaj, Gopikrishna and Sitara Devi. Khan Saheb was a spiritual individual and was often referred to as “Allahwalla Latifbhai,” since it was believed that his superior tabla playing was due to Allah’s grace and continual presence. This great figure in music history passed away in Delhi in 1989. Ustad Latif Ahmed Khan was the one of the last doyens of the Delhi gharana. Although known more as a performer than as a teacher, he developed a close bond with his only senior-level disciple, Pandit Divyang Vakil. Khan Saheb’s legacy and priceless Delhi compositions continue to live strong through Vakilji. Khan Saheb was survived by his two young sons, Akbar Khan and Babar Khan, who today are notable tabla artists in Delhi.

Excerpt from the chapter “Tabla Solo Presentation”

The solo is the tabla artist’s presentation of his gharana and of his personal creativity and expertise. As is the case for many branches of the performing arts, the tabla solo is open-ended, not predetermined, and is dependent upon the mood of the individual artist. During the solo, the tabla player has the opportunity and freedom to present the audience with the vast possibilities of his art. Tabla soloists will often start their recital in vilambita laya, increase to madhya laya later in the program, and then conclude in drut laya tempo. During the solo, a side-instrumentalist, which may be a sarangi or harmonium player, is responsible for maintaining the constant framework of the tala by playing the lehra, or a repeating melodic sequence of notes composed in a specific raga.

Excerpt from the chapter “Gharanas”

The six separate genealogical lines of tabla are the six gharanas: Delhi, Ajrada, Lucknow, Benares, Farukhabad and Punjab. Specific compositions, methods of presentation, technical and practical elements and musical influences are a few factors which differentiate each gharana from the other. Traditionally, tabla artists are bound to the gharana of their guru, and the gharana teachings are passed on successively from guru to shishya. The guru is careful as to whom to bestow his musical knowledge, selecting only those disciples who will carry on the name of the gharana. He is burdened with the implied task of ensuring that the notability and distinction of the gharana is passed on to those who will faithfully preserve and prolong it. Traditional musicians seldom experimented with compositions and styles other than those which specifically originated from their respective gharanas. Today, however, it is not uncommon for students of tabla to become familiar with, be trained in, and play a wide range of bols of more than one gharana.