A man playing the tabla
Man playing the tabla

The tala or tal is a repeating rhythm pattern usually played by the tabla (small drums). It usually has between six and sixteen beats. The beats are grouped into small sections within the pattern. The first beat of the cycle is known as sam. It marks the beginnings and ends of improvisations so it is often accented.

Tintal is the most common tal. It has the following characteristics:

  • sixteen beats (4 + 4 + 4 + 4)
  • four sections beginning on the 1st, 5th, 9th and 13th beats

A drone is a note held (or repeated) throughout a passage of music. It is the sound usually heard first, stating the tonic note, Sa.

Rag Desh

The drone is now often played by an electronic box, but is more traditionally played on a tanpura.

It is provided by a tanpura playing the notes Sa and Pa which in this case correspond to the notes D and A.

It is common to mark tala by hand claps and waves. In tintal the beginning of the first, second and fourth sections is marked by a clap, but the beginning of the third section is weaker and this is shown by a wave of the hand.


Learning to play the tabla