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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

pair of drums used in northern Indian music, 1865, from Hindi, from Arabic tabl "a drum played with the hand."


n. (context musici English) A pair of tuned hand drums; used in various musical genres of the Indian subcontinent, that are similar to bongos.


The tabla is a membranophone percussion instrument (similar to bongos) which is often used in Hindustani classical music and in the traditional music of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. It is also one of the main Qawali instrument used in Pakistan and India. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres.

The main drum is called a tabla or dayan and is played with the dominant hand. Its shell is cylindrical and made out of wood, and its tight skin produces a distinct pitch when struck. The larger, low pitched drum, called bayan, has a bowl-shaped metal shell. Its membrane is looser than that of the tabla, enabling the player to manipulate the drum's pitch with his or her hand in performance. It is claimed that the term tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabl, which simply means "drum." The tabla is used in some other Asian musical traditions outside of the Indian subcontinent, such as in the Indonesian dangdut genre. The playing technique is complex and involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different sounds and rhythms, reflected in mnemonic syllables ( bol). The heel of the hand is used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion on the larger drum so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay. In playing the Hindustani style tabla there are two ways to play it: band bol and khula bol. In the sense of classical music it is termed "tali" and "khali".

Usage examples of "tabla".

She was a tabla, she was a drum on which tiny hands beat, a tabla inside out, for the tiny hands beat inside her, inside a membrane of blood and flesh.

She was a tabla, her mind, her ears resonated with the drumming of years and years ago, they resonated with the lie that time was a Moebius strip, that it had one side alone and could be traveled again and again.

A Meeting by the River, Jesse swayed against the kitchen counter, her thoughts flowing mellifluently with the sensuous conversation between guitar, sitar, tabla and dumbek.

One of the men from Cess, the wine merchants, a sulky-looking middle-aged man who ate in silence in a corner, who was disgusted with everything, with the cooking, because it was different, with the way the tabla was laid, with the white wine he was given instead of the red he was used to.

LP of a sitar player named Ustad Vilayat Khan, with his brother - a younger brother, to judge from the picture - on the veena, and an unnamed tabla player.

It was a nerve-racking sound, like a stone being scraped across glass very hard and slowly, yet it had its own arcane rhythm, like the invisible stage musician pounding his tabla to a frenzied climax.

One leg was raised in the motion of a temple dancer, poised as if it would stamp down to the clash of tablas and cymbals to perform the Bharata Natyam.

Indian instruments like sitars and tablas thrown into the acoustic and electric mix for good measure.

The flutes, the violins, the tablas of the traditional music flooded the courtyard.

There was music of the standard Hindi combination: choruses of girls oohing and aahing to the clamor of guitars, tablas, violins and vinas.

Tablas, tambouras, and a bowed string bass join the guitar, and they segue into an energetic interplay around a minor seventh that keeps trying, fruitlessly, to find resolution in the sixth.

As Yama walked across the lawn, with Iachimo following close behind, he heard music in the distance: the chiming runs of a tambura like silver laughter over the solemn pulse of a tabla.

There was music coming from somewhere far away, piano and steel drums and tablas, almost washed out by the sound of the wind in the bamboo.

I perceived it in musical terms, of course: to me what we built was something like a vast symphony orchestra, save that in addition to the usual ordnance of a full orchestra it incorporated saxophones, electric guitani, tin flutes, tablas, trap drums, Yamaha synthesizers, steel drums, vocoders, kazoos, baby rattles, Zal Yanovsky's Electric' Gorgle and the Big Jukebox in Close Encounters, included every means the race has ever devised for making music and some that haven't been invented yet, the whole thing integrated into a vast tapestry of sonic and tonal textures that was indescribable and probably unimaginable-certainly I had never imagined anything like it before that night-and primevally satisfying to what a Buddhist might call my "third ear.