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Lesson 7: Approaching Thekas
Now that we experience with the bols and a small rhythmic cycle in the last lesson, we are ready to examine more rhythmic cycles used in kirtan. However, it is very important to examine certain details and methods to study of rhythms.
A rhythmic cycle is known as a tāla. Each rhythmic cycle has a “standard” set of bols arranged in a combination to form a rhythm or a groove. This known as a ṭhekā.
Here is an example of a theka of tīntāl. Tīntāl has sixteen beats or sixteen matras (not mantras!).
X 



2 



0 



3 



1 
2 
3 
4 
5 
6 
7 
8 
9 
10 
11 
12 
13 
14 
15 
16 
dhā 
dhin 
dhin 
dhā 
dhā 
dhin 
dhin 
dhā 
dhā 
ti 
ti 
tā 
tā 
dhin 
dhin 
dhā 
Of course, not everyone will stick to the theka. There will be variations that will be resemble the original cycle very well. These variations are known as prakārs.
TĀLA (BHATKHANDE) NOTATION
Before playing this cycle on the mridanga, the tāla notation must be understood. We will use this type of notation above to record tālas or anything that is confined to a rhythm.
TOP LINE (TĀLA NUMBERS)
The tāla numbers indicate divisions within the cycle. This is almost equivalent to the measure bars to separate the measures, known as vibhāgs. The first beat, known as the sam (shown by X), is usually where all rhythmic cycles resolve on this beat.
So this tāla has four vibhāgs. Each vibhāg in this cycle has four matras. Therefore, it is said that this cycle is divided 4+4+4+4.
The meaning of the 2, 3, and 0 is explained in Enrichment Lesson 2.
MIDDLE LINE (MATRA NUMBERS)
The middle line shows the position in the tāla. In the above cycle, matra numbers are laid out from 1 to 16. This way, we can identify where we are in the tāla.
BOTTOM LINE (BOLS)
The last line shows the bols in the appropriate places in the cycle.
QUIZ:
To see if you understand this, here is a brief quiz. These questions are based on above cycle shown in Figure 7.1.
1. What is Matra 1 also known as?
2. What bol is on matra 16?
3. What bol is on matra 13?
4. What bol is on matra 7?
5. What bol is on matra 18?
ANSWERS:
1) Matra 1 for every cycle is known as the “sam.”
2) It is dhā. Look at the box at matra 16
3) It is tā. Look at the box at matra 13.
4) It is dhin. Look at the box at matra 7.
5) Matra 18 is dhin. Remember that the above cycle is 16 matras. After the completion of matra 16, one returns to the sam (matra 1). Another way to think of it (although, not a proper way) is that the sam of the next cycle is the 17^{th} matra. Therefore, the 18^{th} matra is the second matra of the cycle. Therefore, the answer is “dhin.” This question is a test on your ability to interpret cycles. This does not mean that this cycle of sixteen matras can have more.
Now that a better understanding of the rhythmic cycle is developed, we can now understand about how to play it.
BOL METHOD:
The bol method is to play to look at the entire cycle and then play each bol as it progresses. It’s a very direct approach to a rhythmic cycle. Of course, it takes time at first, because it is done intentionally and it will sound mechanical. With practice and repetitive exercises, it will come out clearly. Try to play the above cycle using the bol method. First, play dhā. Then play dhin. Play another dhin. Then play dhā. (We just completed matra 4). Complete four cycles or more to see if this method works for you.
VIBHĀG METHOD:
The vibhāg method is another way to go about playing a rhythmic cycle.
The vibhāg method is based on learning each vibhāgs individually. After successful completion of vibhāgs independently, then vibhāgs are fused to form the rhythmic cycle. For this cycle, a possible approach could done in this manner.
A way people use the vibhāg method is to break the cycle of its vibhāgs and master each one independently. Finally, they link these vibhāgs in order to form the cycle.
Play vibhāg 1: dhā dhin dhin dhā
Play vibhāg 2: dhā dhin dhin dhā
Play vibhāg 3: tā ti ti tā
Play vibhāg 4: tā dhin dhin dhā
Then play the whole cycle several times to ensure continuity.
Another way to use the vibhāg method is to build upon the vibhāgs. For the above cycle, it would be wise to try this manner.
1: Play dhā dhin dhin dhā
2: Play dhā dhin dhin dhā several times. Then after feeling comfortable, play dhā dhin dhin dhā dhā dhin dhin dhā
3: Play dhā ti ti tā several times. Then after feeling comfortable, play dhā dhin dhin dhā dhā dhin dhin dhā ti ti tā
4: Play the last vibhāg, namely, tā dhin dhin dhā. By adding this final component, you are able to play the entire cycle.
5: Play the whole cycle several times to ensure that you remain this continuity.
Try each of the methods and see which one works for you. Lesson 8 will introduce us to this rhythmic cycle more formally.
VIDEO:
·VIDEO CLIP 7: Approaching Rhythmic Cycles
UPDATED: August 16, 2017