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Chapter 02: Right Hand Bols



In order to speak the language of the tabla, you must know the alphabet and the sounds of the tabla language. There are numerous sounds of the tabla. To identify a particular sound, we use a special set of words for the corresponding sounds. The words are known as “bols.” It comes from the word ‘bolna’ which means “to speak” in Hindi. As musician Ali Akbar Khan once said, “Let the instrument to do the singing for you.” As you learn tabla, you will later realize that the tabla will do the “speaking.” In order to allow this concept to hold true, a firm knowledge of bols must be understood.


For students who have played and studied mridanga, some of them may refer to the term “bol” as mantra. I personally disagree using the word “mantra” as a substitute for the “bol.” It is a very poor substitute and really a misnomer for the word as well as the function of a bol. Mantras are more or less sound vibrations, implied as incantations. Bols are not incantations nor do they hold known spiritual connection. Bols are the sounds that which the tabla speaks. Bol is the preferred term and will be used throughout the course.


In tabla, there is a numerous amount of bols for dayas and bayas, separately, and combined. There are even combinations of bols that are considered as an important single unit. Due to this fact and new bols being invented, only the most important and basic will be covered here.


Some schools and gharanas will require students to write bols using Devnagari script. It is a good cultural habit to learn Devnagari. It is useful in reading modern languages such as Marathi, Hindi, and Nepali. It is also useful in reading Sanskrit religious texts. However, I will not emphasize using Devnagari. Knowing the bol name and how to play it is more important, than learning how to write the Devnagari bols.


When learning bols, click on the picture of the bol in order to hear how it sounds like.




 Figure 2.1


As I overemphasized in the conclusion of the previous chapter, it is very important to be able to strike the daya with the index finger to produce an open, free resonant sound. This is the very name of that technique. That sound produced by that motion of the dayan is known as “tun.” Listen to the bol again. You can almost hear it say, “tun.” As Figure 2.1 shows, the optimal sound will be produced if the finger strikes the syahi. It is recommended to do that for the optimal sound. Keep practicing this bol until fully mastered. For mridanga players, this is the same technique used to play “” on the mridanga.


Figure 2.2


Without a doubt, this is the most important bol needed. This is the bol that given the tabla its famous sound. This is one of the most important sounds. Many people have much difficult with this task. Therefore, the concept of “muting” must be introduced.


In order to close the “open resonant” sound from the ‘tunbol, a finger position called the mute or the muting position must be used. This involves taking the ring and pinky fingers together and placing them on the maidan and kinnar layers. Some artists even place these two fingers on the syahi. It is merely the matter of personal taste. Look on Figure 2.2 how the muting involves the ring and pinky fingers. Some beginners mute with middle finger, although this is a very poor technique to use when doing fast compositions. It may be painful to hold the correct and seemingly awkward muting position, but keep practicing. This position will become natural very quickly.


On acoustical properties, once you mute the dayan, you form an “imaginary X” on the dayan. With your index finger, forcefully strike the kinnar where “X” intersects. This is shown in the demonstration in Figure 2.2. Keep practicing this bol, as this is one of the most important and most common bols to tabla.


Some gharanas, especially East Indian traditions, will strike the maidan instead of the kinnar. This is their version of their “.” This bol is referred to as “thā.” Practice this version for very forceful “thā.”



Exactly the same as “.” East Indian gharanas treat “” and “tha” (being their “”) as two distinctly different bols. I don’t. is the same as , in this course.



Figure 2.3


This bol is very frequently used in playing tabla. This is perhaps one of the most confusing bols, as this bol somewhat lacks standard. The common approach in playing this bol is to apply muting position, as described before. Instead of hitting the kinnar or the maidan, strike your index finger on the border of the maidan and syahi. This stroke should be a resonant stroke, which sounds more muffled than the “” stroke. If you are having a difficult time getting pure resonance in this or the previous strokes, keep practicing. As mentioned earlier, the common difficulty amongst new tabla players is the ability to hit something and allow optimal resonance. Once this hurdle is overcome, tabla playing can be taught.


Beginners attempt playing “tin” will often find it hard to differentiate it from “.” Remember that “” is louder, than “tin.”


This stroke will be described in depth later on.



Figure 2.4


Every letter counts. This is a completely different bol from “tin.” Tin was a resonant stroke. Ti, also known as te, is nonresonant. No “tun” nor” resemblance should emanate from this sound. This involves the middle finger striking the center of the syahi. Muting the drum is optional. In faster composition, it will be impractical to mute the “ti.” The key feature of nonresonant bols is that you don’t lift you hand as fast as with resonant bols. Keep practicing this bol.


There are more right hand bols, which will be discussed at an appropriate time. For now, these five dayan bols are very important to know. Attempt these exercises. Do not worry about time keeping as of yet. Time keeping will be important in the tāla chapters. For now, mastery of the bols is very important. A dash (–) means the bol is held for extra time. Notation will be introduced in Chapter 6.



Tun Tun Tin Tin Tun Ti Ti Tun Tun Tun Tun Tin Tin

Tun Tun Tun Tun Ti Ti Tin Tin

AUDIO CLIP: Chapter 2 Exercise


These bols are high pitched and most easily recognized. People will hear more of this drum than the baya. Considering this fact, constant practice in getting the correct sounds with bol names is mandatory. It is a proven process that proficiency of these bols and playing them will allow you to literally play any composition. The bols are the basic building blocks of tabla. The bols are our alphabet, where we make short words. With those short words, we make sentences, which allow moods and emotions.

UPDATED: June 20, 2009