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Chapter 03: Left 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 ‘bolnā’ 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.
Just as the right hand bols are very important to know, left hand bols on the baya are very crucial to know. The baya produces a deep bass sound. In the dayan, there is no possibility of changing the pitch. The baya, however, introduces a possibility of pitch bends. Even though there are not as many bols involved with baya, the possibility of sounds and techniques produced with the baya speaks louder than the dayan.
The daya had its syahi on the center of the drum. The baya, however, has its syahi off-center. Due to its off-center placement, there is a special position involved for the baya. The baya must be one o’clock with respect to the player. This is shown in Figure 3.1. The red lines indicate where your wrist is placed. For mridanga players, the baya is played much differently than what is “common.” The one o’clock and wrist positioning will be collectively known as the baya position.
This is a nonresonant stroke. This is also the stroke with greatest degree of freedom. The most common approach is to take the enter palm and slap the baya without lifting your hand. Make no sure no signs of resonance exist. Notice in Figure 3.2 that the wrist is where the red lines correspond to in Figure 3.1. The fingers are going slightly outside the drum.
In some cases, “ka” is aimed for the syahi giving it a rough sound. This is popular for heavy, less classical and loud performances. In classical performances to “emphasize” a dayan bol, the finger flicks the kinnar giving it a distant, clear cut sound. This is known as the finger ka. Some people refer to this bol as kat, ke, or ki. I will use each term equally. Whether you play the standard style shown in Figure 3.2, the syahi style, or the finger ka, it is very important that you obey the one o’clock rule and the proper wrist positioning. In other words, it must be in baya position.
Unless stated otherwise, “ka” will always refer to the standard technique of playing “ka.”
For the left hand, this is the only resonant bol involved. However, this is the most difficult to play. For the baya position, you can keep your wrist on standard position. You can get as close as the syahi, but do not attempt to cross it. With the index finger, strike the maidan to produce a resonant tone. Do not lift your wrist off the baya. Keep practicing this bol until you can get the sharp distinct tone. You can use your middle finger, index with middle finger, or a combination or index, middle, and ring fingers for this bol. Look at Figure 3.3. Pay special attention at the baya position and how the maidan is being struck.
Like ka, there are many ways to approach gha. One way is the have it totally open with no wrist on the baya. Striking the maidan as described before. This is usually referred to as the open gha. Practice this style.
Using baya position from Figure 3.1, play the gha bol. This time, while striking the maidan, slide your wrist toward the syahi, simultaneously. You should hear a good “swoop” sound or a good pitch bend. Since you slide your wrist to produce this sweet form of gha, this is referred as the sliding gha. Practice this style of sliding gha. Be creative! As the sliding causes pitch bends, thousands of sounds can be made. See what sounds you can come up with. While you practicing sliding toward the syahi, try playing the sliding gha where you start at the syahi and slide away from it.
Some people will call it ga, ghe, ge, ghi, gi, gin, and ghin. I use all forms of “gha.” Each style of gha will be emphasized beforehand. For mridanga players, there is a full palm “gha”, however that is not used here at all. I suggest practicing this controlled “gha.”
These are the two main principal bols used for playing the baya. Now is a great time for practice. Play the following sets of bols.
Gha Ti Ka Gha - Ka Tā - | Ta Ga Nā Ka Nā Ka Tu Nā Thā Ge Nā Tin Nā Ka Ge Ti Thā
Ta Tā Tun- Gha-- | Tā Tā Tun- Gha--| Tā Tā Tun- Gha--|
Be sure you know how to play every bol before. Play them, remember them, write them, and study them. The next chapter will develop complex bols which will help complete our alphabet of our tabla language.
UPDATED: June 20, 2009