Harmonium Lesson 8 Taal

Taal, Lay Rhythm, Tempo

Various terms associated with the rhythmic concept in Hindustani music are: taal (rhythm), matra (beat), sama, khali, taali, laya (tempo), Tempo types : vilambit (slow), madhy (moderate), and drut (fast), bol (mnemonic sounds), and theka (basic cycle of bol-s).

Taal is a rhythmic cycle. It consists of a certain, fixed number of beats (matra). A beat is the duration of silence between the first and the next count. The count can be done by clapping, or counting numbers, or saying the sounds of the bol. The number of beats varies from one taal to another. Each taal has a name. For example, the taal called Teental, is a cycle of 16 beats. On completion of 16 beats, the counting starts again from 1 through 16. And so on. Counting is done at a uniform, steady pace. If counting is slow, the resulting tempo will be slow (vilambit lay). If counting takes place at a moderate speed, the tempo will be moderate (madh lay). Fast counting will result in fast tempo (drut lay). The first beat of the rhythmic cycle is the most important one. it is called the sam. A little beyond half way, another important beat occurs. It is called khali. It means “empty”. it is so called because it is assigned negative weight (taking something out). Taali means clapping. It occurs at different place(s), depending upon the taal.

Tali: Tali is the pattern of clapping. Each tal is cha­rac­terised by a par­ti­cu­lar pattern and num­ber of claps.
Khali: Khali is the wave of the hands. These have a cha­rac­teristic re­la­tionship to the claps.
Vibhag (Ang): Vibhag is the measure. Each clap or wave specifies a par­ti­cu­lar sec­tion or measure. These measures may be of any num­ber of beats, yet most com­monly 2, 3, 4, or 5 beats are used.
Matra: Matra is the beat. It may be subdivided if re­quired.
Bol: Bol is the mnemonic sys­tem where each stroke of the drum has a syllable at­ta­ched to it. These syllables are known as bol. It is com­mon to con­sider the bol to be synon­ymous to the stroke it­self.
Theka: Theka is a conventionally es­tab­lished pattern of bols and vibhag (tali, khali) which define the tal.
Lay: Laya is the tempo. The tempo may be either slow (vilambit), medium (madhya), or fast (drut). Additionally ultra-slow may be re­fer­red to as ati-vilambit or ultra-fast may be re­fer­red to as ati-drut.
Sam: Sam is the begin­ning of the cycle. The first beat of any cycle is us­ually stressed.
Avartan: Avartan is the basic cycle.

The cycle of a taal is divided into parts, each part is called a khand. The bol-s of a taal are a set on mnemonic sounds. Some examples of bol-s are: taa, naa, dhin, tin, dhaa, dhin,etc. They are the alphabets — about 15 in number — of the language of taal. taal-s are played on percussion instruments like the tabla Tabla is the most popular percussion instrument.
We can repeatedly play the bol-s of a taal, in a plain, simple way. Playing like this is called theka. Playing theka means playing just plain bol-s of a taal, without any embellishments. In classical music, teental, with its variations like Punjabi and Sitarkhani, is the most popular taal. Some other taals played are: Ektaal, Jhaptal, Jhumra, and Tilwada. The details are provided in the table below:

TaalNo. of Beats

There are, of course, several other taal-s and several other percussion instruments.
The percussionist, for example, a tabla player, can play a taal by way of accompaniment to a vocal or an instrumental performance. Or, he can play it as a solo performance. In the two cases, the requirements are very different. and so also the styles of performance. It is easy to follow these differences, if we frequently listen to tabla accompaniment and solo performances.

Some other popular taals, used commonly, are:

Name of the TaalNumber of Beats