Posted in For Project 1 Examples

Example 3 research, Part 3: Laykari and Tabla Solo Recital

Beck (2013: 175) mentions that the essential nature of Hindustani compositions is to reveal the poetry of taal, unveiling its subtle beauty and inner logic by continually reshaping the phrases and contours, which is amply owed to the rhythmic treatment – laykari.

As Clayton (2000: 153) writes, many laykari techniques share a similar idea: the notes of Hindustani music are dependent on syllables and “… syllables may in principle be added, subtracted, multiplied, or permutated, within taal’s metric framework.” We also have distortion or deviation from a steady beat – for example syncopation or rubato, which, together with ornamentation and different combination of bols, creates interest in lower rhythmic densities, while at higher densities, there are techniques such as cross-rhythmic accenting. (2000: 154) Laykari also includes cadential techniques, but perhaps more important than any of these, as Clayton points out, is the change in speed level that demonstrates a widespread tendency to acceleration in Hindustani music performance practice. (2000: 155) However, acceleration here is step wise and respects the notionally stable tempo of taal.

Surface rhythm and its densities are expressed in North Indian music, usually through further division, or sometimes, the multiplication of matra. For example, barabar lay describes the binary ratios. Neutrally, one bol is played every matra, but if this is stretched, we get one bol every two matras (1: 2), four matras (1: 4) and etc. Conversely, if we start subdividing it, we get two bols per matra (2: 1), four bols (4: 1) and etc. All these are implied by barabar lay, while ternary ratios are presented by ari lay, quintal in kuar and septimal ratios in viari lay.

Varying the above mentioned ratios by steps, while maintaining a relatively steady tempo of taal, provides the link from low density to high density development, characteristic for Hindustani music. There are also other classifications, with one being about the speed of the bols and phrases.

For example, ‘dugun’ means double. At first I thought this means to play in double speed, as in Western terms and accelerando. Then, I soon found out that ‘dugun’ implies 2:1 – again to the ratio, but which doesn’t necessarily reference to matra. (Gottlieb, : 37) Doubling the speed is rather about pronouncing or playing bols or phrases twice as fast from the previous speed, while still maintaining the original tempo of taal. In the most basic form, meaning with the original speed being one bol per matra, as in theka, dugun results in having two bols per matra. Same is true for ‘tigun’ which implies 3: 1 and ‘chougun’ – 4: 1. Below (Fig. 1) is the illustration of these three speed levels in Jhaptaal, which I chose for my example. The bols of the theka is the same, only it fits differently and is repeated different number of times. For theme, we have original theme (Fig. 7), then it’s dugun. (Fig. 8)


Fig. 1. Jhaptaal theka in dugun, tigun and chougun

Third category of classification is the rate of subdivision of matra into four, three, seven, five and nine units, (Kippen, 2006: 117) similar to nadai in Southern Carnatic music, but the associated terms are most often used there and not in Northern India styles. (Clayton, 2000: 166) All these categories can sometimes refer to the same thing, only using different terms, thus Beck (190) listed a table to illustrate this. (Fig. 2) There also might be another designation that responds to chand – accentual patterns. For instance, playing jhaptal style phrases (grouped 2 3 2 3) against a tintal framework is called jhaptal chand, and similarly ektal, rapak, dipcandi, and dhamar chands are recognized. (Clayton: 2000: 156)


Fig. 2. Beck’s table with the three classifications describing the same thing

Playing at any of these lay ratios, a soloist can choose phrases of any length and might divide them by rests of any length; a simple rhythmic pattern consisting of notes of equal length may be played or some pulses left and others further divided; he may play them in groups according to the matra subdivision – sidha, or use means including dynamic accents to indicate a different grouping structure – vakra. (Clayton, 2000: 162) However, laykari techniques are used to create interest in different ways in different contexts, which is why I am going to describe them through the solo tabla recital.

As Naimpalli (2005: 54) mentions, a big part of history of tabla is its development alongside of khyal vocal music and that it was subsequently used for kathak dance accompaniment (which I will write about in my next blog post), enriched by the repertoire of both these forms. However, tabla in solo form appeared quite late. As he writes, this is maybe because laypeople weren’t ready to regard them as solo instruments, or maybe it took time to generate repertoire for a full recital.

Tabla is accompanied by the dron of a tanpura (large, unfretted lute)and a melodic instrument, usually a harmonium or more traditionally sarangi, keeping a repeating melodic pattern called lehra (also called nagma) that outlines the taal. (Beck, 174)  Different players from 6 different gharanas (school of playing), with main two baj – style of gharanas – dilli baj and purbi baj, have various interpretations about the structure, but broadly, a typical performance may be consisted of four parts: introduction – peshkar or uthan with bhumika before it, then kaida, rela, with the final group having forms like gats, parans and other.

Peshkar is an introduction, similar to alap – the anibaddh (unmetered) exposition of raga genre (melodic music). In the alap, musician explores each and every note of the chosen raga (scale), its relation to other notes and combination with them. It’s about getting comfortable with the raga and establishing its identity, as it will be sung at greater speeds later. In the same way, peshkaar has bols that stem from those of the theka of the chosen taal. It is gradually developed in stages with passages which highlight parts of the compositions that are likely to follow in the recital. (Naimpalli, 2005: 55)

Peshkar begins with a theme that is generally played slow in vilambit lay. (Leake, 1989: 72) Unlike many other solo tabla forms, the theme doesn’t have the bhari/khali form, meaning that the phrasing of the stressed bols of bhali doesn’t repeat during the khali section with the unstressed bols. The performer develops the theme through improvisation that is based on the original theme while maintaining the slow, introspective mood. Peshkar is again unique, in that, the performer is not required to repeat variations created with bhari bols while performing the khali section, and is not entirely restricted by using only the bols in the opening theme. The most popular most aesthetic is the peshkar of farrukhabad gharana and delhi gharana.

Like most forms, peshkar ends with a cadential technique called tihai. Tihai is a cadential rhythmic phrase played a total of three times, constructed so as to end on, usually, the sam.  Tihais with no rest between elements are called bedam – `without a breath’, those with rests are damdar – `with a breath’. (Clayton, 2000: 169) Here are two bedam tihais (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4)


Fig. 3. Tihai in jhaptaal


Fig. 4. Tihai in dhamar taal

There is also another cadential technique called mukhra. Mukhras (Fig. 5) are short cadential phrases used to mark the end of sections, or prepare a thrilling beginning of a line, where they can also remind of an anacrusis. (Clayton, 2000: 96) While mukhras need to end on sam, tihais don’t. Tihais can sometimes end before or after sam – ending before are described as anagut, and those which overshoot are atit. (Clayton, 2000: 170) Often when ending as anagut, tihais are continued by a mukhra that will lead to sam. (Fig. 6)


Fig. 5. Mukhra


Fig. 6. Tihai with mukhra

In purbi styles,  uthan is often used as introduction, which starts with a highly dramatic phrase called bhumika. Bhumika uses the high-pitched right-hand drum to create anticipation for the entrance of the low-sounding left-hand bass drum at the beginning of uthan. Only after, peshkar appears.

After the introduction is kaida. As Naimpalli points out, Lucknow and farrukhabad gharanas used kaida more as a whetstone, to sharpen and polish the phrases so that they could be played with confidence when they occurred in other forms, but slowly, Kaidas have become the most important and the largest part of tabla solo recital. Unlike peshkar and uthan, it has a developed system of rules, which its name suggests. There are four important steps of Kaida – Mukh or Theme, Dohra, Paltas and tihai.

Theme is mostly one cycle or perhaps two cycles long, made of bols in a particular sequence that are characteristic for kaida. Not only the theme, but every phrase must exhibit a bhari / khali arrangement, being played twice. The first time should emphasize the open, resonant bass strokes of the left hand while the second iteration should emphasize its absence with unstressed bols. (Fig. 7) After the theme, which starts in slower movement, tabla player then achieves dugun or chougun of the theme (twice or four times as fast, while fitting the bols of the theme into the taal) and plays it for two cycles. (Fig. 8)


Fig. 7. Kaida theme


Fig. 8. Kaida theme in dugun

Afterwards, we have the first palta (variation) called dohra. In dohra we once again see bhari and khali sections. In bhari section, the first part of theme is played twice, followed by the full theme.

For example if you have a theme that goes:

Dhate Tedha Tete Dhadha | Tete Dhage Dhina Gena

Bhari section of Dohra would look like this:

Dhate Tedha Tete Dhadha |  x2 + full theme.

In khali section, we repeat again the first part of the theme, only using khali bols, which means instead of the bass (bhari) Dha we use the corresponding  unstressed (khali) Ta, we play it twice, then repeat the full theme in its original version:

Tate      Teta   Tete  Tata     | x2 + full theme.

In Punjab gharana, we don’t have dohra, but ‘twins’ for first palta. The theme is split in half, and both halves are repeated twice. For the given theme above, it would look like this:

Dhate Tedha Tete Dhadha  | x2 Tete Dhage Dhina Gena  | x2

After, many more paltas appear, mostly 7 or 8 different variations in total, the kaida concludes with a tihai.

Following the kaida is rela – torrent. Rela made of very rapid bols and forms an unbroken chain where the end of one phrase is the beginning of another. This creates a continuity and sense of resonance, in a perpetual motion style. If there are a few kaidas, rela is often the climax to this series indicate the soloist’s intention to begin playing the traditional composition types like gat. It is also based on theme and variations and follows the bhari/khali division, also played in dugun or chougun. Lucknow gharana has raon, which is similar to rela. It is fast and sounds like rela, but is used to fill in the metrical pattern called Chalan, keeping its bols intact.

Finally after rela, we have gat. Gat is a fixed composition, which originated in purbi styles and shows a moderate influence of pakhawaj as do most compositions of this style. Stewart says that gat is “any self-contained cyclic patter which conforms, more-or-less, to the underlying taal structure and which does not end with a 3-fold cadential formula (tihai).” Naimpalli mentions it’s handed down from Gurus and that, while the previous forms I’ve written about fall rather in the area of prose, gat is a poetic composition, which has both rhyme and rhythm.

Each phrase has a matching phrase with a mix of “soft and loud sounds, short and long phrases”. There are many different versions such barabari gat – a straight forward composition without twists and turns in laya, or manjdhar gat – which is like a flow of water in a river. “When river runs down-stream, the speed of the flow of water and its impacting the rocks and stones with force at some points are portrayed in this gat.” There are also versions involving different layas and subdivisions, as for example, in tipalli gat that three stages of layas. However, as Kippen (137) points out, it is really hard to define and can almost be anything, which explains its use in combination of other forms: peshkar-gat, kaida-gat, rela-gat and etc.

There might be some other forms, but finally, the solo performance ends with a series of parans. These are forceful compositions ending with tihai, often compared to a leaf, because just as leaf’s veins branch out from the central big vein on either side uniformly, similarly, bols are distributed evenly.

Here, I have described laykari and demonstrated some of its use in tabla solo recital. In the next blog post, I will write about kathak dance performance, as it is what my example is inspired by it and how I have titled it.

List of illustrations:

Fig. 1. Jhaptaal theka in dugun, tigun and chougun

Fig. 2. Beck’s table with the three classifications describing the same thing

Fig. 3. Tihai in jhaptaal

Fig. 4. Tihai in dhamar taal

Fig. 5. Mukhra

Fig. 6. Tihai with mukhra

Fig. 7. Kaida theme

Fig. 8. Kaida theme in dugun


Beck, John H. (ed.) (2013) Encyclopedia of Percussion. New York and London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

Clayton, Martin (2000) Time in Indian Music: Rhythm, Metre, and Form in North Indian Rag Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Gottlieb, Robert S. (1993) Solo Tabla Drumming of North India: Its Repertoire, Styles, and Performance Practices. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

Kippen, James (2006) Gurudev’s Drumming Legacy: Music, Theory, and Nationalism in the Mrdang Aur Tabla Vadanpaddhati of Gurudev Patwardhan. Hants and Burlington: Ashagate Publishing, Ltd.

Naimpalli, Sadanand (2005) Theory and Practice of Table. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan

Leake, Jerry (1989) Series A.I.M.: Indian Influence. Volume 2. Randolph: Rhombus



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