Hi all, been a while since I posted something on here, my apologies. I have had many requests on showing how to tune a tabla or the best method of taking care of tabla.
Tuning the tabla is an art that every tabla player must know and recognise. It’s very important that your tabla is taken care of and tuned to the right scale for the best quality tone. Even If one point is out of tune, the openness of the sound is lost. In Indian classical music, we all tune in to one tonic or one sound scale, ie C, C#, D etc. All instruments will be tuned to that scale, so get used to recognising the various scales.
How do we tune?
I’ll try and be as clear and practical as possible here so you get the idea. It all comes down to practice.
- Tabla is tuned with a special hammer that is available from most shops, although any other hammer will do but this one is specially designed for this purpose. The heavier the hammer, the easier to tune with. It has a blunt head to tune, a sharp head to fix and the other side is designed to get the rawhide belt over the wooden blocks.
- The dahina or tabla is usually tuned to the first keynote ‘Sa’ or sometimes tuned in to the fifth keynote ‘Pa’, there are times where some compositions require tuning of the fourth keynote ‘Ma’. You will also tune to a scale of either C, C#, D most commonly on a tanpura (sometimes lower).
- Make sure your tabla has is at room temperature. Tabla should always be stored at room temperature. Avoid storage in garages or cold and damp areas. Play the keystroke ‘Na’ all the way around and find an approximate note on which you feel the tabla tuned to.
- Then create the sound of the desired note on a tuner or keyboard.
- Remember: don’t overstretch your tabla skin, every skin I built for a certain scale. Usually the tabla will tune 1-2 scales below or above, depending on the quality of the skin and tension in the straps.
- Check to see if the tabla is too high or low – this takes some getting used to.
- If it’s too low – we always recommend tuning with the wooden pegs, they give the best overall tension and keep the head balanced. Always hit the blocks flush and straight with clean motions with the sharper side of the hammer. When hitting the blocks, use the ‘opposite side approach’. That means that all eight blocks should be tightened in the “1st-5th, 2nd-6th” order. Be careful: try your best to avoid hitting the leather straps, they will snap.
- When it is closer to your desired note, you can fine tune by hitting the gajra (crown) of the head with the flat side of your hammer. This should also be done in the opposite side manner. If it goes too high, turn the hammer around and use the flat side to hit the bottom the gajra (crown) under the head to reduce the pitch again to the desired point. Be careful: try and avoid hitting the skin of the tabla to avoid any damage to the skin, be precise and cautious. Also all strikes should be made in the middle of each segment to keep a balanced head and also save the leather straps.
- Take your time: be patient, as sometimes the tabla will not reach the desired note. This can have a few reasons, either there isn’t enough tension in the straps or the tabla is not designed to reach that scale.
- Most of all, as I always say make sure you practice it over and over again!