In Arabic, tabla means “drum”, this goblet-shaped drum is known and played throughout the
Middle East and neighboring countries. The name is even applied to the pair of drums played
in India, but that is a different instrument altogether. In fact,
the tabla is often better known in Arabic countries as Darabuka, Dumbai, Darbuka; in Iran
it’s called Tombak or Zarb, in Afghanistan it is known as Zirbaghali, Greek musicians
call it Toumbeliki, Tamboura or Stamna.
The Tabla is a very ancient instrument, there
is not a known date for its invention but its thousands of years
old, and still extremely popular in the Arab world, present in every
home it is never absent from any celebration, Being used in folk,
popular and classical music. The making of the original or
traditional Tabla is a body of low fired clay with a thin skin
attached with rope and glue. The common material for the skin was
goat or sheepskin and for the advanced players fish skin was used
because of its thinness and its resonance. Nowadays, tablas are made
of metal material for the body and a plastic head and mechanical
tuning. Professional tabla players may use that kind of instrument
because of its consistent sound and less likely to be damaged. Plus
the modern tuning system and plastic overhead are very stable, so
there is no more need for heating pads or light bulbs that the
players once used to keep the skin tight and keep the sharp and
crispy sound of the Tabla.
The Tabla has many sizes the most common is 14
to 16 inches tall with a diameter of 10 to 12 inches the smallest
are found in morocco and are played with one hand and held under the
armpit. Also, a larger model of the Tabla is found in Egypt, with a
low pitched sound it plays a supporting part in an Arabic percussion
The Tabla is held under the arm when standing
and more often, on the lap when sitting.
In an adequate sitting position the Tabla offers
a wide range of tones, from a low “dum” when struck in the middle of
the head to a wide variety of higher pitched “tek” sounds which is
played nearer to the edge of the rim. Other specials hits include
slaps, grabs and special techniques of finger snapping and finger
rolling. With this tonal palette, the musician can play all sorts of
sounds and rhythms from the simplest folk dances to more complex
rhythm cycles used in Arab classical music called “Al Wazin”.
Today the Tabla is finding a new home in western music, world beat,
jazz fusions, and players of non-Arabic background are experimenting
and adding a new old sound to their music.