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The Tabla is regarded as the queen of drums and percussion instruments and is the most popular Indian rhythm instrument. It consists of two drums, the Bayan (big bass drum) and the Dayan.The two of them are almost always played together. Both the two drums as a pair and also the Dayan on its own – as opposed to the Bayan – are called Tabla.
Both drums have a body that is closed at the bottom. The open top is mostly covered with a goat leather skin. To the edge of this basic skin, a second skin (Kani) is attached. In the centre of the skin is the so-called GAB: a black area which gives the instrument a special sound and makes the variety of sounds and modulations possible. It is a fine art to apply this GAB in the correct mixture, consistency and strength of a paste which consists mainly of rice flour and iron filings. When playing, the two drums are placed on rings (Bira) which support them. The tuning wedges that are held by leather straps at the sides are meant for tuning the instrument. Depending on whether the wedges are beaten upwards or downwards by the tuning hammer, the sound gets lower or higher. A fine tuning is done by beating with the tuning hammer on the woven ring around the skin.
The playing technique requires a differentiated fingering in connection with the complex composition of the skin membranes. The combination of the two drums produces an incredible fullness and details of different rhythm structures and this fullness of expression is unmatched by any other rhythm instrument.
The skins of the Tabla are likely to wear out and have to be changed from time to time, depending on how often the instrument is played and what kind of conditions it is exposed to. Even when the instrument is very old, it can, when the substance i.e. the wooden body is o.k., be restored to a wonderful instrument by a new skin. This task should generally be done by an expert.
The Bayan takes on the bass part of the drum duo. The body of the Bayan is mostly made of chrome-plated copper. The Bayan is played by the index finger and the middle finger of the left hand in turns or with both fingers simultaneously. While doing this, the ball of the thumb rests lightly on the edge of the skin or modulats the pitch by slightly pressing the skin.
The Dayan is made of different types of wood. Please see the explanations on this topic in the next paragraph about the meaning of the wood regarding the quality of a Dayan. It is customary, especially in Kolkata, to hollow out the inside of the body of a Dayan relatively roughly. The tuning wedges that are held by leather straps at the sides are meant for tuning the instrument. Depending on whether the wedges are beaten upwards or downwards by the tuning hammer, the sound gets lower or higher. A fine tuning is done by beating with the tuning hammer on the woven ring around the skin. The size of a Dayan is defined by the diameter of the skin. Sizes of 5 to 6 inches are in use. The standard sizes are about 5 1/4 inches to 5 1/2 inches whose tuning is around C. The measurements can also be given in centimeters. The tuning of a Dayan depends on the skin diameter. The smaller the skin is, the higher is the sound of the Dayan; the bigger the skin diameter, the lower it can be tuned. Specially low or high Dayans are played together with corresponding high or low melody instruments.
TYPES OF WOOD FOR DAYAN AS QUALITY FACTOR
There are different woods which Dayans are made of. The most used and well-known types of wood are Shisham, Neem, Mahagony and Babla Wood. Basically it is not possible to choose a good Dayan only from the kind of wood it is made of. Of course the wood is important for the continuous sound of a Dayan but also other factors such as the quality of the skin, the quality of the Gab and of course the manufacturing are important. When the manufacturer chooses the wood, then 1st priority is that the wood is completely dry. As the situation in India is that the manufacturers of Tablas have worldwide orders for many months, they do not get enough good wood. They send abroad whatever they can get. The wood very often is not dry enough. This is a very big problem.
Another important factor is the density of the wood depending from which part of the tree the wood is taken (upper or lower portion of the trunk) or if the wood is taken from a thin trunk. The thick trunk, which is the good wood, mostly is used for the furniture industry specially if it’s a valuable wood like Shisham or Neem. This results in the fact that it is mostly better to use a good dry wood with good density from a no-name wood instead of a well-known wood as Shisham or Neem. It needs a well experienced person to evaluate what really is a good wood for good sound in a Dayan. It can be the case that one gets a Shisham-Dayan which signals that it is a good Dayan, and finally it turns out that it is a terrible Dayan.
It can be seen that the name of the wood, which a Dayan is made of, does not really give an objective evaluation. Sometimes a no-name wood of a Dayan which is completely dry, has a fantastic density, a good skin and gab and is made by a good experienced and reliable maker, is much better than a precious wood.
Still, we would like to mention below some of the types of wood that are well-known and much in demand:
Is first of the much sought-after kinds of wood, but it is absolutely necessary that it really comes from a thick trunk with a good density, otherwise Shisam wood is not good at all.
Also a very popular wood. Must also come from a thick trunk, otherwise it splits over the course of time. If, however, it is really taken from a thick trunk and has been completely dried, then even a split that forms in the course of time, does not influence the good sound at all.
Is of a similar quality as Neem and reacts in the same way as Shisham wood.
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