The sam is the first beat of the cycle in the north Indian system of tal. The word sam literally means to "conjoin" or "come together". The sam has a special significance in both the performance and theory of North Indian music.
One of the main functions of the sam is to establish a point of resolution. Although improvisations and fixed compositions may begin almost anywhere in the cycle (avartan) they almost always resolve on the sam.
The sam is also a pivotal point. Typically the tabla player keeps time by playing theka and the main musician is free to improvise. This however would be boring if that was the only thing that happens; therefore it is common to trade places. During this, the main musician keeps time by playing the theme (gat or sthai) over and over. This allows the tabla player to take off and improvise. After a period the roles reverse again. The sam is important because it is pivotal to this transition.
The sam is so important that it has its own notational symbol. In the Bhatkhande system of notation, it is noted with cross such as an "x" or an "+".
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