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by David Courtney working tools

Note - This piece was previously published in Percussive Notes, Vol. 32, No 4 August 1994, page 54-64.

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There are a number of criteria used to define the cadential forms. These are the function, structure, and the bol of the composition.

The experience of Western ethnomusicologists in their studies of compositional forms is somewhat analogous to that of a spaceman suddenly trying to make sense of the various classifications of human beings. Moving within human culture, a particular individual may be classed as male, Democrat, Presbyterian, Freemason, or any of a number of labels to which we assign an individual. The overlapping nature of these classes may be very confusing to our spaceman until he realizes that these labels are based upon totally different criteria.

A similar situation exists with Indian percussion. Function, structure and bol are three independent criteria used to define our compositional forms. One typically finds one or two criteria used for a definition, but rarely one will find all three. Therefore, it is common to find the same composition called different things on different occasions by different musicians.


Function is the criterion that concerns how and when a musician uses a composition. One composition may be used to start or end a section; one may be reserved for encores, or tabla solos. There are some pieces which are reserved for specific styles such as light, filmi, classical, folk or dance music. Function may be thought of as a gestalt of artistic, traditional and stylistic factors. Two forms may be said to be functionally identical if they may be interchanged. For instance, although tukada, and paran are totally separate cadential forms, one may substitute a one-cycle paran for a one-cycle tukada without any break in the flow of a piece. Therefore, at the level of function the two are identical, though they may be differentiated at anotherlevel.


Structure is the criterion based upon the anatomy of the composition. One piece may be based upon a phrase repeated three, four or nine times. One piece may be evenly split in two. One may exhibit a symmetry while another may be asymmetric. Some may cover several cycles while others may be restricted to but a few beats. These are the structural considerations of apiece.


The bol is the final criterion for defining a compositional type. Some compositions may be based upon resonant strokes such as Dha, Ge, Tun, etc.; while some may be restricted to flat, nonresonant bols. Some may be based upon bols which are derived from anancient barrel shaped drum known as pakhawaj; while somemay be based upon purely tabla bols. Some may be based upon dance bols and some may even be based upon Hindi or Sanskrit poetry. These are the types of bols which are used to define some composition.

Although the differing criteria is critical for the proper definition of compositional forms, it is surprising that it has not been discussed in earlier work. Previous Western field investigators have largely failed to grasp this point, and it has never been an issue for the practicing Indian musician.

We have seen several important points in the use of independent criteria. Three criteria exist for the definition of compositional form. Function, structure, and bol are unrelated domains but varying degrees of multiple criteria may be used to define compositions. It is this variation in the use of criteria which allows alot of overlap in nomenclature.



There are a number of compositional forms which fall within the class of the cadenza. These are the mukhada, folk "pickup", tihai, mohara, chakradar, paran, tukada, tipali, and amad. We will now look at their characteristics from the standpoint of our previous criteria.



Theword mukhada literally means "face". It is defined by structure and function. Musically, mukhada functions to unobtrusively emphasize the sam. Structurally, it is a very short piece, usually no more than a few beats, which resolves upon the sam. Virtually any bol may be used. This rather vague definition gives rise to two different structural philosophies. The most common mukhada is nothing more than a mere "lick". It is a sudden increase in bol density for the few beats preceding the sam. At the sam, the bol density suddenly falls to the original level or in some cases below it. The function is to create a musical tension which is relaxed at sam. Figure 3 illustrates a simple mukhada in tintal. A less common style of mukhada is structurally more complex. This has the same structure as the mohara which will be discussed later.

  Figure 3. Mukhada in Tintal Figure 3. Mukhada in Tintal  

Folk / Filmi Pickup

This is a style which is closely allied to the mukhada. The relevant criteria for its definition are function and structure. Although it is structurally similar to the simple mukhada, it is functionally different because it is found only in the lighter, non-classical genre. It is also different because the mukhada must be used to end a section while the pickup may be used either to start or end.

Even though this is a common cadenza it does not even have a broadly accepted name. This is due primarily to the low level of formal training which is found among many light and folk musicians. Never-the-less, the English word "pickup" is often used to describe it. Figure 4 is a very common"pickup" in a four beat version of kaherava tal.

  pickup Figure 4. "Pickup" in 4 Matra Kaherava

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