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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.

COMPOSITIONS (continued)



The tipali is a common cadenza. It is essentially a triadic composition where each of the three sections is in an increasing layakari (tempo). Figure 12 shows a tipali in tintal which was given to me by the late Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan. Tipali is traditionally classed as a gat, however such a designation is fundamentally insupportable.

Figure 12.

The gat is a cyclic form which is loosely analogous to the kaida, while the tipali is clearly a cadential form. I believe that such a fundamental difference requires the tipali to be classed as a separate form.

Less common than the tipali is the dupali and chopali. These forms are characterized by two sections and four sections respectively. Unfortunately these forms are rather obscure and different subtraditions have adopted different approaches. Some treat these as cyclic forms while others treat them as cadential. Some have each section in a different tempo and some do not. Therefore it is difficult to talk about these obscure forms.



The amad is a type which is used primarily in the kathak dance tradition. A characteristic amad is shown in figure 13 (Shrivastava 1973:124). Amad is defined by its characteristic bols. Structurally the amad consists of a body and a tihai. Many times the tihai is not really a tihai in the strict sense but a set of bols which gives a character of tihai.

Figure 13. Amad  


We have seen that the mass of compositional forms for the Indian tabla fall into two classes; cyclic and cadential. Although the cyclic material rolls along without any specific direction the cadenza moves toward a specific point of resolution. This point of resolution is almost always the sam, or the first beat of the cycle. There has been much confusion concerning the exact definitions of cadenzas. Although some confusion is a result of different subtraditions and a historically low educational level among the practitioners, the confusion can be minimized by realizing that many of these forms are defined using totally different criteria. In general these three criteria are: 1) structure, 2) function / style, and 3) bol (mnemonic/ stroke).

Structurally, most forms are a combination of a body of high density bols followed by a tihai. The tihai is the most characteristic element of the Indian cadenza; it is merely a phrase repeated three times. The mukhada and "pickup" are the simplest, being merely a body of high density bols. The mohara, tukada, paran, and amad are usually a body followed by a tihai. A chakradar is like a tihai except that each phrase is a complete tihai in itself. The tipali is three sections where each section is composed of increasing densities of strokes.

The function of the various forms is usually a question of style and level of control that the artist wishes to exert. The pickup, mukhada and simple tihai may be played any time without impinging upon the main performer. The pickup is found only in light and folk styles. Amad is found exclusively in the dance styles. Tukada, mohara, paran, tipali, and chakradar are only played when the tabla has complete control, such as tabla solos, and instrumental sections where the main instrumentalist "trades off" to the tabla player.

The bols which are used to define styles are derived from three main traditions: 1) traditional tabla bols, 2) pakhawaj bols, and 3) kathak dance bols. Amad is exclusive made of dance bols. Tukada is usually only tabla bols. Mukhada, mohara, chakradar, and tihai may use any bols. Paran uses only pakhawaj bols while tipali usually does. The folk "pickup" sometimes uses no bols at all.

Collectively they all form the north Indian cadenza. Music without a cadenza is like a speech without a breath, or a book without periods. The occasional resolution is essential to defining the body of ones artistic ideas. Without it, the music can have no soul.



amad - A traditional dance piece.
avartan - A cycle.
bedumdar tihai - A tihai where the three phrases are played continuously without a break.
bol -Literally it means the verbal mnemonic. commonly it means the strokes.
bol paran - A paran made of poetry rather than tabla bols.
chakradar tihai - A tihai compose of three other tihais (i.e., nine occurrences of the phrase)
chopali - Four sections where each has higher bol density than the former.
devnagri - The Sanskrit alphabet.
dholak - A crude barrel shaped drum used in folk music.
dholki - A barrel shaped drum used in folk music.
dohathu - A composition that uses both hands on the same drum.
dupali - Two sections where the later has a higher bol density than the former.
dumdar tihai - A tihai where each phrase is separated with a pause or some insignificant strokes.
ekhathu - A composition which is played with only one hand.
farmaishi paran - A paran which is played for an encore
kamali paran /chakradar - An exceptionally complex paran or chakradar.
kaherava tal - An eight beat rhythm used in folk and lighter styles of music.
kaida - A very formalized type of theme and variation.
kathak - A classical dance form of northern India.
khali - The "empty" section of the cycle specified by a wave of the hand.
lalkila paran - A dohathu
layakari - The relationship between what is being played and the theoretical timebase (i.e., single time, double time, etc.)
matra - The beat.
naggada - A type of kettle drum.
namaskari paran - A paran used in dance pieces which is used with a characteristic greeting.
pakhawaj - An ancient barrel shaped drum, of complex construction formally used in classical music.
paran - A piece composed extensively of strokes from pakhawaj.
peshkar - A system of theme and variation used to open tabla solos.
pirmal - A type of tukada used in dance recitals.
prakar - Variations upon the basic accompanying patterns.
rela - A system of theme and variation based upon the rapid manipulation of small structures at a very high speed.
salam - A characteristic greeting of muslims in India.
salami paran - A dance piece characterized by the use of a salam.
sam - The first beat of the cycle.
sampurna tihai - A tihai in which the full theme of the kaida is present.
sankirna tihai - A tihai in which only a portion of the theme of a kaida is used.
sitar - A stringed instrument made popular in the West by Ravi Shankar
sarod - A stringed instrument, similar to rabab, used in classical music.
tabla - The principal drums of northern India.
tal - The system of rhythm.
tali - The clap of the hands used in Indian timekeeping.
tar paran - A paran which is used in the accompaniment of string instruments such as sitar and sarod.
theka - The basic accompanying patterns.
tukada - A small piece used in tabla solos based upon standard tabla bols.
tihai - A phrase repeated three times and ending on the first beat of the cycle.
tintal - A common 16 beat pattern used to accompany vocalist, dancers and instrumentalists.
tipali - Three phrases repeated with increasing bol density.
uthan - A type of mukhada or paran used to open a tabla solo
vibhag - A measure.


Works Cited

Apte, Vasudeo Govind
1933 The Concise Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Bombay, India. Motilal Banarsidass

Courtney, David R
1980 Introduction to Tabla. Hyderabad, India. Anand Power Press.
1992 "New Approaches to Tabla Instruction". Percussive Notes. Vol 30 No 4: Lawton OK: Percussive arts Society.
1993 "An Introduction to Tabla". Modern Drummer. October: Modern Drummer publications.

Kapoor, R.K.
-no date- Kamal's Advanced Illustrated Oxford Dictionary of Hindi-English. New Delhi: Verma Book Depot

Kippen, James
1988 The Tabla of Lucknow: A Cultural Anaylysis of a Musical Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lele, V.
1978 Sathsangat. Puna, India: V. Joshi and Co.

Mridangacharya, Bhagavandas & Shankardas, Ram (Pagaldas)
1977 Mridang Tabla Prabhakar (Vol. II). Hatharas, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.

Sharma, Bhagavat Sharan
1973 Tal Prakash.Hatharas, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.(5th edition)
1975 Tabla-shiksha, Vadhya-Vadan Ank. Hatharas, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.

Shepherd, F. A.
1976 Tabla and the Benaras Gharana. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International. (Ph.D. Dissertation)

Shrivastava, H. C.
1973 Kathak Nrtya Parichay. Alahabad, India: Sangeet Press.

Stewart, Rebacca M.
1974 The Tabla in Perspective. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International. (Ph.D. Dissertation)

Patnakar, R. G.
1977 Tal Sopan. (Vol 2) Bulandshahar, India: Sangeet Kala Kendra.

Vashisht, Satya Narayan
1977 Tal Martand. Hathras, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.

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Selected Video

David Courtney and Ernesto Leon (Introduction to the tabla compositional forms)


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