by David Courtney working tools

If you do not want to do this work yourself, I also do tabla repair.

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This article is only an intoduction.  If you would like more information please check out "Manufacture and Repair of Tabla"

Note: This article originally appeared in Percussive Notes, October 1993, Vol. 31, No 7, page 29-36



This is the most basic form of maintenance for a tabla. It is so basic that the presumption is that the musician will handle all of the tuning. This process of tuning requires a considerable amount of skill to relate the sound of the drum to the tension of the head(Courtney 1991).

Tuning the banya is simple. If the banya is loose then insert a few gatta between the shell and the tasma (figure 4). If the gatta are already in place, then simply move them up or down to adjust the tension. If this still does not take care of the tension then bring more tasma over the gatta. If all four tasma are over the gatta and it still is not tight, then follow the directions for tightening the drum. This will be discussed later in the article.


Figure 4. Inserting a Gatta for the Banya - The banya may be tightened by inserting a brace (gatta) as shown.

The danya (wooden drum) has the most stringent requirements for pitch. One uses the "Na" or the "Tin" stroke to determine the pitch. If one does not know how to play these stroke one may find the information elsewhere (Sharma 1973). These have the advantage of showing what the tension is under a very small area of the rim.

Tuning is performed on the gajara (braid). Striking down with the hammer tightens it and striking from the underside loosens it. If the gajara does not respond to the hammer then the gatta (wooden dowels) must be struck. Hammer the wooden dowels down to increase the tension and hammer them up to loosen. Once the gatta have been moved, return to the gajara for further tuning.

It is very important that one strikes only the gajara with the hammer. An accidental strike against the chat will irreparably damage the tabla!

The tension around the drum must be uniform. A drum that is out-of-tune has a cross pattern of pitches as shown in figure 5. We see that there are two areas of relatively high pitch and two areas of relatively low pitch. Between them are zones where the pitch is poorly defined. If one is having a hard time hearing the pitch, it may be because one is striking an area of undefined pitch. Shift a little around the rim and the pitch is often easier to hear.


Figure 5. Tension "Cross" of Tabla - An untuned tabla has a cross pattern of pitches.

There are many cases where the heads simply do not respond to the striking of the hammer. This may be caused by several reasons but the most common condition is improper tension on the straps. In such cases the drum needs to be retightened.



The tightening of the drum is an important procedure. Sometimes this is a trivial procedure and sometimes it is a major undertaking. First check how many straps are passing over the gatta. If there are one, two, or three tasma over the gatta, then tightening is a simple procedure. However, if there are four straps then it is a major job. Let us first deal with the simple process.

The simple job can be done in just a few minutes. One simply has to pull another strap over the gatta. Depending upon the situation, one may have to first remove the gatta and then reinsert it with the extra tasma. Look at the diagram in figure 6 to see the proper order. If there is only one tasma (figure 6a) then bring the second one up as shown in Figure 6b. If there are two tasma then bring it up so that it is shown in figure 6c. If there are three tasma then bring it up so that it resembles the diagram on figure 6d. The process indicated in figure 6 is not haphazard. It can be seen that this order is determined to minimize the torque applied to the gajara.


Figure 6. Proper Order for Bringing Up Tasma - The tasma is brought up in a manner which will minimize the torque applied to the gajara.

The tightening of the banya is very similar to the danya. One simply has to insert the gatta and bring them up in the manner shown for the danya (figure 6).



Manipulating the gatta is certainly the easiest way to change the tension. However, there comes a time when this no longer works. We must then retighten the drum. This is a major job and previous experience is very helpful, so one may not be able to do a good clean job the first time.

Retightening the tabla is very much like tightening ones shoes. One starts at the beginning of the lacing (figure 7) and moves along the entire length taking up the slack. This involves a considerable amount of physical effort and should not be undertaken unless one is willing to do some real work. Both banya and danya are tightened the same with one exception. The banya puddi must be moistened while the danya puddi must remain dry. Be very careful that the syahi remains dry. When moistening the banya puddi it is good to maintain a 3/4 inch safety margin.


Figure 7. Tasma Endpoints - 1) start of tasma 2) end of tasma

There are four points about retightening to remember. 1) The start of the tasma and the end of the tasma are particularly critical (figure 7); one has to pay special attention to be certain that these two places are tight. 2) Be attentive to the thickness of the tasma; try not to break it. 3) Be attentive to the puddi and try to keep it straight. 4) Pay attention to the kundal and keep it straight too.


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© 1998 - 2017 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

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