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Abstract Shapes


Brief definitions for common terms used in the world of tabla. Explore Types of Compositions and various categories in Fundamentals for more complete descriptions.

Aamad- Aamad means "arrival". In general, a composition which gives a sense or intuition of arriving on the sum is aamad. In dance music, the introduction of rhythmic bols presented at the beginning of a Kathak performance is called Aamad. 

Alaap- A slow, improvised section in the beginning which introduces the raag.

Ati-Drut/Anu-Drut- Extremely fast tempo.

Ati-Vilambit- Extremely slow tempo.

Awartan- An awartan is one cycle or rotation of a particular composition. In tabla, if a composition is played once, from sum to sum, one awartan of that composition is played. For example, one awartan of teentaal will be of 16 maatras, whereas two awartans of teentaal will be of 32 maatras. 

Baaj- Playing style.

Bada Khyal- A singing composition sung in the slow tempo. 

Bandish- Composition.

Baraabar- Equal rhythm of time; equi-tempo.

Baya- Round drum on which bols like ge and ke are played, usually with the non-dominant hand.

Bedum Tihai- A tihai with be-dum, meaning no-pause, is a bedum tihai. A bedum tihai has a pause of 1/2 maatra or less. A bedum tihai can't be composed in a taal of which the number of maatras is a multiple of 3 (ex. ektaal, matta taal).

Bhareev Theka- A theka filled with a substantial and appropriate amount of syllables.

Bhari- A packed or heavy portion of the taal.

Bol- Syllable or note played on the tabla.

Chakradaar- A chakradaar includes a tihai-containing tukda which is repeated 3 times in order to land on the sum. It is essentially a tihai played 3 times. 

Chalan- A set of syllables that represents a verse.

Chaugun- In a cycle or time interval of a particular phrase, if that phrase is instead played 4 times at 4 times the speed, it is chaugun. In other words, chaugun is quadruple tempo.

Chaupalli- "Chau" + "palli" implies 4 aspects or divisions. It is a composition in which a phrase is played 3 times, each time in a different, increasing laya in order to fill up awartans or to land on the sum. Some stalwarts argue that in a chaupalli, not only are there 4 different layas or speeds involved, but the phrase also ends in a "dha" after each division similar to a tehai. 

Cheez- Composition; usually in reference to bandish of raag.

Chhota Khayal- Type of composition sung in a fast tempo.

Danedaar Theka- A theka with precise bols that still gives off the overall ambience of the theka. Similar to a pearl necklace: even with beautiful individual pearls, an admirer can look at the necklace and distinguish it as a whole.

Daya- The tabla, or the drum played usually with the dominant hand. 

Dhun- a light tune; a folk melody. 

Drut Laya- Fast tempo.

Dugun- Dugun is when a phrase is played two times, at twice speed, within a certain time interval. Whenever 2 maatras are played within a time span of 1 maatra, it is considered dugun. 

Dumdaar Tihai-  Dumdaar, meaning "with a pause," implies that a dumdaar tihai has a pause. The pauses may be short or long, and they may also be simple or complex. Usually, a dumdaar tihai has a pause that is more than 1/2 maatra. A dumdaar tihai with complex pauses is sometimes referred to as bikat dum.

Farmaishi Chakradaar- A chakradaar includes a tihai-containing tukda which is repeated 3 times in order to land on the sum. It is essentially a tihai played 3 times. A farmaishi chakradaar is a chakradaar of which the "dha" of the first section of the first tihai lands on the sum, the "dha" of the second section of the second tihai lands on the sum, and the final "dha" also lands on the sum. 

Gajra- a four ply leather hoop surrounding the face of the tabla which lies around 0.5 to 1 cm below the pudi. 

Gambhir Rasa- Serious mood.

Gat- A gat is a fixed composition composed by various maestros and composers which provides an experience of various elements in nature through the language of tabla. These elements of nature may include things like the flow of a river, the flight of a bird, or the bouncing of a ball. A gat is completed before the sum, and therefore can be played multiple times sequentially. A gat is usually performed at least twice in a solo performance. 

Gat-Kayda- A gat-kayda is a composition which uses the expansion rules of a kayda but uses the language of a gat. A gat-kayda utilizes the chaal or flow of a gat. It is found in Lucknow and Farrukhabad Gharanas. Although it is an expansionary composition, the extent to which it may be expanded is usually less than a regular kayda because the bols used in this composition are heavy bols found in gats.

Gat-Paran- A gat-paran is a composition/tukda with open, prominent bols. The term “Paran” comes from the Sanskrit word “Pern,” meaning leaf. Similar to a leaf’s main stem and small branches, a paran, coming from pakhawaj language, has a main phrase which branches out into other phrases based on the original. A gat-paran is a paran that uses the language of a gat. 

Gatthaa- A wooden cylindrical block which is utilized in order to adjust the pitch of the tabla. 

Gayaki Ang- A form of playing melodious instruments with a close similarity to the vocal form.

Gharana- A school of Indian Classical Music. 

Ghazal- A light vocal musical form sung with poetic aesthetics. 

Gheeskam- A style of playing the baya.

Ghumara- A style of playing the baya.

Guru- A teacher.

Jati- Indicates creating a distribution of syllables in a particular maatra in various ways.

Kamaali Chakradaar- The word "kamaal" means amazing or skillful. Similarly, a kamaali chakradaar is skillful and even more intricate than a farmaishi chakradaar. It involves unique mathematical calculations and patterns. A kamaali chakradaar incorporates 27 "dhas", of which the 1st dha of the 1st section lands on the sum, the 14th dha of the 2nd section lands on the sum, and the 27th and last dha of the 3rd section lands on the sum. Each of the 3 tihais or "chakras" within a kamaali chakradaar requires 9 "dhas".

Karuna Rasa- A compassionate mood.

Kayda- An expansionary composition with a balance of consonant and vowel phrases which begin and ends with a vowel phrase is called a kayda. Kaydas have khaali and bhari components and divisions. The divisions of a kayda may either be symmetrical to the taal in which the kayda is established or may fall in odd places.

Khaali- A khaali can be represented by taking your hand away or striking with the back of your hand during recitation of a taal. It represents the starting maatra of a khaali, or hollow, division. 

Khalifa- Heir. 

Khayal- A vocal musical form which was popularized after Dhrupad/Dhamaar.

Khula- Open.


Kissm- Variations in a theka played without disturbing the theme or flow of the theka are called kissm. While accompanying, a tabla player may play various kissm in order to musically and appropriately match the main performing artist's composition. 

Laggi- A short, attractive theme played in drut laya in taals such as dadra or keherwa. It is one of the smallest expandable compositions, of which the variations or referred to as "laut-palat," meaning "back and forth," referring to the combinations made in the variations of the laggi. A laggi is a useful composition for accompaniment.

Laya- Laya, or tempo, is an important element of music. It is the distance between two maatras. When the distance between two maatras increases, the speed of the composition slows down, and vice versa. In other words, laya represents the equal movement of time and the equal spacing between two maatras. Laya also means destruction: when a second maatra is produced, the time interval or the reign of the first maatra fades away. An artist may perform in various layas according to the rules of Indian Classical Music. 

Layakari- The skill of controlling the laya and changing how the maatras are divided to create rhythmic variation. In other words, it is the practical and artistic implementation of various layas.

Lehra- A repeating melody used to accompany tabla solo-playing in a given taal. 

Maatra- A maatra is a medium of measuring the taal. It is the smallest whole unit or "beat" of a taal. Each taal has a set number of maatras, and each maatra is of equal length. Example: Teentaal has 16 maatras of equal length. In literal terms, maatra means "part". 

Madhya Laya- Medium tempo.

Masidkhani- Type of composition played on instruments like the sitar in a slow tempo.

Meend- A style of playing the baya through controlling the resonance.

Mehfil- A musical function/concert, with a small audience and intimate setting. For example, ghazals were often sung in house mehfils.

Mohra- A mohra is a small composition used to arrive at the sum gracefully. It is shorter in length than Mukhda and uses softer bols. It is usually a pick-up phrase or hook played spontaneously in accompaniment to vocal/instrumental music in order to transition onto the next awartan. It may or may not have a tihai. 

Mukhda- A mukhda is a short and attractive composition of a few maatras used to land on the sum. A mukhda is longer than Mohra but shorter than Tukda. The length of a Mukhda is generally equal to or less than one Awartan. It uses stronger bols such as those found in a Paran. Some stalwarts say that a mukhda usually is the combination of bols composed in the last few maatras of an awartan in order to arrive at the sum. It may or may not have a tihai.

Naad- The sound that is produced from playing a certain bol on a musical instrument.

Nikaas- A style of presenting or expressing a certain bol through an instrument.

Nishabda- A soundless activity which may be indicated by the movements of our hands. 

Pakhawaaj- An Indian drum placed horizontally.

Palta- Expansionary compositions such as kaydas or relas are improvised upon through the help of paltas. A palta is a variation which is derived from the bols of the mukh or theme of the kayda or rela. Paltas help to show different combinations of a mukh using the bols of that mukh. Mathematically, we can come up with a seemingly endless amount of permutations and combinations using a specific language, and the expansion process differs from player to player. 

Paran- Connecting to the Sanskrit word "pern," meaning leaf, a paran is a composition with accent-filled, resonance-filled bols. It generally ends with a tihai and can be compared to the structure of a leaf: a main vertical axis which "branches out" into veins on both sides.

Peshkaar- A peshkaar is an expansionary and improvised composition played in vilambit laya. It ends in vowel phrases such as "tin na" and "dhin na" and is used to unfold the taal at the beginning of a solo performance. A peshkaar shows a tabla player's expansionary process and understanding of taal.

Raag- A melodic framework in Indian Classical Music improvised upon in various ways.

Rasa- A mood or taste pertaining to various raags.

Rela- A rela is an expansionary composition which begins with a vowel but ends with a consonant phrase. A rela has rapid bols and is played in drut laya, helping to create a harmonious chain or musical flow. Many relas are abundant in consonants. 

Riyaaz- Practice.

Sampadi- A taal in which all divisions have the same number of maatras (Ex. teentaal, ektaal, chautaal, ada-chautaal).

Sangeet- Sangeet is the combination of the 3 arts in Indian Classical Music: singing, instrumental playing, and dancing. 

Sashabda- An activity which includes sound and which can be indicated through the movements of the hands.

Shanta Rasa- Tranquil mood.

Shringar Rasa- Erotic mood.

Sum- Sum refers to the first maatra of the taal. In other words, it is a beginning. The main function of the sum is to establish a point of resolution or emphasis. In theory, it represents a "restart" of a cycle of taal. 

Swar- Swar refers to distinct musical notes of various frequencies. (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa). 

Taal- Taal refers to a system of rhythmic pattern in Indian Classical Music. Rhythm is a fundamental concept for music. While there a various types of taals, with different characteristics and number of maatras, songs, instrumental compositions, and dance compositions in Indian Classical Music are established in a certain taal. This way, taal is a technique of measuring time in musical compositions.

Taali- A taali can be represented by the clapping of hands during recitation of a taal. It represents the starting maatra of a bhari, or packed, division. 

Taan- A fast phrase sung or played on an instrument which includes intricate note patterns.

Taleem- Education, direction.

Tatkaar- -A prominent activity constituting Kathak.

Tayyari- Readiness or maturity.

Theka- The utilization of various organized bols in order to express a particular taal through a musical instrument is called theka. While a taal can be simply expressed through taali/khaali, in order for a taal to be musically useful, a theka is employed. There may be differences of the theka played for any particular taal according to the context in which the theka is performed.

Tigun- In a cycle or time interval of a particular phrase, if that phrase is instead played 3 times at thrice the speed, it is tigun. In other words, tigun is triple tempo.

Tihai- A tihai is a composition in which a phrase is repeated 3 times with 2 equal pauses to arrive on a designated position, usually but not necessarily the sum.

Tripalli- "Tri" + "palli" implies 3 aspects or divisions. It is a composition in which a phrase is played 3 times, each time in a different, increasing laya in order to fill up awartans or to land on the sum. Some stalwarts argue that in a tripalli, not only are there 3 different layas or speeds involved, but the phrase also ends in a "dha" after each division similar to a tehai. 

Tukda- A tukda is a fixed composition primarily with forceful bols and heavy consonants. A tukda contains a tihai within it and usually is 2-3 awartans in length. Some stalwarts argue that a tukda, or "piece," is a portion of a longer composition which, even if played independently, appears meaningful. 

Upaj- A spontaneous expression which is irreproducible due to its impromptu nature.

Uthaan- An attractive fixed composition played at the beginning of a solo performance. Benares Gharana players usually start their solo with an uthaan, which helps to increase the energy amongst the audience. It is played in fast tempo, can have features of a tukda or paran, and and can be short and long.

Vazandar Theka- Theka with weighty bols.

Veer Rasa- Heroic mood. 

Vibhaag- Vibhaag, or khand, are divisions made within a taal as per the khaali and bhari (packed and hollow) components of a taal. A vibhaag can be of even or odd number of maatras, and different taals may have different vibhaags. For example, teentaal has 4 vibhaags of 4 maatras each (4+4+4+4) whereas rupak has 3 vibhaags of 3,2,2 maatras (3+2+2). In other words, vibhaags are subsections made within a particular taal. 

Vilambit Laya- Slow tempo.

Vishampadi- A taal of which divisions are of various numbers of maatras (Ex. Dhamaar).

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