Tabla Notation System

Discussions about the Indian hand-drums known as tabla.

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Tabla Notation System

Postby singhhh_ap » Mon Apr 25, 2016 9:25 pm


Anyone knows a good reference or book which shows how to write a Tabla notations properly?


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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby jaysitar22 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 6:12 am

The awesome book by Mrinal Pal has a great notation system. He doesn't write out the khali part, and the kaidas are considered as a one line theme, and then a vistar developing the theme. He also uses brackets and multipliers instead of writing everything out, which makes it easier to read.

I retyped my lessons in this format (making kaidas a one line theme + a vistar). It is more compact, and easier to memorize. He uses spaces to show accent groupings, and underlines bols that are in a different subdivision of the beat.
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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby Benarsidass » Tue Apr 26, 2016 4:40 pm

There's really no "proper" way to write tabla compositions. Like so many things in tabla, there are lots of different approaches. Most Indian use some variation of Bhatkhande's approach, which is to divide bols according to the matra. Each matra will usually show the lay (divisions per matra) for that particular matra, including pauses.

So an adilay composition (3:1) would be written like this:

dha–kra dhetete dhagetin nakina ...

And a barabar composition (4:1) would be written like this:

dhatetedha tetedhadha tetedhage tinnakina ....

But there are many inconsistencies. Double speed bols, for instance, are not always marked or divided as double speed, and so you often need to know how something is played. For example, many books would write something like this:

dha–tirakitataka dhinnakitataka

Both of these matras are straight, but the first one shows 8 divisions while the second looks to have only 6. So it should really be written like this:

dha–tirakitataka dhin–na–kitataka

But if you know tabla, then the first one is fine. Most Indian publications are full of examples like these where you really need to know the language.

Some Western scholars use a combination of written bols and Western staff notation in order to be exact. But then then you need to know Western music notation.

Shorthand methods are fine but there too you need to know the language. And it only works if the khali section is played in the standard way and the bayan opens up again where you expect (many times it doesn't). So unless a student knows how the second half is played, it's better to write it out fully. Also, for long term students, you'll be surprised at what you forget over the years.

And there's something nice about seeing a composition in the full form of the tal. Nikhil Ghosh thought this was important and so all the compositions in Wegner's Vintage Tabla Repertory show the full grid of the tal. He also used a shorthand method sometimes, but the bayan's return is always marked, and you can always see the full structure of the tal.

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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby evening84 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 10:49 pm

Very succinctly put by Benarsidass. The only thing I would add, from my own experience, is that although I find transcribing in English fairly convenient - I have to resort to add notes in Devanagari, particularly because English is handicapped by not having two separate sounds for the two separate sounds in "TiTe" [Titli waala Ti vs Tamatar waala Ta]. And then there is issue if one wants to use the transcription to relay where to play Na - I use Na to mean kinar with index finger and Ne to mean ring-finger on syahi but over the years I have found that even that is better made explicit with footnotes to the transcription because (a) one does tend to forget over time, and (b) sometimes one wants the "Na" sound and sometimes one wants "N" - and there are too numerous ways to arrive at those that are highly context dependent. And lets not even get started on fixed compositions like gats - one needs an audio recording of the recitation - transcription will always be just an aid to memory; it is foolhardy to expect it to convey any of the subtle nuances.
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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby Benarsidass » Wed Apr 27, 2016 3:11 am

Yes, writing Roman characters presents even more problems. And here there is really no standard at all. Devanagari is so much clearer; you always know exactly how something is pronounced.

The only solution is to use a transliteration system like ISO 15919, where “tete” would be written "teṭe" to show the two different ts. But then you have to learn what all the different markings mean. It’s almost easier (and far more useful) to learn the devanagari characters, even if you only learn the ones used for tabla.

Here’s a great site for learning to read, write and pronounce devanagari characters: Devanagari Script Tutor (requires Flash):

ISO 15919:

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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby tablataal » Wed Apr 27, 2016 11:01 pm

I don't think if there is a notation because a lot of this was an oral tradition. imagine the greatness of the students to pick up so much material that way. However, I love this piece of software which is a great way to write out bols.

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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby singhhh_ap » Thu Apr 28, 2016 4:57 pm

Thanks for the efforts. It is very helpful.

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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby david » Fri Apr 29, 2016 2:44 pm

I should mention that contains a complete description of the notation as well as a complete description of how to write the bols in devnagri (Hindi script).

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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby dhrona » Thu Jun 23, 2016 8:00 pm

Hi Folks,
Have been visiting the forum for a little while now. Saw this post on the notation system. I have experimented with a few; also tried the bolscript. Eventually settled on Shelar lipi. It is quite interesting. Here is link for it ( The author has published a book in Marathi (regional Indian language) and the notation is pretty good. It is a mixture of Western and Indian notations, especially borrowing the timing aspects from Western Notation to make the script complete.

I am currently working on some programs that would generate a composition in this form; given an input in ascii format - very similar to the format that bolscript uses.


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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby dhrona » Fri Jun 24, 2016 1:33 am

Hi Khitchdee,
Nice to hear from you. Over the past couple of years, I have read a lot of your posts; thanks for sharing your knowledge liberally.

On Shelar lipi, my attempt is simply to archive the stuff that I have been learning in a format that would be more accessible. Just reading an ascii composition doesn't give me an idea about the timing.

Here is a quick example of what I am doing:

In the example on the home page, you see the following phrase:

Dha TeTe Dha TeTe DhaDha TeTe DhaGe Thun Na Ke Na

This the famous TeTe kaida as I have learned it. I have written set of simple (actually not that simple) python scripts that would read the above phrase given in this form:

(Dha Te-Te)^2 Dha-Dha Te-Te Dha-Ge Thun-Na-Ke-Na

and generate it in the Shelar lipi.

So essentially, you can write the composition in a compressed format and get the script to generate it in Shelar lipi. The ^2 says that the phrase has to be repeated twice, the "-" between the bols indicate that they are connected as phrases and hence should not be broken into divisions; essentially ensuring that readability of the composition is not compromised. There are ways to also play a certain phrase at double speed, for e.g. Ti-Re-Ki-Te in most compositions is played at double speed:

(2! Ti-Re-Ki-Te)

Now to your topic - it seems if you can generate bols of this kind, then yes the tool can certainly be used. Please point me to any material that you have available on how you are doing your analysis. I will see if there is a way to leverage it to get the the composition in Shelar lipi.


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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby dhatitdha » Tue Aug 30, 2016 1:21 pm

You can check

It is not notation system as such, but it helps you write Tabla compositions in tabular form where each cell of table in one beat

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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby ankupat » Wed Aug 31, 2016 11:40 pm

The notation system in Dr. Pal's book "Step-by-step development of tabla compositions from the ground up," is the most comprehensive and the easiest to follow. It is very simple and is fully explained at the beginning of the book. In every other system of writing, it is almost impossible to properly interpret the composition, unless it is already known. Also, no attention is paid to the rhythmic divisions. In Dr. Pal's system it is impossible to misinterpret.

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Re: Tabla Notation System

Postby profpandit » Thu Sep 01, 2016 1:11 pm

it should also be brought into consideration
that the ambiguity in the mapping between notated bols
and the corresponding sounds is a larger problem to address
hence it would be of some considerable value
if some acknowledged expert were to expound on this matter
especially one familiar with the playing styles of different gharanas

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