Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tuning a Tabla Drum

Tablas tune by pressing down or reducing pressure on the drumhead.

Properly tuning a tabla drum is a process that requires a good ear and knowledge of how the instrument works. The tabla has various points around the head that must be tuned to the same pitch. If one tuning peg of the tabla is not tuned correctly, then the entire tabla will sound out of tune. Tuning becomes even more important when you introduce a soloist to the mix. A poorly tuned tabla makes the entire ensemble sound poor.

Determine the tonic of the melody. The tonic is the note that the melody is based on. In the key of C, C is the tonic. You can determine this by looking at the first and last note of the melody. Typically, those notes are the tonic.

Choose an appropriate size tabla to match the key of the instrument you are playing. A 5-inch drum can typically play D or D-sharp. For each quarter-inch added to the diameter of the table, the pitch is raised one-half step. A 5.25-inch drum will be able to play C or C-sharp.

Set your pitch pipe to the pitch you would like to replicate on the tabla. Blow through the pitch pipe to create the desired pitch.

Strike the threaded part of the tabla -- known as the gajara -- on each point along the drum, with the flat part of the hammer, to increase the pitch. Remember that when you strike one side of the drum, the other side will move up slightly, lowering the pitch. The goal is to adjust the tabla by hammering along the gajara, or threaded part of the drum. Divide the drum into four equal parts and hammer each side until both sides sound the same.

Hit between the threads with the pointed part of the hammer. This part of the drum is called the gatta. This portion allows you to further tune the drum to the correct pitch by making small adjustments.


  • Tune your drum to the fifth of the key if you don't have a tabla that will play the correct pitch. The fifth is known as the dominant in music and it is secondary in importance to the tonic. In the key of C, the dominant is G. If the music does not follow Western scales, you may need to select another pitch to tune to, in coordination with the instrumentalists.
  • Avoid tuning the drum to a raised, or augmented, fourth, a second of a seventh. These are dissonant tones.
  • The gajara is used for getting a near-perfect pitch. The gatta helps to make smaller adjustments and perfect the tuning.