The North Indian Tabla

Picture of North Indian Drum

Cave Hand

Further study on this subject: Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities:
Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali and India.

By Matthew Montfort. Ancient Future Music (1985).
ISBN 0-937879-00-2. Book/CD Set: 69.95. SALE! $52.95:


The tabla is a North Indian drum set comprised of two drums with goat-skin heads. The bayan is the larger and lower in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set. Its pitch is variable. The tabla is the smaller and higher in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set.

Tabla Bols

North Indian drumming has a language all of its own. For every sound produced by the tabla (a North Indian pair of drums with goat-skin heads) there is a corresponding syllable. These syllables, known as bols, are combined to form innumerable rhythms. The bols become almost inseparable from the drumming itself. A list of these bols can be found in the pronunciation guide to Indian drum syllables.

The Bols of the North Indian Tabla as a MIDI Map

The North Indian rhythm exercises from the book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities are arranged for General MIDI conga and bongo for Internet presentation, as shown in the North Indian tala examples. To set up playback of these thirteen talas on a MIDI synthesizer or sampler instead, use this MIDI map of the sounds of the North Indian drum to map the MIDI data to the appropriate sound.

The system used here to map the bols to MIDI notes involved creating an interpretation of the tabla compositions for a Roland U220 tabla sample. Ingenuity was required to arrange the material for these tabla samples, as they were not as complete as would be ideal, and then some compromise was necessary to arrange them for General MIDI conga and bongo, but the general feeling of the compositions comes through.

The notes can be re-mapped for the high quality tabla samples now available. A sample map and instructions for using these files with one of the better tabla sample sets is available at the end of the discussion of mapping parameters.

The Bayan Drum

The lower in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set is variable in pitch. To simulate this using the Roland U220 sample, an auto bend function was used. The parameter was set so that it would not activate on staccato notes. Staccato notes where set to decay quickly, which allowed for the simulation of both an open variable pitch sound and a closed staccato sound with one sample. The notes were then mapped to coincide with the conga samples in the GM Standard MIDI setup.

Suggested substitutions: If bayan samples are not available on your system, try mixing a timpani sample with a conga sample.

The Tabla Drum

The higher in pitch of the two drums that comprise the tabla set has both open and closed sounds. The most completely open sound of the tabla is a minor or major seventh below the tonic that the drum is tuned to.

Suggested substitutes: sampled string harmonics mixed with sampled conga or bongo.


Tabla MIDI map (all channel 10):
Tabla                                  Bols
D#3 = open sound, 7th below tonic      di, din, ti, tun
D3 = slightly dampened sound, tonic    di
C#3 = half dampened sound, tonic       na, ta (long a)
C3 = dampened sound                    ne, te, tet, ti, re, ri
C3/D3 = half dampened sound, tonic     tin
C3/C#3 = dampened sound                ta (short a)
C#3,C3,D3,C3 = flam of four dampened   terikita (te,ri,ki,ta flam)
Bayan MIDI map (all channel 10):
Bayan                                  Bols
E3 = open bayan                        ga, ge, gen
D3 = closed bayan                      ka, kat, ke, ki
Tabla/Bayan MIDI map (all channel 10):
Tabla                  Bayan           Bols
C3 = dampened          E3 = open       de (re + ge), dhe (te + ge)
C#3 = half dampened    E3 = open       dha (na + ge)
C3/D3 = half dampened  E3 = open       dhi, dhin (tin + ge)
D#3 = open             E3 = open       dhi (tun + ge)
C3 = dampened          D3 = closed     ka, kat, kre (ka,te flam), tre (re + ka)

Re-Mapping Suggestions

Using the above information, the MIDI data files can be re-mapped to work with tabla samples. Refer to your sequencer manual for information on MIDI mapping in your particular environment. It is a complicated subject, so be prepared to put in a fair amount of time to accomplish this.

However, if your sequencer is one of the growing number that support VSTi (Steinberg's synthesizer instrument plug-in architecture), there is a solution that does not require much work.

LoopAZoid is a free VST drum sampler plug-in. Although it hasn't been updated in quite a while, it allows one to easily map samples to specific MIDI note values, and play these back from within a sequencing environment without a hardware sampler. offers a North and South Indian music tutorial/sequencer/sample playback program for Mac and PC called SwarShala and a VSTi and AU plug-in called SwarPlug that plays Indian instruments from your sequencer. They also offer high quality samples of Indian instruments, including one set of tabla samples that has been made available as the "Tabla.wav" sample set download currently offered free from You can purchase other sets of samples of North and South Indian percussion instruments.

This VST tabla patch bank for LoopAZoid maps the above tabla samples to work with the MIDI files included in the North Indian section of Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves. There may be slight differences in installation for those using other sequencing programs and samplers, but the basic principles remain the same.

  1. Install LoopAZoid into your VstPlugIns folder.
  2. Copy the tabla sample folder into your VstPlugIns folder and name it "tabl-wav Folder" (it will probably already be in a folder by that name on your hard drive after you download it).
  3. Copy the VST tabla patch bank into the VstPlugIns folder.
  4. Start up your sequencer.
  5. Import one of the North Indian tabla MIDI files.
  6. Transpose each MIDI track that includes the phrase "bayan" in its name up one octave (+12 half steps).
  7. Select LoopAZoid as a VST instrument (check with your sequencer manual for instructions).
  8. Select "load patch bank" in LoopAZoid, and load the patch bank labeled "tabla" in the VstPlugIns folder.
  9. Play the sequence.

You should now hear the file played as a realistic sounding tabla sample.

Futher Resources

Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves

Tabla Icon Audio (selected tracks from Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves)

Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves: Audio and MIDI Percussion Groove Tracks from the Traditions of Africa, Bali, and India. Want more audio and MIDI files? Get this complete collection of groove tracks from the book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities. For a limited time, get both the book and the enhanced audio CD set with MIDI files for only $52.95 (SALE! Normally $69.95): Add 1 to Cart. Buy 1 Now.

Skype School

Skype online music lesson guitar pick icon carved in Bali for Matthew Montfort

Further instruction on this material is available through private Skype lessons with the author, Matthew Montfort.