Taal (or Beat) is very important in classical music. Some gharanas in indian classical music present a swar pradhan gayaki (importance to sur) and some present taal pradhan gayaki (importance to taal or beat). Indian Classical Music must have three instruments along with the vocalist, tambora or taanpura, tabla and harmonium (or peti). In this section we will be looking at how different compositions are set to different taals.
The taals consists of different number of beats starting from 6 beats going up to 16 (normally). I have seen other taals with different number of beats but these are most commonly used ones. Before going into the details of the taal I would like to define certain concepts in taal so that it will be easier for the reader to understand the taal.
Khand : The each interval between the bars is called khand.
Sum (The first beat) : Shown by a cross below the beat.
Khali : Usually the beat in the middle of the taal. Marked by 0 below the beat.
Taali : Starting of each Khand other than Sum and Khaali is shown by Taali. Sum is taken as the first taali. The next taalis are numbered and shown hence from 2 onwards.
Following are the most commonly used, different types of taals. If the words are grouped toghether, its considered as single beat. Apart from the taals listed here there are various others like, dhumali, sulfakt, ada chautaal, sool, addha etc.
Evolution of Different Taals –
The word ‘Taal’ is commonly understood to mean a ‘Rhythm cycle’. However, in reality, it is much more than that. A ‘Taal’ consists of not only a fixed number of beats, but those beats are very specific, they are repeated in a cyclical manner and ‘Taal’ consists of specific divisions (Khanda) of the beats. Various definitions of ‘Taal’ have been around since ancient times. ‘Sangeet Makarand’ by ‘Narada’ defines ‘Taal’ as the play of Time wherein it distributes itself in specific intervals occurring in a cyclic order and upholds or supports music and dance. Another great work called ‘Sangeet Ratnakar’ by ‘Sharangadev’ defines ‘Taal’ as that which establishes and awards prestige to music (both Vocal and Instrumental) and dance. According to ‘Amar Kosh’, Taal is nothing but a unit or cycle of time whereas ‘Bharat Muni’ in his ‘Natya Shastra’ defines ‘Taal’ as a standard for measuring Time in the context of music.
Eventually there arose the need to distinguish one rhythm cycle from another on the basis of number of beats and the pattern in which the beats are played. This gave rise to different ‘Taals’, each having its own distinct characteristics. Each ‘Taal’ is well defined and consists of specific beats in which it divides a single cycle called ‘Avartan’. A ‘Taal’ may be played at different speeds termed as its ‘Laya’. An increase in speed leads to a smaller gap between two beats. Likewise, decreasing the speed causes the gap between two consecutive beats to widen. For example, when a ‘Taal’ is played in medium tempo, called ‘Madhya Laya’, any two consecutive beats have lesser intermittent space as compared to the slow tempo or ‘Vilambit Laya’. However, the specific divisions of the ‘Avartan’ of any given ‘Taal’ stay the same irrespective of what tempo it is played in. The beats may sound different because of difference in tempo but they are essentially played in the same fashion. Any random combination of beats cannot be considered to make up a ‘Taal’. The beat pattern should have some motive for its creation. It should also have an application to justify its existence. A ‘Taal’ constitutes of two distinct halves showing its ascension (‘Chadhaav’) and descension (‘Utaar’). Just as the ups and downs in a story make it exciting and prevent monotony, so also, the ‘Utaar-Chadhaav’ helps create an interesting structure for the ‘Taal’. The ‘Utaar-Chadhaav’ in a Taal can be considered as being equivalent to the ‘Aroha-Avaroha’ in a ‘Raag’. Apart from these features, there are other important components that characterize a ‘Taal’ like the ‘Maatra’ or total number of prime beats, ‘Sam’ which is the definite starting point of the ‘Taal’ and ‘Theka’ or structural configuration of the rhythm cycle which truly constitutes the soul of the ‘Taal’. The strong point of the rhythm cycle is indicated by ‘Taali’ (also whereas the weaker movement is indicated by ‘Khaali’. The syllables or ‘Bols’ are arranged such that when an ‘Avartan’ is played in cyclic order, they distinctively depict the ‘Khali’ and ‘Bhari’ (are the two essential characteristics which shows the ascending and descending of a ‘Taal’).
Different genres of music mandated different expressions from each ‘Taal’. As ‘Taals’ evolved to support several different genres of music, the original expression of a particular ‘Taal’ was sometimes found lacking in supplementing the expression created by certain types of music. This created the need to change the internal structure of the ‘Taal’ and resulted in variations of the parent ‘Taal’ called ‘Thekas’. For example, ‘Taals’ like ‘Dadra’ and ‘Keherwa’ find extensive uses in semi-classical as well as light music by changing their ‘Theka’ appropriately to suit the specific form of music or songs . Then there are different Taals that suit particular genres of music like ‘Deepchandi’ and ‘Chachar’ offer a very suitable expression for semi-classical genres such as Thumri and Dadra. Others like ‘Teen Taal’, ‘Ektaal’ can support slowest tempo ‘Vilambit’ compositions as well as faster tempo ‘Drut’ and ‘Madhya Laya’ compositions. Although the same ‘Taal’ is played in both cases, the expression brought about by its slower tempo version is very different as compared to that brought about by its faster tempo equivalents. Thus by merely changing its expression, we can get one ‘Taal’ to serve different speeds. It is thus evident that the primary purpose of evolution of different ‘Taals’ and their multiple ‘Thekas’ was for the Tabla to ably support and cater to all different musical genres.