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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Classical Music Taalas

Time and Rhythm
Rhythm or Laya is central to the concept of music. Rhythm can be said to be an inborn facility of humans, just like musical notes are. Same action occurring repeatedly at regular time intervals form a rhythmic pattern. It is called Laya in the Indian musical framework.
Matra Matra in Sanskrit is unit of any measurement. In music, it is the basic unit of time measurement. The actual time duration of a matra depends on the speed of the rhythm i.e. Tempo. The term Laya is also used to denote tempo. Usually three tempos are important - Vilambitha or Vilambith (slow), Madhyama or Madhya (medium) and Dhrutha or Dhruth (fast). Even faster tempos are used during solo percussion performances or with instruments, though with vocal music, only one the above three are used. The actual time duration of a matra depends on this tempo. Even then, the duration varies considerably depending on the artists. In actual practice it has been found that the range could be as wide as 10 matras per minute (i.e. 6 seconds per matra) is ati vilambit laya (very slow tempo) to more than 720 matras per minute (i.e. less than 0.08 seconds a matra) in ati dhruta laya (Meter and Taal).
From ancient times, because of the importance of keeping the rhythm, a special position was created during any dramatic, dance or musical performance. A person in that position was required to just keep the rhythm. He would do so by performing a particular action at regular intervals of time. This action was called Kriya. Kriya literally means an action. Kriya was of two types - Sashbda Kriya (with sound) or Nishabda Kriya (silent). Sashabda kriya could be a clap or beating a simple percussion instrument like Thala. A nishabda kriya could be a wave of the hand.
In Hindustani two kriyas are used. Thali (literally a clap in Hindi) is the sashabda kriya and Khali (meaning empty) is the nishabda kriya.

Carnatic uses a more elaborate system of Kriyas. - Falling of the right palm on the thigh or on the left palm called a Ghata or Thattu (literally a tap or beat in Dravidian). This is a sashabda kriya. The word Ghata (or Ghatam) should not be confused with the earthern pot percussion instrument of that name. Here it means "intently occupied or busy with", which is one of its meanings in Sanskrit. - Finger movements starting with the little finger, usually be touching the thumb to it, like in counting.. This is a nishabda kriya. - Falling of the hand with the palm facing upwards called a Visarjita ( meaning dismissed or abandoned) or Viccu (in Tamil). Can also be a wave of hand. This is a nishabda kriya.
Taala is the rhythmic counterpart to Raaga. Literally Taala in sanskrit means slapping the hands together or against one's arm. In Hindi the word for clapping is Taali. Rhythm is an inborn attribute of humans and thus, it is possible Taala is more ancient in Indian music than Raaga. In sanskrit literature, Taala is mentioned earlier than Raaga starting with Bharatha's NaatyaShastra.
Taala is a series of Matras. Depending on the number of Matras, duration of the Matras and Kriyas associated with those matras different Taalas are formed.
Taal in Pakistani
Because of the predominance of Tabla as the percussion instrument of Hindustani (khayal) music, the concept of Taala has come to mean the way it is played on the tabla. The vocabulary of Taala has come to be the same as that of the Tabla.

The syllables produced on the tabla are called Bol-s (Bol - to say in Hindi). The act of playing the bols on the tabla is called Theka. Thus, the total duration of a Taala is not the number of Kriyas, but bols played on the Tabla. There is no Kriya associated with each bol, though some bols are associated with kriyas and they are important. The number of Matras is a Taala is fixed. It is same in all Tempos too. A complete set of Matras constituting one cycle of the Taala is called Aavartan. Also there is a sub division of Taala Aavartan into a number of Vibhaga-s (sections), each of which contain several matras. The number of matras in each vibhaga is not the same. Usually, the first matra of a vibhaga is noted with a kriya. Also, the duration of time between two matras is called laya, so depending on the context, laya could mean quite a few things.

Hundreds of Taals are known and a twenty or so are in frequent use. The most common Taala is Teen Taal. It has 16 matras, but is called Teen (three) Taal because it has three Thalis (and khali to make four kriyas). It is usually expressed as 4 Vibhagas (sections) of 4 matras each.
Teen Taal

Kriya-s sk sk nk sk
Bols dha dhin dhin dha dha dhin dhin dha dha tin tin ta ta dhin dhin dha
Matra 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Vibhaga 1 2 3 4

sk - Sashabda Kriya
nk - Nishabda Kriya

Each Matra may not be associated with a bol. In other words, the bols are not of uniform time duration. Dheepchandhi has 14 matras but only 10 bols (and four kriyas).


Kriya-s sk sk nk sk
Bols dha dhin - di dha dhin - ta tin - dha dha dhin -
Matra 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Vibhaga 1 2 3 4

One of the important concepts of Hindustani Taala system is that of Sam (pronounced Sum). It is the first matra of the Taala cycle. The main artist (vocalist or instrumentalist) and the percussion artist concur on Sam i.e. improvisation cycles of the main artist have to begin and end on Sam. Thus, sam is always associated with a sashabda kriya i.e. a Thali.

Two Thaalas can have the same number of Matras but differ in their Thekas. For eg. both Jhaptaal and Sooltaal have 10 matras.

Kriya-s sk sk nk sk
Bols dhi na dhi dhi na ti na dhi dhi na
Matra 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Vibhaga 1 2 3 4


Kriya-s sk nk sk sk nk
Bols dhi dha dhin ta kit dha tit kat gat gin
Matra 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Vibhaga 1 2 3 4 5

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