Tabla and the Guitar

By Gus Buzbee

Creating music with a tabla player is a unique experience for a guitarist. There are considerations that one must observe in order to function with this most impressive percussion instrument.

The tabla is tunable. In most cases, the bottom notes can bend down at least one whole step. This, in of itself, can lead to some very interesting combinations by bending the guitar string in unison.

The tuning is normally from B to C sharp. This will depend upon the choice of instruments involved or the vocal range of the singer.

Understanding the raga or melodic modal concepts of music is very important if you want to communicate your ideas. This forms the backbone of anything you will play with a tabla player. A more detailed look at this subject can be seen---and heard---at Click on "Western and Indian scale Conversions."

Beyond the technical aspects lies the craft and skill of expression. Being aware of the moment and playing in the "now" is really the place to be with a tabla player. It has been my experience that visualizing the arrangement as a vertical [modes-scale-cycles-etc] and improvising in the horizontal is the east-west crossing point.

With this idea in play, no two performances will ever be the same. This is a very creative way of making magic in any performance. If you can 'feel' the beat, as with any western drummer, then you already understand the non-verbal qualities. However tabla players see things as cycles rather than measures. This sometimes will manifest itself as odd time signatures to Western ears. But in reality it is a simple matter of counting out the correct number of cycles and knowing where the 'one' is.

Example 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1. Some Western fusion music is like this.

You can use standard guitar tuning, but I have found that open tunings such as C major, B major, Drop D, open E and open G is quite useful. The main reason is that you can have a 5th and octaves droning as you play the melody on one string much as any Indian string instrument does. This is where visualization of the modes really comes in. The ability to transpose a major scale into all of its modes is the key to understanding any raga.

The true ability to work with any tabla player lies within your understanding of what he does and what you do. When these two concepts are done at the same time it creates a synergistic third of harmony that allows the spirit of sound and music to become a living expression of the soul. May you find this place within your heart and share it with the universe.



© 1998 - 2018 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at [email protected]