Basic Concepts of Indian Music – Tala

Tala is the second important factor in Indian music. These are rhythmic cycles ranging from 3 to 108 beats. The division in a tala and the stress on the first beat, called sum, are the most important features of these cycles.  Tala is independent of the music it accompanies and has its own divisions.  Different talas are recognised like Dadra, Rupak, Jhaptal, Ektal, Adha-Chautal and Teen-Tal.  There are over a 100 Talas, but only 30 Talas are known and only about 10-12 talas are actually used.  The most commonly encountered one is the one with sixteen beats called the Teentaal.

Talas having the same number of beats may have a stress on different beats, e.g. a bar of 10 beats may be divided as : 2-3-2-3-, or 3-3-4, or 3-4-3.  The Laya is the tempo, which keeps the uniformity of time span. The Matra is the smallest unit of the tala.

Carnatic music has a rigid thala structure. The thalas are defined on the basis of intricate arithmetic calculations. The thalas are made up of three basic units, namely, laghu, drutam and anu drutam. The most common thala is the Adi thala, which consists of a repeating measure of 8 beats.

  • Alap: Alap is the first movement of the Rāga. It is a slow, serene movement acting as an invocation and it gradually develops the Rāga.
  • Jor: Jor begins with the added element of rhythm which, combining with the weaving of innumerable melodic patterns, gradually grains in tempo and brings the rāga to the final movement.
  • Jhala: Jhala is the final movement and climax. It is played with a very fast action of the plectrum that is worn on the right index finger.
  • Gat: It is the fixed composition. A gat can be in any tala and can be spread over from 2 to 16 of its rhythmic cycles in any tempo, slow, medium or fast. A gat, whether vocal or instrumental, has generally two sections. The first part is called “pallavi” (Carnatic) or “asthayi” (Hindustani) which opens the composition and is generally confined to the lower and middle octaves. The following part of the composition is called the “anupallavi” (or antara) which usually extends from the middle to upper octaves. In Carnatic music further melodic sections called “charana” follows the “anupallavi.”

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