How to Tune the Tabla


The tabla is an Indian drum used a variety of musical genres. Musicians play the instrument with the palms and fingers to create many different musical sounds. You can change the pitch of the tabla during play by moving the palm around on the drumhead while striking it. Learning how to properly tune a tabla is just as important as learning how to play it since a poorly tuned tabla will produce a dead sound that simply won't resonate with the other instruments in your musical group. Fortunately, tabla tuning is a simple art that any percussionist can add to their base of knowledge.

Things You'll Need

  • Tuning hammer
  • Tabla
  • Piano or electronic tuner
  • Purchase a tabla tuning hammer. This is a small, metal hammer specifically designed for tuning the instrument. It features a blunt head for tuning, a sharp head for block adjustment and a small lever at the end of the handle specially shaped for pulling the tuning rope over the wooden tuning blocks. A hammer may have been included with your tabla, but if you need to buy a replacement it will only cost a few dollars.

  • Allow the tabla to adjust naturally to room temperature. This is important, as a cold tabla will detune itself as it changes temperature. Decide what note you'd like to tune the tabla to. This will depend on the music you play and the pitch range of your tabla. Most commonly, the tabla is tuned to the tonic note. Alternatively, it can be tuned to the fifth or the fourth. For greater versatility, you can also choose the third note of the scale.

  • Use the sharp side of the hammer to move the blocks up or down to get the pitch close to where you want it. Moving the blocks closer to the base of the tabla will raise the pitch. Continue this process until the pitch is relatively close to the desired note.

  • Observe the 16 holes of the tabla. You'll want to tune each of the spaces between these holes to the note you choose. Do this by tapping the blunt side of the hammer in each of these spaces and tuning in a star pattern. Start with the space closest to you, followed by the space on the opposite side of the tabla. Next, tune the space adjacent to the first one and follow with the space adjacent to the second.

  • Consider tuning the spaces in a circular order as opposed to star order if the tabla is already very close to the desired note you're tuning to. Be sure to tap the hammer on the head in the exact spot between the holes.

Tips & Warnings

  • Store your tabla in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment to prevent detuning.
  • Don't try to tune the tabla more than two notes sharp or flat of what it already is set to. This could potentially damage the head.

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