The tabla is a hand drum with a goblet shape used mostly in the Middle East and North Africa. Though it is not known exactly when these drums were first made, they are known to be of ancient origin. Some say they have been around for thousands of years, used in Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian cultures. There has also has been some debate that they actually originated in Europe and were brought to the Middle East by nomadic Celtic tribes.
Its thin, responsive drumhead and resonance help it produce a distinctively crisp sound. Traditionally, the tabla may be made of clay, metal, or wood, with a drum head of animal skin – commonly goat and fish. Modern drums are also sometimes made of synthetic materials, including fiberglass. Modern metal drums are commonly made of aluminum(either cast, spun, or formed from a sheet) or copper. Some aluminum drums may have a mother-of-pearl inlay, which is purely decorative.
Goblet drums are played with a much lighter touch and quite different strokes (sometimes including rolls or quick rhythms articulated with the fingertips) than hand drums such as the African djembe.
The Egyptian style has rounded edges around the head, making it possible to do rapid rolls. The tabla may be played while held under one arm (usually the non-dominant arm) or by placing it sideways upon the lap (with the head towards the player’s knees) while seated. Some drums are also made with strap mounts so the drum may be slung over the shoulder, to facilitate playing while standing or dancing. It produces a resonant, low-sustain sound while played lightly with the fingertips and palm. Some players move their fists in and out of the bell to alter the tone. There are a variety of rhythms that form the basis of the folkloric and modern music and dance styles of the Middle East, such as ayyoub.
There are two main sounds produced by the goblet drum. The first is called the ‘doum‘. It is the deeper bass sound produced by striking the head near the center with the length of the fingers and palm. The second is called the ‘tek‘ and is the higher-pitched sound produced by hitting near the edge of the head with the fingertips. A ‘tek’ struck with the secondary hand is also known as a ‘ka‘. Additionally, there are more complex techniques including snaps, slaps, pops and rolls that are used to ornament the basic rhythm. Hand clapping and hitting the sides of the drum can be used in addition to drumhead sounds.