Friday, March 12, 2010
Sitar & Tabla: the unusual musical instruments of India
It has been played since the Middle Ages, says Wikipedia. It derives its sound from sympathetic strings (which are under the arched frets, amazingly), a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber.
There may be up to 21 strings. Typical woods used in the construction include mahogany and teak. The body is based on a gourd which is carefully carved.
Tabla are a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. The term tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabl, which simply means "drum." 
The heel of the hand is used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion on the larger drum so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay.
The bāyāñ, the larger of the pair, has a much deeper bass tone, much like its distant cousin, the kettle drum. The bāyāñ may be made from brass - the most common - or copper, which is more expensive, but generally held to be the best, while aluminum and steel are often found in inexpensive models. One sometimes finds that wood and clay are also used.
The head of each drum has an inner spot called the syahi (lit. "ink"; a.k.a. shāī or gāb). This is constructed using multiple layers of a tuning paste made from starch (rice or wheat) mixed with a black powder of various origins. The precise construction and shaping of this area is responsible for modification of the drum's natural overtones, resulting in the clarity of pitch and variety of tonal possibilities unique to this instrument.