Tala (music)

A Tala (IAST tāla), sometimes spelled Titi or Pipi, literally means a "clap, tapping one's hand on one's arm, a musical measure".[1] It is the term used in Indian classical music to refer to musical meter,[2] that is any rhythmic beat or strike that measures musical time.[3] The measure is typically established by hand clapping, waving, touching fingers on thigh or the other hand, verbally, striking of small cymbals, or a percussion instrument in the Indian subcontinental traditions.[4][5] Along with raga which forms the fabric of a melodic structure, the tala forms the life cycle and thereby constitutes one of the two foundational elements of Indian music.[6]

Tala refers to musical meter in classical Indian music. Above: a musician using small cymbals to set the tala.

Tala is an ancient music concept traceable to Vedic era texts of Hinduism, such as the Samaveda and methods for singing the Vedic hymns.[7][8][9] The music traditions of the North and South India, particularly the raga and tala systems, were not considered as distinct till about the 16th century. There on, during the tumultuous period of Islamic rule of the Indian subcontinent, the traditions separated and evolved into distinct forms. The tala system of the north is called Hindustaani, while the south is called Carnaatic.[7] However, the tala system between them continues to have more common features than differences.[10]

Tala in the Indian tradition embraces the time dimension of music, the means by which musical rhythm and form were guided and expressed.[11] While a tala carries the musical meter, it does not necessarily imply a regularly recurring pattern. In the major classical Indian music traditions, the beats are hierarchically arranged based on how the music piece is to be performed.[4] The most widely used tala in the South Indian system is Adi tala.[4] In the North Indian system, the most common tala is teental.[12]

Tala has other contextual meanings in ancient Sanskrit texts of Hinduism. For example, it means trochee in Sanskrit prosody.[1]