The tabla is a pair of small drums. The treble drum called the tabla or dahina (“right” in Hindi) sits on the floor in from of the player. To the left of the dahina sits a bass kettledrum called the bayan (“left” in Hindi) made of clay or copper. The player hits the center of the skin on the top of each drum with his fingers while pressing down to alter the pitch of the sound. A virtuoso player may produce so many different sounds and inflections from the tabla that the instrument seems to speak. In India, the process of learning to play the tabla begins when a master adopts a six or seven-year-old child as his student. The student will study with the master every day for a decade or more.
The pairing of drums called the tabla was first used in India in the 1700s. Today it is used with all varieties of North Indian instrumental music and is the primary accompanying instrument for the kathak dance style.