All About Indian Drums

Indian drums have become increasingly popular; with directors and composers using them to create unique television and film soundtracks. They feature in the soundscapes of dramatic plays and musicals and leading musicians are playing them on stages around the world.

Indian drums on stage. Kuljit Bhamra accompanies classical musicians.

Within India itself, the popularity and use of each of the drums varies from region to region, with the tabla being arguably more common in North India and the mirdangam in South India.

Tabla is perhaps the most immediately recognisable – a two-piece hand drum with a black circular spot of paste on each drumhead. It comes from a family of large battle drums called nagara which were played with stick beaters.

The log drum family of Indian drums ranges from the small hand-played dholak to the dhol, a large shoulder-hung barrel drum played with sticks. 

Indian drums have a tonal quality that is both is instantly recognisable and quite distinct. As a general rule, drums with black spots (tabla, mridangam, pakhawaj) have longer sustained tones compared to the spot-less drums (dholak, nagara, dhol); which have shorter muted tones. Drums played with sticks such as the Punjabi dhol and tassa drums are generally very loud and resonant and are therefore ideal for their use as drums for celebrations and festivals.

Generally speaking, all Indian drums have two playing heads – a low bass-sounding drum, and a higher-pitched one that can be tuned to a specific key. The lower pitched drum can be manipulated with the heel of the hand to produce a distinctly recognisable glissando or ‘whoop’ sound.

Learn more about Indian Drums in the videos below.

What do they sound like?

Timbres and colours

How are they made?

Wood, skin, metal

Where would I have heard them?

In all types of Indian music, but also in Hollywood films and pop music

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