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An Introduction to Taal in Indian Classical Music


What is it about a piece of music that makes you smile or groove over it? It is the song’s rhythm, isn’t it? 

Beats and rhythm complement each other in the composition as well as throughout the performance. Without one of them, music is incomplete. As a result, understanding the rhythmic part of singing is just as vital as singing in tune. Taal and lay are used to maintain rhythm in Indian classical music.

What is Taal?

Rhythm is encompassed in the notion of Taal (spelled and pronounced tala in Hindi) in Indian classical music, whether Hindustani (North Indian) or Carnatic (South Indian). It is loosely defined as rhythm, but the concept is more nuanced than that and operates by dividing time cyclically rather than linearly. Each cycle is further broken into pieces of various lengths.

In Sanskrit, the word Taal means ‘to strike with palms’. In Tamil, Taalam means ‘to clap’. In Hindi, the word means ‘beat’ and in Bengali, besides rhythm the word Taal also means sanity.

Taal is a beat cycle. In Indian classical music, beats are known as matras. Each beat/ matra is expressed by syllables that are equidistant from one another. The Taals in music evoke different emotions.

How does Taal work?

  • Understanding Taal as a cycle is important in Indian classical music. Technically, every rhythm is cyclical since it repeats itself. However, with shorter patterns, such as 4-beat rhythms, one might be tricked into thinking of rhythm as linear. 
  • Longer patterns of 16 or 12 beats are often used in Indian classical music, and these cannot be comprehended or applied to music appropriately unless they are seen cyclically.
  • Each line of a fixed raga composition is meant to fit perfectly into the groove of the chosen Taal.
  • Sam refers to the initial beat of the rhythm cycle (rhymes with “some” and “from”). It is played powerfully to signal the start of the cycle.
  • The combination of emphasis in both rhythm and melody makes the Sam particularly identifiable for the listener, and as a result, it plays a very essential function in classical music performances.
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Tracing the origin of Taal

Taal is mentioned for the first time in the Samaveda and Rigveda texts. All of the verses have the same metric order and structure. However, because these texts were performed orally, the notion of Taal was not articulated until Bharat Muni wrote ‘Natyashastra.’

Improvising On a Composition

Indian classical music uses both free improvisation, and improvisation around an existing raga composition. The piece provides a melodic and rhythmical framework for improvisation while experimenting around it. An artist can spend a long time creating around a simple four-line composition. One approach to improvising around a piece is to play melodic variations of the composer’s lines. Bol Banao is a term for this style of improvisation.

Types of Taal in Indian Classical Music

Both the wings of Indian classical music – Hindustani and Carnatic classical music have their distinct ways of defining, classifying, and using Taal in music.

  1. Taal in Carnatic classical music
    Purandara Dasa brought Taal into Carnatic music. In general, there are seven families: Dhruva, Matya, Rupaka, Jhampa, Triputa, Ata, and Eka. In Carnatic music, there are 72 Taal in the Melakarta system, 4 Taal in the Chapu system, 108 in the Chanda system, and 35 in the Suladi Sapta system.
  2. Taal is a Hindustani classical music
    They are various types of Taal in Hindustani classical music. Some of the popular ones are- Teentaal, Jhoomra, Tilwada, Dhamaar, Ektaal, Jhaptaal, Kaherwa, Roopak, and Dadra. 

The Structure of a Taal (Theka)

  • The standard sequence of beats that defines a Taal in its simplest form is called Theka. So, for instance, the Theka of Teentaal is:
    Dhaa dhin dhin dhaa / dhaa dhin dhin dhaa / dhaa tin tin taa/ taa dhin dhin dhaa
  • The three sorts of beats, when strung together, add texture and accentuation to the Taal pattern, as well as aural cues as to which section of the Taal cycle is now being played, which is vital to keep track of so that you can return to the Sam on the proper syllable.
  • The rain falls in a predictable pattern, and so does our breathing. All we have to do is comprehend the Taal and Lay concepts that go into crafting songs. Only then will we be able to comprehend music as a whole.

Swara is created when you learn the technique of beautifully conveying a sound. It becomes music when you embellish it with a harmonic combination of Sur, Taal, and Lay. When you add your thoughts to it, it becomes Khayal.


If you wish to explore the treasure trove of Indian classical music and hone your vocal skills, take a look at our courses at Artium Academy. 
We also offer online tabla classes and teach other music instruments. Enjoy music as what it truly is, more than a language, the emotion of togetherness with Artium Academy!