Counting Tintal in Indian Classical Music

As a supplement to the workshop at TMEA in February, I provide some visual aids, descriptions and helpful links here for you to consult and study! These are only the basics and we will go much further with counting and improvising at the workshop! Much of the material here appears in a short article in the April issue of Blink along with additional exercises notated in syllables.

So we start with the clap-wave counts for Tintal:

Remember beats 1, 2, 3, 4 are +, 2, 0, 3. 

+ is 'sum' for the 'downbeat'; 0 is the 'wave' and denotes the unvoiced/silent beat




0 (wave)


While you may not see these specific hand claps taught on the videos, they are useful for beginning students to keep track of the larger beats in the 16-beat cycle. Remember 'tintal' means 'three cycle' for the three sounded beats or claps, plus one unsounded wave. 

The syllables for the sixteen beats are:

(+) 1-Dha 2-dhin 3-dhin 4-dha

(2) 5-Dha 6-dhin 7-dhin 8-dha

(0) 9-Dha 10-tin 11-tin 12-ta

(3) 13-Ta 14-dhin 15-dhin 16-dha

In sequence without the beat numbers: Dha dhin dhin dha Dha dhin dhin dha Dha tin tin ta Ta dhin dhin dha

The gestures for counting the inner beats - the subdivisions as we would call them - involve joining the thumb with other fingers.

So, for the first four counts: CLAP (Dha), thumb to pinky (dhin), thumb to ring finger (dhin), thumb to middle finger (ha). Then these inner beat gestures are repeated after each clap or wave. 

Practice the entire cycle several times!

The syllables correspond to specific drum strokes on the tabla with specific sounds. Just as with Western solfege, which serves as a guide to learning pitches and melodies, these syllables, or thekas, are an instructional method for tabla playing. In conjunction with 'bols' other syllabic patterns used for study, tabla players can fashion (and often perform) entire syllabic compositions apart from drumming. 

What you may have already noticed is that the third beat syllables (on the wave) change to reflect the 'silent' nature of that beat – from voiced ‘dh’ sounds to unvoiced ‘t’ sounds. However, the switch is not immediate as if the wave is a cue to switch to ‘tin’ with the unvoiced 't' on beat 10. Again, these syllables and their sounds are intended to teach drum strokes, so listen to the first track on this site "Audio Clip 8" demonstrates the tabla strokes. You’ll also notice the change from ‘dha’ to ‘dhin’ and the shift to ‘tin’ (no bass stroke for the unvoiced ‘t’s).

The patterns and syllables we will present at the TMEA workshop are based on those compiled by tabla player Jerry Leake in his instructional books published by Rhombus Publishing, specifically in "Relating Sound and Time - Chapter 7"

You can find plenty performances of 'tintal' on the tabla on the Internet, but not too many explaining the syllables and counting of the tal. We did find this excellent introduction by Mihir Kundu. The syllables are different for the basic tal than those used above, and the purpose of the instructional video is to translate them immediately to the tabla strokes, so it goes by pretty quickly! But there are multiple videos in the series with useful notation of the syllables and patterns. We hope you'll learn and appreciate more from these and other videos.

And finally (on this post at least) here is a tabla solo in tintal by Jerry Leake to give you an idea of the virtuosity and the potential for new interpretations within this rhythmic tradition:

1 comment

  • Kathryn Woodard
    Kathryn Woodard
    Thank you to all who came to the TMEA workshop! Feel free to post a comment about how you are using the material and ask any questions you may have.

    Thank you to all who came to the TMEA workshop! Feel free to post a comment about how you are using the material and ask any questions you may have.

Add comment