Practice four widely used Carnatic talas

Mridanga Vidvan T.R. Sundaresan guides you along as you read, then pronounce the syllables of each lesson: straight from the page. Here they are to try out before reading on for more details and tips:

Arun VC >>

Think of each exercise as “karaoke”: simply pronounce all the syllables yourself as you listen, and fill in the pauses the teacher has left for you within each lesson. Repeat often to enter and enjoy the very “flow” which binds many styles together: no less than the full gamut of “classical” and “popular” music just as several dance styles, thus crossing cultural and social divides with ease – playfully so while cultivating an open mind.

These four tālas provide the rhythmic foundation for a large portion of songs heard during Carnatic concerts. As you may have noticed during live performances and on video recordings, Carnatic audiences are welcome to participate unobtrusively, by way of “keeping tāla” with their hands and fingers. This calls for a much deeper involvement than passive enjoyment, that is: some good practice to do it properly. And this is what this mini-course is all about.

So the following exercises provide you with the very key that opens the door to immersion as well as understanding, be it as learner, connoisseur, musicologist, music organizer or teacher anywhere in the world. From this practice follows a better appreciation of rhythmic refinement that has distinguished Carnatic music for centuries while appealing to youngsters from a variety of backgrounds, irrespective of their musical tastes or aspirations.

During a Carnatic drum solo, such practice also reveals the arithmetic underpinnings of this music, by observing closely how an ensemble manages musical time by means of the very techniques introduced here.

This requires an even tempo (kālapramānam), comparable with tapping with one’s feet in popular music, though a bit more demanding as you first practice any tāla based on uneven numbers, here expressed by 3, 5 and 7 syllables, in different “speeds”. (In fact, discreetly marking a given tāla with one’s feet is what an instrumentalist does as to stay aligned with fellow performers, given that his or her hands are already occupied.)

About your online teacher, Mridanga Vidvan
T.R. Sundaresan >>

To begin with, read the transcriptions found on the PDF attachment; then practice the following exercises one by one with the help of the audio lessons provided below.

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  1. Ādi tāla (8 syllables) – Duration: 2:47
    “ta ka dhi mi ta ka ju nu“- trikāla = 3 speeds
  2. Misra cāpu tāla (7 syllables) – Duration: 2:52
    ta ki ta ta ka dhi mi” – trikāla = 3 speeds
  3. Khanda cāpu tāla (5 syllables) – Duration: 2:06
    “ta ka ta ki ta“- trikāla = 3 speeds
  4. Rūpaka tāla (3 syllables) – Duration: 0:43
    ta ki ta“- trikāla = 3 speeds

Please be patient while the four music examples are being downloaded for listening, depending on internet connection and server traffic.

Tip: all audio files may also be downloaded for free!

Use the Play/Stop and Fast-Forward/Return buttons of the audio player control bar (*).

To repeat the previous 10 seconds within an ongoing exercise, click on the 10-Back-Arrow button on the left.

For more options and additional tips for teachers, click on the symbol seen on the right bar seen in the navigation bar. This also allows you to download the mp3 lessons straight into your personal playlist for offline listening (including information text displayed by your smartphone, laptop or tablet).

Alternatively, click on this link for the same options:
Practice Carnatic talas – A free online course >>

How to practice

Practice along, straight from this page or the PDF. This makes it easy to repeat and remember each exercise.

The syllables used here will help to keep track of the intricate embellishments added by percussionists at the end of each subdivision, be it as accompanists or during their solos (taniyavartanam) that provide even greater freedom to display their drumming skills. This is also the opportunity for them to impress by intricate calculations, as further studies will reveal. But for now, “let’s get back to basics” and practice that which makes such miracles possible – time and again!

Keeping tala e.g. for Adi tala (8 counts): a clap for the first beat (samam), followed by 3 finger counts starting from the small finger marks the first half; and a clap followed by a wave (twice) mark the second half; Ata tala (14 counts) differs as 4 fingers are used including the forefinger (twice), rather than 3 fingers (once) in Adi tala.
Art © Arun V.C.


  • Practice these gestures “silently” during a live recital or recording
  • Apply your practice while watching a video:
    – Basic hand gestures for Adi tala (8 beats) & Misra chapu tala (7 beats)
    – Precision tala keeping for the following drum and konakkol solo
A brief excerpt for repeated practice (0:29)
Full length performance (32:33)

Credits © TR Sundaresan on mridangam and konnakkol recitation with tala support by Sheejith Krishna

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