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About Laya and Taal - Rhythm

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

Laya and Taal provide music with a Time structure which could be considered as a limiting and challenging in one sense and a stage or a platform to perform in another sense. It is confusing for the beginners' to differentiate and understand the distinctive functionality of Laya and Taal, but by the subtle analytical approach, students can get the clarity and better grip on the subject.

Everything changes in the universe except change itself, and change needs time to take place. In general, we measure time in our day to day life by observing how mornings follow the nights and afternoons follow the mornings and so on and so forth. We use time units like seconds, minutes, hours etc to organize and synchronize our lives with time. Exactly same is required to create a compositions in music, that is organisation and synchronisation. So here's how we can define both;

The rate of relative rapidity by which the musical composition moves, is what Laya (Tempo) is and Taal (Time Signature) is a device which provides the creative arrangement of time in music with a specified numerical count of the beats cycle. So, in that way Laya is like a flow of time in music and Taal becomes the clock to measure it.

The very basic unit to measure musical time is a Matra or Taalkhand which is called a beat in English. Beats can provide us with laya but they can't provide us with Taal unless the cycle of beats is specified in numbers. Laya and Taal are intertwined with each other. Laya, however could be conceived without Taal yet Taal is impossible to be imagined without Laya. Laya provides the uniform time intervals with the beats and Taal provides the specific count of the beats played in one cycle along with the vital information about significant markers, like Sum and Khali, to track the cycles on the go. Laya is monotonous by its nature, but Taal makes it interesting by incorporating contrasts through accentuated combinations of the bass and treble sounds.

The concept of Laya and Taal in North Indian Music, in its expanded sense, is much more complex than in any kind of music in the world. The use of extreme slow tempo in Vilambit Khayal and extreme fast in Drut Khayal, Drut Tarana or Jhaala in Sitar is exceptional. These days Laya is measured as Beats Per Minute but in ancient texts in Indian music, Laya is specified by 3 types:

  1. Madhya Laya - Medium Tempo

  2. Vilambit Laya - Slow Tempo

  3. Drut laya - Fast Tempo

To learn Taal, a student must learn the language of the percussion instrument she/he wants to learn, which could be rhymed and recited independent of playing the instrument. The concept of Taal is the same for all the genere and systems of music. But different generes and systems apply the concept and the practical aspect of it in variety of ways. For example a Pakhawaj player will play a Taal of 10 beats differently from a Tabla player. Pakhawaj player might call it Sooltaal the 10 beats cycle he is playing where Tabla player might call it Jhaptaal. So to say, because Pakhawaj is the percussion instrument used to accompany Dhrupad style where Tabla would be accompanying a Khayal or Sadra. So, the basic principles of the concept of Taal doesn't change even though it is learnt and played distinctively on various percussion or drum instruments for variety of generes.

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Aug 02, 2022

Thank you, very useful information.

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