The Tuning Of The Dholak
The dholak, a two-headed wooden hand drum, is a traditional folk percussion instrument. The dholak is typically about 45 centimeters in width and slightly more than half a meter in height and is most commonly used in kirtan, qawwali and lava. The drum has at least two different sized hollow drums called the “tanka”. Each of these tanka drums can hold two to four tuned melodious notes. This type of drum is unique because it is notated with both the pitch and the rhythm of a single note played together.
The dholak drums have a series of holes that expand outward until they meet again. This makes it easy for the player who is playing the dholak to vary the size and pitch of the drum. The dholak’s holes are also arranged so that the deeper of the holes corresponds to a higher pitch and the hole closest to the head of the drum corresponds to a lower pitch. The depth of the dholak’s opening holes is adjusted by a sliding plate. Tuning of this musical instrument traditionally begins by striking the drum with the finger on top of the dholak.
After the player strikes the drum with his or her finger, the dholak’s lower end is struck with a stick called a marl. Marl is made from either grass or animal hair. Most marls are circular. Another method of tuning a dholak drum is by striking each of the tanka’s drums with the thumb and fingers simultaneously. After striking each drum, the player strikes a thumb-sized rhythmical drum head called a thump.
Many musicians today utilize dholak in their day-to-day repertoire, but the traditional Indian approach to tuning is much different than that of most other types of popular instruments. For this reason, many dholak performers prefer to use more authentic methods of tuning like tying calls in a loop with cotton rope lacing. When using the dholak for ethnic music or modern rhythmical pieces, it is often performed using a different head piece called a twist, or twisting the dholak inside a simple loop made of cotton rope lacing.
To tune the dholak, the player must first know which side (larger side) of the drum is tuned first. This is called the large side, or safed, side. The dholak tuner usually rolls a small piece of leather or cloth onto the large side of the drum. This cloth or leather strip is called the pallet, and the tuning head sits on top of the dholak at the appropriate height.
Sometimes the dholak may be slightly misaligned. This is called skew, and it can even cause the dholak’s treble head to shift slightly. To fix this, roll a small piece of leather or cloth onto the large side and slide the stick under it to lock it in place. This is called skewening and ensures that the dholak maintains its correct placement.
Because the dholak has a metal head, its tuning requires a metal ring, which fits around the rim of the drum. There are a number of methods for tuning metal rings. The traditional method, called tabbing, consists of tightly pulling on the ring while listening to a series of evenly spaced metal rings. The disadvantage of this method is that sometimes the dholak becomes unbalanced by the force of the metal rings. Another disadvantage of tabbing is that it makes it difficult to play the dholak if one hand is injured.
The dholak is an attractive and reasonably priced folk instrument. Its distinctive low, round metal head is easy to tune. In India, it is often played with the pick, although other players prefer the thumb. The dholak can be tuned by using a pick, although it is sometimes made from steel that allows it to be tuned without it.