Don't let the title fool you, yes this teaches the basics, but with a thoroughness that leaves you with a perfect understanding of not just the how, but the why. The author has set out to write a comprehensive book (or series of books) on all aspects of tabla playing, and while such an effort is bound to fail by definition (as the author says in the introduction), he has gone well beyond anything previously written on the subject in any language by any author. I'm am in awe of the amount of knowledge, effort and dedication that has gone into this series of books. For a non-Indian (by birth anyway, his art transcends nationality at this point) to learn the language, spend years learning the art, and then to write such a series of books is nothing short of amazing!
To get to the book itself, it starts out with a fairly comprehensive background, of not just the tabla, but Indian music and dance as well. This is followed by information about the tabla structure, the best kind to buy, where to buy, how to tune them, the best playing position, etc. Chapter 3 finally starts with the tabla bols and how to play them with simple exercises. The rest of the book covers basic thekas, prakars and different styles of playing. Also includes a few teental kaidas.
The bulk of the book is then taken over by reference material in the form of 10 (yes ten!) appendices that deal with things like notation, bols of miscellaneous taals & prakars, reference charts, technique, writing the bols, where to buy tablas, internet resources, and even a map of India!
The standouts from this book for me are:
- Detailed, thorough treatment of every topic covered
- All bols and terms shown in original Devnagiri (Hindi) as well as English. The author even teaches how to write the bols in Devnagiri
- Simple, easy-to-understand style of writing that teaches with an effortless style.
- I actually like that the appendices are larger than the core of the book. As the author notes, this makes the teaching part more accessible without getting mired in a ton of reference material (a problem with most Indian books on the subject). This is a very innovative approach in my opinion, one that I have not seen anywhere else.
Some things that could be improved:
- Some of the elements in book remind me of a Ph.D. thesis (probably no accident since the author is highly learned and has a Doctorate!), such as the constant references to other books with detailed listings at the end of each chapter. The Sample Questions appendix also falls into this category of unnecessary detail.
- Yes the price is a bit on the high side, but I will not begrudge it given the priceless knowledge contained in this volume, and the probably smaller audience for this field. If price is really an issue, see the "Learning .." books below.
Other volumes in this series:Advanced Theory of Tabla, Vol. 2 (The Complete Reference for Tabla)
: This gives the more advanced theory behind tabla playing along with the more advanced cyclical and cadential forms such as relas, tihais, advanced kaidas, gat, chakradhars, etc. Also includes some very interesting and detailed theoretical chapters on timbre (sound quality), timekeeping (electronic tabla & lehra machines, etc.), dynamics, stagecraft (including lighting!).Manufacture and Repair of Tabla, Vol. 3
: This is all about how tablas are made and how to fix them. Probably more hands-on than most tabla students need. But a useful reference for those that do need it.Focus on the Kaidas of Tabla, Vol. 4 (The Complete Reference for Tabla) (Spiral-bound)
: This is a detailed reference of over 75 kaidas, for the advanced student.
Students just starting with tabla and who are not interested in the background material as much as in the practical aspects should instead consider the much smaller (and cheaper) "Learning the Tabla" book & CD series by the same author:Mel Bay Learning the Tabla Book/CD SetMel Bay presents Learning the Tabla, Volume 2
The author also has a website where you can get a glimpse of some of the material in these books, plus some really nice videos: