The tabla is a pair of small North Indian hand drums with a gargantuan tradition that reaches well back into the 13th century. In the approximately 800 years that has passed since their invention, a great deal of challenging performance practice techniques, intricate rhythmic passages, and extensive repertoire has been developed for these drums. Thus, as one might imagine, the tabla is an undeniably challenging instrument to play. The traditional mode for learning the tabla includes daily lessons and grueling, all-consuming practice regimes that can last more than ten hours a day. The teaching itself is done through demonstration, with the perspicacious student expected to mimic the master's moves through a process of listening, watching, and imitation. The Folkways recording 42 Lessons for Tabla grew out of a Western music scholar's fascination with the instrument, his son's desire to learn how to play it, and a master player's dedication to teaching its practice. In 1968, while on sabbatical in India for a year, Robert S. Gottlieb asked the eminent tabla maestro Ustad Kerama Tullah Khan if he would teach his son Mark Gottlieb how to play. Mark Gottlieb was studying violin at the time and, as such, was not willing to commit to the daily lessons and marathon practice sessions that Ustad Kerama Tullah Khan demanded of his students. Nonetheless, Ustad Kerama Tullah Khan conceded to take Mark on as student once a less rigorous instruction and practice schedule was agreed upon. 42 Lessons for Tabla essentially consists of audio examples of Ustad Kerama Tullah Khan's lessons with Mark. A 24-page follow-along booklet, complete with an introduction by Ravi Shankar, describes and illustrates how to play everything from the most basic of finger strokes to the fluttering light-speed composition known as rela. Though Ustad Kerama Tullah Khan's playing is truly phenomenal on these recordings, the examples he plays for each lesson are clear and, by and large, played at a tempo reasonable enough for an introductory player to grasp. For any student of the tabla, this recording and accompanying booklet exists as an incredible resource of complimentary educational materials. However, 42 Lessons for Tabla should not be thought of as being able to replace the face-to-face and time-tested relationship that a student has with an accomplished tabla teacher. And as is the case with all of their out of print recordings, Folkways will dub a cassette version or burn a CD copy of 42 Lessons for Tabla should you decide to order one. See their website for details: web2.si.edu/folkways.
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