Middle Eastern Dance
Care of Tablas

A quality Tabla can be a little expensive so taking care of it properly is an important part of protecting your investment.  How you take care of your Tabla will depend on what kind of head and body construction it has.  Over the past few decades drums have increasingly been made with mylar heads but you can still buy animal skin headed drums if you have a strong preference for one over the other.  The technique for changing and tightening the two types is very different and availability and ease of changing is also a key difference.

Animal skin heads can be tightened in two ways.  The first method is to pull the strings which hold the head on.  This is the best method to use, after all that's why the strings are there.  The second way is to expose the head to heat which tightens it up.  Many people will use a hairdryer on medium to high heat and they will start closest to the rim and work towards center.  You can also expose it to heat being near a flame (practice fire safety here if your using this method!)  or even a preheated oven which you can open the door and hold the head of the drum nearby.  Nearly any heat source can do it but you have to make sure you don't over expose it to heat or you can weaken or damage the head too much.  Each time you heat a drum head you will shorten its life.  Replacing the head is usually better done by a professional repair shop but you can do it yourself at home if you have enough patience.  You will need to order a skin (usually fish or goat skin) in a large enough size, punch holes, soak and string the head and then center it and carefully tighten and tuck in the right places.  For instructions on how to replace a skin head see the videos below.

Occasionally a skin will be attached with tacks if the drum is wooden.  If this is the case you will need to remove the tacks (and preferably switch to the previous method mentioned) before replacing it.  To tighten this kind you need only remove the tack pull the skin tighter and then retack but each time you remove and replace the tack it will wear away at the drum making it impossible to retack at some point in the future.

Plastic and Mylar heads are fairly simple and easy to replace on your own.  The drum head is generally held in place by the rim and bolts.  An Allen wrench is needed to loosen and tighten the bolts but other than that no other tools are necessary.  When removing your drum make sure it has a mark inside to let you know which way to place the rim when you put it back on.  If it has no marks mark it so you will know this time and for all future replacements.  Once off simply remove the old head center and place the new head and then start tightening the bolts.  Make sure to tighten one only a little then do the one opposite it a little.  Then move on to the next pair until all of them are in.  Now tighten gently in pairs until the head is taught but there is still a little space between the rim and the drum.  To see it done you can watch the video below.  You can also by skin heads made to replace these types of mylar heads which are then replaced the same way and then tightened by heating with something like a  hairdryer.

If your Tabla gets dirty wipe of the dirt as soon as you can.  If there is something that cannot come off simply by wiping you will need to give it a little more of a cleaning.  Mother of Pearl inlays are usually covered with a lacquer so you can simply wipe it clean with a damp cloth.  No soap is needed for this just clean water.  If there is sticky residue from a sticker or something else try rubbing it with a little olive oil and wiping clean.  do not use products like Goo-be-gone because it can soften lacquer finishes.  If a colored material is left on for extended periods of time it can discolor the lacquer so make sure you remove things right away.  If you feel the surface has lost it's shine you can rub the drum with beeswax and then buff it.  This should restore the shine.  If you have a metal drum (like the Turkish style) you can just wipe clean with a dry cloth.  If there is any oxidation on it (rust) try to gently sand the rust spot and then you can either frequently apply a metal oil or give it a coat of clear nailpolish over the spot in question.  This should keep it from spreading.  Wiping dry after use and keeping it in a fairly dry place and in a case will generally prevent this problem.  Wood drums should be wiped clean with a dry cloth.  If very dirty a small amount of wood cleaner can be used.  Cleaning a mylar head is simple.  You can wipe it with a little water and a mild detergent and then dry it (don't push too hard on it though).  For skin heads you generally just need to wipe it with a dry cloth.  If it's so dirty you can't get it clean with a dry cloth you can use a teeny tiny amount of leather cleaner sparingly to clean dirty spots.  However this is like a lotion and will add moisture to the head and it will need to completely dry for maybe 24 hours or so before playing it again.  It may also need to be re-tightened or heated to return to a good sound so this should be only a last resort.

Repairs are sometimes necessary to maintaining your drum or at least maintaining it's cosmetic appearance.  If your drum is wood you can repair cracks by using wood glue and tying something around it in order to keep it together till dry.  You could also fill small holes or cracks with a wood putty in a similar shade.  Metal drums aren't as repairable as other types but their also not as easy to damage in the first place.  If your drum has a Mother of Pearl inlay that is popping off, try to save the pieces.  You can glue them back on with with super glue or other strong adhesives.  If it's missing pieces, I like to use nail polish to fill in the missing pieces.  It has to be applied in several layers but it allows you to match colors really well including opalescent colors which will look more like Mother of Pearl.  If you just got it you may want to feel along the bottom for any loose pieces and put a little glue right away.  You could also put a thin layer of a polymer along the bottom rim so that the edges of the inlay don't have direct impact when setting it down.

Now that you know how to care for your Tabla be sure to start practicing with it by visiting our Tabla Rhythms page.  Or if your interested in learning more about Tablas you can visit our About Tablas page to read history, differences, and other interesting information about Tablas.
Master percussionist Souhail Kaspar holding an inlaid Syrian Tabla.

Egyptian Clay Tabla, Inlaid with Mother of Pearl and Camel bone.  Private Collection.