Introduction to Laya and Tala

We have previously explored the frequency related concepts in the Introduction to Shruti post. Now we shall move on to explore the time based aspect of Carnatic music. The two terms which concern this matter are Laya and Tala.


Pulse - Laya

Each peak in the waveform separated by a length of time

This term refers to the repetitive nature of any activity or phenomenon. It roughly corresponds to the English word ‘rhythm‘. Laya is all around us in nature. The heart-beat has a laya to it, as does the ticking of a clock, as do the seasons of  year, or even the gait of person. In what other situations can you observe rhythm in nature?

In music, laya is the process where sounds are separated by time. If you were asked to clap for a duration of ten seconds, one can observe that each clap would be spaced out by some amount of time. So this nature of repetition of events which are spaced out by some time is called laya. Laya is not just confined to percussive sounds. Melody has rhythm too, the movement from one musical note to the other has a sense of time to it.


It is a cyclical way of observing a rhythm. It serves as the structured rhythmic meter to measure musical time-intervals. A clock can tick away for a length of time. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick……..But we can divide the very same ticks into repetitive groups, or meters.

  • [Tick -1, Tick-2, Tick-3][ Tick -1, Tick-2, Tick-3][Tick -1, Tick-2, Tick-3]…………..This meter (or Tala) is 3 ticks long
  • [Tick -1, Tick-2, Tick-3, Tick 4][ Tick -1, Tick-2, Tick-3, Tick 4][Tick -1, Tick-2, Tick-3, Tick 4]……………This meter is 4 ticks long
  • And so on…..

So tala is the cyclical or metric way of observing a laya. It is similar to western concept of a time measure. We shall explore the structure of the tala system and its complexities in future posts.

3 Responses to “Introduction to Laya and Tala

  • One suggestion: In the video, it would be a bit simpler to understand if you replaced “perfect tempo” with “constant tempo” – I had to listen twice to understand.

    You see, anything that is happening with a given frequency is a tempo; even when you go from 10 beats per minute to 20 beats per minute, you have to maintain a “perfect” tempo at both beats, i.e., you cannot have 10 beats in minute 1 followed by 20 in minute 2 followed by some other random number of beats. However, what happens is that the tempo is not constant but varying tempo (but it is still perfect while it is there).

    Or maybe I am over-reacting and this is just my drawback.

    Either way, really appreciate your website and your explanations.

    Best wishes,

    • Tejas mallela
      2 years ago

      Sorry, I didn’t quite understand what you mean. Can you reword your comment?

  • Sreenisha
    1 year ago

    Good explanation of Laya and Tala. Simple and informative.

    Thank you Tejas.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *