In order to specify the number of counts in a laghu, one needs another term. The terms used are simply numbers: 3 (tisra), 4 (chaturasra), and so on.
The jati (types of laghu) permitted in the system are these:
Tala cycles consist of varying combinations of anudrutam, drutam, and laghu. The basic form of triputa tala, for example, is laghu plus drutam plus drutam. This is only a skeletal outline of triputa tala. Five types of this tala are available in the system because of the variable values of the laghu: Triputa tala tisra jati Triputa tala caturasra jati Triputa tala khanda jati Triputa tala misra jati Triputa tala sankirna jati
Similar to the Hindustani concept, the subdivisions in the Carnatic tala structure, however they may be conceived, do not imply stress. The whole emphasis is on counts falling at regular and theoretically exact intervals. In the Carnatic system, there are seven tala structures (including triputa) which form a core repertoire; there are five types of each of these structures. When a tala includes more than one laghu, all the laghu have the same number of counts. Carnatic theoretical classification, like Carnatic raaga classification, includes what could be used as well as what could be used.
The most widely used tala in Carnatic music is the triputa tala caturasra jati, otherwise known as Adi tala. It has a cycle of 8 counts (or aksaras), and an even rather than an odd number of counts in the laghu. Many references to Adi tala, however, speak of 4 counts. A smaller but nevertheless important group of talas are also used frequently in South Indian music- the capu talas, particularly misra capu (7 counts) and khanda capu (sometimes called Jhampa: 5 counts). They are of characteristically quick movement and are said to derive from folk music. Each consists of two angas, a shorter one plus a longer one in asymmetrical relationship. These talas are not thought of as being structured by anudrutam, drutam, or laghu.
Even more than in the case of audiences in the North, South Indian audiences keep the tala during performances. The means of keeping it (kriya) is by claps and waves. To indicate the finger counts of the laghu, one touches the thumb to the little finger and progresses toward the index finger.
When a singer keeps tala, he usually hits his right hand on his right thigh for a handclap (which is convenient because he is seated cross-legged), and either waves or hits his thigh with palm turned upward for a wave. Most of the practicing musicians call this the taali.
In Carnatic music, a single cycle can be long enough to accommodate a complete musical idea. However, two or more cycles are often combined into a longer phrase. When a phrase is completed it is marked by a recurring melodic phrase. That phrase always appears at the same place in the tala cycle and thus marks an important structural point in the tala. This important structural point is one of two such points in the tala cycle. This point, the count in the tala cycle on which a piece, a new section of a piece, or a main phrase of a piece begins, is named eduppu (Tamil language) or graham (sanskrit language). The tala point on which the eduppu falls depends on the composition.
The second important structural point in the tala cycle is inherent in the tala itself. It is count 1, called sam or sama. In the case of Carnatic music, count 1 does not consistently receive special emphasis as an ending point of melodic phrases (due to the importance of eduppu), but the ultimate cadence realized by the drummer is almost always on sama. Cadences at count 1 in Hindustani performances indicate the beginning of a new tala cycle. In Carnatic pieces, however, since cadences can come on any beat, it is more difficult (particularly in even talas like Adi tala) to find your place unless you know the composition. The widespread custom of audience participation through keeping the tala is testimony so the high level of musical education on the part of the audience.
The relative speeds in Carnatic music are conceptualized in levels- slow, medium and fast. The terms for these are practically the same as in the case of Hindustani Classical music- Vilambita or Cauka, Madhya and druta respectively. Speed in carnatic music is called kala or laya. Once the basic speed is established, acceleration of the tala counts is not permissible. Since the audience is keeping tala, any acceleration will be noticeable immediately. Slight fluctuations in speed do occur in practice, of course, but theory demands that they be slight. An increase in speed is achieved instead by an increase in the rhythmic density.
One of the favourite practices in South India is to present a melodic or rhythmic pattern (sometimes a very long one, an entire composition or major section thereof) and then double it in speed while the tala continues at a constant pace. The same procedure can be followed with speeds four times as fast, or sometimes three times as fast, half as fast, etcetera. In all cases the interest derives from the interplay between the pattern of melody and rhythm and the pattern of the tala as they change in relationship. The two most common doublings are a speed twice as fast (dvikala) and a speed four times as fast (catuskala). A trikala pattern goes through the three stages of presentation: in first speed, then in dvikala and catuskala relationships.
Thus discussed is the system of tala in Carnatic music.