Ancient rhythmic theory divided the longer cycles of beats into groups of short (laghu) and long sections. These groups were strung together to make the rhythmic cycles known as Talas. The divisions were marked by hand gestures, namely, claps and waves of the hand. For example, Tintal (literally, "three claps"), the most common Tala today, is a cycle of four groups of four beats, marked by three claps and a wave in the following order: clap-clap-wave-clap.
The claps that signify the divisions of the rhythmic cycle are assigned numbers; waves (some Talas haves more than one) are all called Khali (empty), and are marked with a zero. Since the first beat of any cycle is most important, it has a special name called the Sam and it is marked with a plus sign instead of a 1.
Indian Musicians substitute the syllable for the numbers. They relate to the Talas through their commonly known drum strokes, which have syllabic names. This signature pattern of drum syllables is known as the Theka. Musicians know the various Talas by their Thekas.
Teachers are likely to give their students counting patterns (Ginti exercises) which teach the essentials of maintaining the rhythm and the Tala.
Rhythmic theory in Hindustani music is embedded in all genres of classical music; it is not only for drummers. All musicians use the drum syllables to learn and communicate the different categories of rhythm and their variations. Musicians who do not play the drums can often recite many intricate percussion patterns, as well as certain Thekas.
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