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Tablas are hand drums that comes by pair which the 2 skins are (nearly) horizontally oriented with the hand moving from top to down, while mridangam/pakhawaj/dol/dolak are hand drums which the 2 skins are mounted on the opposite side of a single drum and are vertically oriented with the hand moving from left to right (or right to left):

enter image description here enter image description here

Both have a similar way of playing as compared to other hand drums around the world, however there is a 90° hand-rotation difference between the two.

Pakhawaj (vertical skin) are known to be the Tabla's (horizontal skin) ancestor. I am wondering which one is the most suitable ergonomically speaking for such percussive movements?

What are the consequences of these two configurations in the playing? Does one facilitate specific movements for which it would be more difficult/tiring with the other one?

The two extreme positions are pronation (hand palm facing down) and supination (hand palm facing up), then the vertical position seems to be the rest position. enter image description here. Then horizontal playing is a priori not the "natural position" for the human body because it requires a 90° rotation of the arm ("pronation"). Does it mean that tabla players have more health issues related to their playing than pakhawaj/mridangam players?

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  • Interesting. I don't have data, but I can guess that both playing postures can have "right" and "wrong" ways, and can make injury either likely or unlikely, probably mostly about tension vs relaxation, and things like wrist angle. I'm not sure "Horizontal playing is a priori not the 'natural position' for the human body because it requires a 90° rotation of the wrist" is a strongly defensible argument... May 9 at 16:28
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    Your hands actually naturally rest at approx 45° so both require a fairly similar out of default tilt. This is mitigated in so much as your inward flex is only about another 90° whereas your outward is in the order of 130° [but this requires over-flex in the ulna/radius too.] I'm pretty sure most humans are flexible enough that neither will be significantly 'easier' than the other. Personally, the downside of any horizontal drum is that it moves across a bit every time you hit it. No matter how little this is, it does end up being something that distracts.
    – Tetsujin
    May 9 at 17:54
  • Thanks for the comments. From what I understand (but I miss a good reference!), the two extreme positions are pronation (hand palm facing down) and supination (hand palm facing up), then the vertical position seems to be the rest position. I added a diagram from wikipedia to illustrate this in the question. @Tetsujin, would you have a reference to say that 45° is the default tilt?
    – Noil
    May 10 at 10:14
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    A true answer to this could exist (is the one more ergonomically accommodating than the other), but the issue is broader. My understanding is the worst thing for the body is simply stasis. That is, the fact that drummers sit might be of greater threat than anything they're doing with their (moving) arms. That said, tabla and mridangam players that I've watched allow themselves plenty of relaxed full-body movement, and are probably being much healthier than I am now, sitting to type and moving only my fingers. Another point is that, in general, the evolution of instruments has a way of... May 10 at 13:39
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    ... "self-selecting" away from ergonomically ruinous practices because, well, they don't work well. This isn't always true (someone leaning forward over a heavy electric guitar hung from their shoulders probably isn't doing their spine favors), but an instrumental practice that has been in place for centuries and that people sustain for hours at a time probably has its own ways of staying healthy. There may be an answer to whether one is better, physiologically, than the other, but if the question were "is either inherently injurious," the answer is probably "only if you're doing it wrong." May 10 at 13:44

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