The chaal is one of the most widely used grooves in various types of Indian music and is generally played on instruments like the dhol or the tabla. For those who practice Indian music in the West, it is common that the term chaal be in reference to time; to play a measure of chaal is to play a measure of time.
A Punjabi word meaning “movement,” chaal is not actually used in India as a description of this particular rhythm. In fact, the word chaal when used to describe this groove is a largely western adaptation.
This groove is an incredible opportunity to challenge your melodic prowess as well as your four-way coordination. If you are looking to improve your weaker side, the chaal is a great groove to assist you in open-handed playing as I will demonstrate in the video. For the purposes of adapting this groove to the drum set, I have transcribed all the exercises in western drum notation and each exercise is demonstrated in the video below.
EXERCISE 1: THE BASIC CHAAL
This basic chaal is a two-handed groove played on an instrument such as the dhol. A dhol is a double-headed drum shaped much like a conga and is played with two sticks. The dagga plays the bass tone “DHA” and the tihli plays the high tone “NA.” As a dholi you would count a basic chaal as such:
DHA NA NA NA NA DHA DHA NA
The sound you will hear in the video for Exercise 1 is an actual dhol patch programmed into this particular DTX module.
Once you have mastered the sticking of the basic chaal, you can take the idea of the groove and adapt it to the kit. In Exercise 2, I have taken the basic chaal rhythm and play it between the ride and the kick. The ride is playing the high tone “NA” and the kick is playing the bass tone “DHA.” I have added the snare on 3 to give it a Bonham-esque shuffle.
In this adaptation of the chaal on the drum kit I took the opportunity to play the hi-hat with my left hand, thereby making this an open-handed groove for me (as I am right handed). The hi-hat will play the high tone “NA” and the bass tone “DHA” will move between the kick, floor tom and rack tom. Again, I have added the snare on 3 to keep that shuffle feel.
In the final adaptation of the chaal, I again play the groove as a left-hand lead and used a conga patch from the DTX module on a spare PCY65 pad. This would be a great opportunity to use the cowbell (as I have notated in the transcription for exercise 4) or any auxiliary percussion on your weaker side.
The conga patch will play the high tone “NA” and the bass tones “DHA” will be played between the high tom and the floor tom. As always, that swinging 3 is on the snare, but this time I’ve added a little twist with the kick on 2 and the hi-hat foot on 4.
Perhaps not so ironically, because chaal means movement, you will find that this lesson will challenge your sticking techniques, as well as your movement around the kit, in order to make this groove feel good. Remember, this is a culture of drumming, music and dancing; it has to feel good!
A huge thank you to my endorsers Aquarian Drumheads for their incredible support. We are using the onHeads by Aquarian to trigger the DTX module.
Sean Mitchell is a drummer/artist, songwriter and the creator of Drum Geek.