A Simple & Easy Guide on How to Play the Dhol

Want to learn how to play the dhol or enhance your skills? Follow these easy steps and video tutorial to become a drumming master.

An Easy Guide on How to Play the Dhol

Focus on precise stick placement for cleaner tones

The Indian dhol is a traditional double-headed drum originating from South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan.

Known for its vibrant and rhythmic sound, the dhol has become an integral part of various cultural celebrations, including weddings, festivals, and cultural events.

Its popularity has transcended borders, making it a key instrument in contemporary music genres.

The dhol has deep roots in Indian culture, with a rich history dating back centuries.

Originally used in folk music, it has evolved to become a versatile instrument featured in various genres, including Bollywood and Bhangra music.

The instrument has boasted some high-quality players like Manvir Hothi and ‘King’ Gurcharan Mall

Renowned for their skillful playing, Hothi and Mall have contributed significantly to the prominence of the dhol in the music industry.

Dhol-playing has become inevitable for many Desi children.

Whilst many attend lessons, others prefer to learn themselves. 

So, here is an easy-to-follow guide and accompanying video to help you get those drumming hands ready for any occasion. 

Guide to Playing the Dhol

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Note: Ensure your dhol is properly tuned, and you are seated comfortably. The dhol comprises two sides – the larger bass side (dagga) and the smaller treble side (thilli).

Basics of Holding and Striking

Hold the Sticks:

  • Grip the sticks comfortably, ensuring a balance between a firm hold and relaxation.
  • Don’t hold the sticks too tightly as your hands will tire. 
  • Secure the dagga stick across your palm, with fingers and thumb ensuring stability.

Basic Strikes:

  • Practice the open tone (na) by striking the centre of the dagga head with the dagga stick.
  • Experiment with the closed tone (tin) by striking the thilli head with the thilli stick.
  • Alternate between open and closed tones to establish a fundamental rhythm.
  • Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase speed as your comfort level grows.

Introduction to Dhol Language:

  • Familiarise yourself with basic dhol language.
  • “Dha” for the bass tone, “Na” for the treble tone, and “Tin” for a combination of both.
  • Vary the volume of your strikes to add emotion and feeling.
  • Practice basic bols (syllables) verbally while playing to reinforce rhythmic understanding.

Basic Beats and Patterns

Learn Common Beats:

  • Master the “Bhangra Basic” beat, combining open and closed tones in a repetitive pattern.
  • Practice the “Dadra” beat, emphasising the slower rhythm on the dagga side.

Refine Technique:

  • Focus on precise stick placement for cleaner tones.
  • Experiment with variations by incorporating rolls, flams, and accents into your basic beats.

Complex Rhythms and Improvisation

Explore Complex Beats:

  • Challenge yourself with intricate beats like “Teen Taal” and “Dhamaal,” incorporating faster and more complex patterns.
  • Experiment with syncopated rhythms and offbeat patterns to enhance your dhol vocabulary.

Improvise and Create:

  • Develop improvisational skills by exploring different combinations of strokes and rhythms.
  • Freestyle sessions – let creativity flow and discover unique patterns on the fly.
  • Collaborate with other musicians, experimenting across various genres to expand your musical repertoire.

Tips for All Levels

  • Devote consistent practice time to build muscle memory and refine techniques gradually.
  • Train your ear to identify and replicate different dhol sounds from recordings.
  • Regularly check and tighten the dhol’s tuning to ensure optimal sound quality.
  • Watch dhol performances across genres to gain inspiration and understand various styles.
  • Record your practice sessions to identify areas for improvement and track your progress over time.
  • Sing bols or rhythmically chant alongside your playing for an immersive experience.
  • Join dhol communities, both locally and online, to share experiences, gain insights, and learn from fellow enthusiasts.
  • Be patient and take your time – greatness is never rushed. 

Playing the Indian dhol is an immersive experience that blends tradition with innovation.

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, dedication to practice and a passion for musical exploration will propel your journey with this captivating instrument.

Balraj is a spirited Creative Writing MA graduate. He loves open discussions and his passions are fitness, music, fashion, and poetry. One of his favourite quotes is “One day or day one. You decide.”

Videos courtesy of Manvir Hothi YouTube.




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