Tala in Carnatic music Traditionally, Carnatic music vocalists mark the tala by tapping their laps with their palm. Instrumentalists such as violinists and flutists that use both hands mark the tala by tapping their feet on the ground inconspicuously.
In Carnatic music, each repeated cycle is called an Aavartanam, while each "tap" is called an aksharam or a kriyā. A tala thus describes the number and arrangement of aksharams inside an Aavartanam. Note that the intervals between the aksharams are all equally long. The aksharams are subdivided into maatraas or svaras.
There are three patterns of beats that recur in all talas - these are the laghu, the dhrutam and the anudhrutam.
A dhrutam is a pattern of 2 aksharams, with the first aksharam marked with the palm face down, and the second with the face up. This is notated 'O'. (ie., Tapping once with your palm facing down and once with it facing up.)
An anudhrutam is a single aksharam, marked with the palm face down and notated 'U'. (ie., Tapping once with your palm facing down)
A laghu is a pattern with the first aksharam marked with the palm face down, followed by a variable number of aksharams marked with successive fingers starting with the little finger. This is notated '1'