Persian Musical Instruments
Tar, Setar, Barbat, Kamancheh, Gheychak, Santoor, Ghanoon, Ney, Tonbak & Daf
Tar is a plucked stringed instrument (a long-necked lute) that is played in Iran (Persia), Caucasian countries (like
Azerbaijan, Armenia and so on) and central Asia (like Tajikistan). It exists in two forms now, the Persian (that is named
Tar-e-Shiraaz or Irani) and Caucasian (that is named Tar-e-Ghafghaaz). The Persian tar is carved from a block of mulberry
wood and has a deep, curved body with two bulges shaped like a figure 8. The upper surface is shaped like two hearts of different
sizes, joined at the points. The sound box consists of two parts. The small part is called Naghaareh and the large part is
called Kaasseh (that means bowl (sound box)). The sound box is covered with lambskin. On the lower skin, a horn bridge supports
six metal strings in three courses. The long fingerboard has twenty-two to twenty-eight movable gut frets. The strings are
plucked with a brass plectrum coated on one side in wax. Its range is about two and a half octaves.
The setar is the Persian long-necked lute and is made from thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or
twenty-six movable gut frets. Setar is literally translated as three strings. However, in its present form, it has four strings
and it is suspected that setar initially had only three strings and the forth string has been added by Moshtagh Ali Shah.
It is believed that setar is the ancestor of the Indian sitar.
The barbat, in Arabic courtiers and Iran known as the ud, is a short-necked fretless lute with five double-courses of
strings and traditionally played with an eagle's quill. The barbat is the ancestor of the European lute, and functions as
a bass instrument. The barbat is the ancestor of the Chinese pipa too. The pipa brought to Japan and was named biwa.
The kamancheh is the Persian spike fiddle and dates back to antiquity. It has a small, hollowed hardwood body with a
thin stretched skin-membrane. Its neck is cylindrical, and it has four strings. It is played vertically in the manner of the
European viol. It is suspected that the fourth string was added in the early twentieth century as the result of the introduction
of western violin to Iran. The kamancheh has been painted in Persian antique paintings.
The gheychak is a bowed fiddle of the Persian folk music played in the southeastern region of Iran. There are two large
holes on the upper side near the fingerboard and one on the lower tip, which is covered with a skin membrane. There are four
main strings and eight to sixteen sympathetic strings, which have been eliminated in the context of Persian art music. The
sound box resembles an upside-down anchor, which is carved from a tree trunk and is placed vertically on the player's lap.
The upper and lower sections are separated by two oval indentations on the right and left side, which give the gheychak a
distinct nasal sound. The other instruments of Indian subcontinent such as sarangi, saringda, esraj and dilruba. SANTOOR (SANTUR, SANTOUR)
The santoor is a three-octave wooden-hammered dulcimer with seventy-two strings, which are arranged on adjustable tuning
pegs in eighteen quadruple sets, nine (bronze) in the low register, and nine (steel) in the middle register. The santoor can
be made from various kinds of wood (walnut, rosewood, betel palm, etc.) depending on the desired sound quality. The front
and the back of the instrument are connected by sound posts whose positions play an important role in the sound quality of
the instrument. Although the santoor is very old, it was neither depicted in miniatures, nor presented in any other medium
until the nineteenth century. The secret of making the trapezoid-shape sound box lies in the quality and age of the wood,
as well as in the arrangement of the sound posts which connect the table of the instrument to its back. Santoor is played
in India, Iraq, Egypt and some other countries.
The ghanoon is the Persian zither. It is a flat trapezoidal wooden box, with twenty-four strings in triple fastened at
its rectangular side on one end and to pegs on the oblique side on the other. The player to make slight changes in pitch manipulates
small levels lying below each course of strings. The strings are plucked with two horn plectra, one on each index finger.
The ney that is the Persian knotgrass reed, has five finger holes in front and one thumbhole in the back. The ney has
a range of two and a half octaves. The upper end is covered by a short brass cylinder, which is anchored in the tiny space
between the upper incisive of the player. Sound is produced when a stream of air is directed by the tongue toward the opening
of the instrument. In this way, sound is produced behind the upper teeth, inside the mouth, which gives the ney a distinct
timbre than that of the sound produced by the lips on the outside of the mouth.
The most popular percussion instrument in Persian music today is a goblet drum known as the Tonbak. The Tonbak is a large
wooden instrument with a goatskin head. Unlike other goblet drums, this drum has a much more squared-off shape and produces
lower-pitched and softer tones due to its size and skin being put on with less tension. Other names for this drum are Donbak,
Tombak, Dombak, Tompak and Zarb. Maybe the name Zarb has its origins in the Arabic word darb, meaning to strike, as mentioned
above. The other names have a more interesting origin. The two main strokes played on this drum are known as Ton, for a bass
tone played in the center of the drum head, and Bak, for a treble tone played on or near the rim. Combining the terms results
in the name Ton-Bak. It is highly likely that the American name Dumbek is derived from one of the Persian names. DAF
Daf is one of the most ancient frame drums in Asia and North Africa. As a Persian instrument, in 20th century, it is
considered as a Sufi instrument to be played in Khanghah-s during Zikr ceremony. Daf has recently become very popular and
it has been integrated into Persian music successfully.