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Seda: Voices of Iran

Traditional Persian Instruments

Balaban (Narmeh-ney)

Also called duduk by the Armenians. It is one of the tongues wind instruments marked by its high potential of producing exciting melodies. Today, it is commonly played by the Kurds in western Iran and the Turks in northwestern Iran, which is usually accompanied by tambourine. The instrument is made either from wood or bone and its body is covered by a total of seven holes.


Barbat (Ud)

The Barbat, also known as the Ud, is a short-neck fretless lute with five double-courses of strings tuned in fourths and traditionally played with an eagle's quill. The barbat is the ancestor of the European lute, and functions as a bass instrument.


Eight-stringed Tanbur also known as Chogur, Saz or Baglama "Instrument Of Lovers"



The daf is a type of frame drum that is depicted in many Persian miniatures and has reliefs from centuries ago. Although it appears at first sight to be a relatively simple instrument, the daf has the potential of producing intricate rhythmic patterns and sounds. The daf is equipped with metal rings on the inside which add a jingle effect to the sound. The frame is covered with goat-skin.


The Damam [damAm] is one of the most famous percussion instruments in the south of Iran particularly in Booshehr [buSehr]used in most of the ceremonies of that region. The bowl of the Damam has a cylindrical construction covered by skin on both sides and fastened by straps and ropes on the sides. In general the Damam is held on the ground and played by both hands, but sometimes it is suspended from the neck with straps during performances.

Dohol (Davul)

It is a big drum covered by a piece of goat hide. It is usually played in accompaniment to sorna in the villages, agricultural areas and plains and is made in various sizes. Its greater version is commonly played in Baluchestan. Dohol is played by a rather long wooden or osseous rod on one side, while on the other side tunes are produced by plucking the instrument with a few small bones tied to the fingers of the player's other hand. The dohols played in southern Iran are cylindrical in shape and their two bases are covered by goat hide. Dohols commonly played in Fars province (Fasa) are different in form and quite similar to the western instrument known as timpani. Its body is metallic and made from copper, while its goat hide is fastened by leather band.

The dotar ( meaning ``two strings'' in Persian), is an excellent instrument coming from a family of long-necked lutes and can be found throughout Central Asia, the Middle East and North East of China. Its ancestor is probably the "tanbur of Khorasan" as depicted by Al Farabi (10th century) in his essay Kitab~Al-Musiqi Al-Kabir.

In Iran, the dotar is played mainly in the northern and eastern parts of Khorasan as well as among the Turkmen of Gorgan and Gonabad. The instrument is the same but its dimensions and the number of its ligatures differ slightly from region to region. Two types of wood are used in the production of the dotar. The pear-shaped body is carved out of a single block of mulberry wood. Apricot or walnut wood is used to make its neck. It has two steel strings, which in the past were made of silk or animal.


Dozaleh [dozAle] is one of the old folk wind instruments of Iran which is used in mirth celebrations. Abu Nasr Farabi had called it Mezmarol-Mosana or Mozdavadg [mozdavej] (married!). Dozaleh has a sound like Neyanban [neianbAn] (bagpipe), but to some extend more clear and lower. It is played in Khorasan [xorAsAn], Kermanshah [KermAnSAh], and mostly in Kurdistan. In some different dialects it is called Zanbooreh [zanbureh].


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 kamancheh is the traditional classical bowed lute of Persian classical music and dates back to antiquity. It has a small, hollowed hardwood body with a thin stretched fish-skin membrane. Its neck is cylindrical, and it has four strings. Often known as the "spiked fiddle", because of the spike protruding from its lower end, it is played vertically in the manner of the European viol. The bowstrings are pulled by the player which accommodates subtle tone variations. 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 term “naghara” is the Sindhi form of the Arabic naqqarah. The rounded section of the naghara is made of baked clay, while the flat side consists of treated skin which is fastened around the rim with string which is tightened over the back of the bowl. This percussion instruments is often played in pairs, where one naghara will produce low pitch beats called narbcats (the female). The instruments are beaten with short wooden sticks bent outward at the upper ends, called damka. (the male) and the other for the high pitch.



The Ney, which is probably the oldest pitched instrument known to man, is an oblique rim blown reed flute with five finger holes in front and one thumb hole in the back. One of the principle instruments of Traditional Persian Music, 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 incisives of the player. Sound is produced when a stream of air is directed by the tongue toward the opening of the instrument.


Ney-Anban is manufactured from goatskin, especially tanned, to which a double reed pipe and mouthpiece are attached with the other end being merely tied together. The performer blows into the mouthpiece, and plays the melody on the double reed pipe, which has six holes for finger placement. In the South of Iran the Ney–Anban is played not only at weddings, but also at funeral services. In earlier times, people were not allowed to play Ney-Anban with Dammam.

Qeychak (Qichak)

It is one of the ancient Iranian classical instruments. The oldest sample instrument still remaining is comprised of a dual box and the surface of the lower one is covered by a hide. The produced tune is first transferred from the lower box to the upper one, from where it is broadcast through two wide openings. This part of the instrument is very interesting from the scientific point of view, since a second box has been added on its surface in order to amplify the tune. This makes the instrument much richer in producing a great variety of tunes. It has 4-6 cords, which similar to conventional Kamancheh, have been extended on a wooden box. It is played by a bow of particular shape, while the musician simultaneously creates the desired tune by plucking the cords by his/her left hand. The instrument's box is made of berry wood.



The word rebab [robAb] is an Arabic term that can be translated as bowed string instrument. Dating back at least to the 8th century, the Rebab has been closely associated with Islamic culture and is thought to be the earliest ancestor of the contemporary violin. While its roots are in Persia, the rebab's influence has reached as far east as Indonesia and west to regions of Europe and Africa. Its diffusion is closely tied to the growth of the Islamic world and the development of extensive trade routes after the 10th century.

As part of the generic 'lute' family, there are two basic types of rebab: wooden fiddles with pear-shaped or elongated bodies, and spiked fiddles, named for the extension or spike on the bottom of the instrument on which it stands when played. Generally, both styles have 2 or 3 gut or other strings.


The santur is a Persian three-octave wooden-hammered dulcimer with seventy-two strings(standard santour) 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 Santur 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 soundposts whose positions play an important role in the sound quality of the instrument. Although the santur is very old, it was neither depicted in miniatures, nor presented in any other medium until the nineteenth century.



The ancestry of the setar can be traced to the ancient tanbur of pre-Islamic Persia. It is made from thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or twenty-six adjustable 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. Because of its delicacy and intimate sonority, the setar is the preferred instrument of Sufi mystics.


Surna  (Zurna)
It is commonly played almost across the country in accompaniment to kettledrum and timbale in special traditional occasions. For instance, in Kurdestan, western Iran, the demise of people is announced by playing sorna along with kettledrum. Once the public is gathered around the grave of the deceased person, some verses pointing to the unstable material life are sung in accompaniment to the exciting tunes played by sorna and tambourine. Then to rise the spirit of the participants and to divert their attention from the sad event the musicians switch to fast tempos. In northern Iran the instrument is played in accompaniment to some special sports events including tightrope walking. Also a special tune is commonly played by sorna during a wrestling game.



The tanbur is the ancestor to most long-necked, plucked stringed instruments. Its pear shaped belly is normally carved out of one piece of mullberry wood with a long neck and fourteen gut frets. Some modern tanburs are made of bent ribs of mulberry wood. The sound board, 3-4 millimeters thick, is also made of mulberry wood which has numerous small holes for better resonance.

The tanbur has a unique playing technique by which the strings are strummed with the fingers of the right hand to produce a very full and even tremolo called shorr (literally meaning the pouring of water). This technique along with various kinds of plucking, usually with the index and pinky fingers, enables the musicians to produce different effects and various rhythmic accentuations which imitate the natural sounds of their environment such as a running stream, a water fall, a bird chirping or a horses' gallop, all translated into musical rhythms and sounds.




Belonging to the lute family, the tar appeared in its present form in the middle of the eighteenth century. The body is a double-bowl shape carved from mulberry wood, with a thin membrane of stretched lamb-skin covering the top. The long fingerboard has twenty-six to twenty-eight adjustable gut frets, and there are three double courses of strings. Its range is about two and one- half octaves, and is played with a small brass plectrum.

The Tas [tAs] is another percussion instrument of Kurdistan's Dervishes played alongside the daf at the climax of the Sama. The Tas is constructed from a metallic bowl and covered with skin, stretched tight by belts on the sides of the bowl. The Tas is placed on the ground and played by two wide leather straps. This instrument is also played during eclipses and ritual ceremonies for rain on the rooftops in Kurdistan.

Tombak (Zarb)

The tombak is a chalice-shaped drum carved from solid mulberry wood. It is covered at the wide end by a membrane of lamb or goat skin. The technique of this instrument uses both hands and consists of rolling and snapping the fingers in various ways. The rich variety of tones and textures on this instrument allows the player to punctuate and ornament the melodic phrases as well as create rhythmical patterns. `Tom' and `bak' are onomatopoeias for two basic strokes, one low (tom) in the center, and one high (bak) on the side of the membrane.




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