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Persian Cultural Report: Instruments

There are several instruments that are important in Iranian culture. Some instruments originated from inside Iran while the origins of other instruments are not known.  Three important instruments that have contributed to Iran’s rich musical history and culture are the daf, the tar, and the santur. These instruments are used mainly to play classical Persian music as they do not lend themselves easily to integration with western styles of composition. 

The daf is a musical instrument that looks like an oversized tambourine. It is held in the right hand and played with both hands by tapping the sides and the head to create sounds. Some daf’s have metal rings while others do not. The daf’s exact origin date is not known but it was created in Iran. The original word for daf was dap. That term along with pictures can be found in paintings, poems, and reliefs of pre-Islamic Iran. The daf’s role was mostly religious and spiritual rather than musical. This is evidenced by the Sufi’s having borrowed the daf and incorporating it into their religious ceremonies. 

Another important instrument is the tar. The tar is shaped like a lute but with a double-body and may have three to six strings. The tar is considered the “sultan of instruments” and the creation of the tar was probably influenced by the Persian Empire. However, the present form of the tar was developed in the 19th century by the expert tar maker, Hovanes Abkarian who is considered the father of the modern Persian Tar. One use of the tar over the years has been in music therapy. It was written in the book “Gabusname” by Keykavus Ziyari that the use the tar held healing properties. Some etymologists suggest the English “guitar” has its origins in the Iranian word “tar.”

The final instrument is the santur. The santur originated in Iran and was spread to other regions via the Persian Empire, Arab Empire, and the Silk Road. The santur is an instrument that has wires bridged across plywood. The santur may have many strings. The Persian version has 72. The wires are strung with a pair of hammer sticks called the Mezrab. Some santurs have movable bridges which can continuously change the pitch of a note by several steps.

Learn more about Persian with some of my Farsi Resources here.