Traditional / Folk

Major Traditional Musical Instruments Of Iran
By Gabriele Ross for Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University

NeyNey, 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 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.


Santur 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 Santur can be made from various kinds of wood (walnut, rosewood, betel palm, etc.) connected by sound-posts whose position play an important role in the sound quality of the instrument. Although Santur 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. Belonging to the lute family.


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.


Tanbur is the ancestor to most long-necked, plucked stringed instruments. Its pear shaped belly is normally carved out of one piece of mulberry 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. 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 musician to produce different effects and various rhythmic accentuations which imitates 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.


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.


Setar's ancestory can be traced to the ancient Tanbur of pre-Islamic Persia. It is made from thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five of 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 it delicacy and intimate sonority, Setar is the preferred instrument of Sufi mystics.


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.


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 at the “spiked fiddle”, because of the spike protruding form it 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.


Barbat, also known as the UD, is a short-neck fret-less lute with five double-courses of strings tuned in fourths and traditionally played with a eagle’s quill. Barbat is the ancestor of the European lute, and functions as a bass instrument.





Hossein Alizadeh on Setar

A Very Old Clip of Parisa, Alizadeh, Meshkatian <Tasnif-e Dashti>

Keivan Alimohamadi on Daf



Iranian Folk Music
Source: Wikipedia

Despite all common roots the folk music in each different part of
Iran has certain characteristics in correlation with its native myths,
dialects, geographical and social situation and does not enjoy the
unity of style.

Many composers of the late nineteeth and early twentieth centuries
used the folk music of their native countries as a source of
inspiration for their compositions. For some composers, such as
Stravinsky, this was a short-lived infatuation soon to be followed by
neoclassicism, or, for others, one of several different forms of
modernism. Among the major European composers, Bela Bartok, Manuel de
Falla, and Zoltan Kodaly remained significantly committed to using folk
music as primary sources for their works. Similarly issues can be seen
in the history of Iranian folk music.

The modal concepts in Iranian folk music are directly linked with
that of the Iranian classical music. However, improvisation plays a
minor role as folk tunes are characterized by relatively clear-cut
melodic and rhythmic properties. The function of each folk melody
determines its mood. The varying aesthetic requirements of wedding
songs, lullabies, love songs, harvest songs, dance pieces, etc., are
met with transparent and appropriate simplicity. The majority of the
classical instruments are too elaborate and difficult for the folk
musicians. Instead, there are literally dozens of musical instruments
of various sorts found among the rural people. In fact, each region of
the country can boast instruments peculiar to itself. Three types of
instruments, however, are common to all parts of the country. They are,
a kind of shawm called Surnay (or Sorna ~ Zorna), the various types of
Ney (flute), and the Dohol, a doubleheader drum. A discussion of
Persian music must necessarily include the new hybrid of mixed
Persian-Western music which is functioning as a popular-commercial
music. The use of western popular rhythms, an elementary harmonic
superimposition, and relatively large ensembles composed of mostly
western instruments, characterize this music. The melodic and modal
aspects of these compositions maintain basically Persian elements. On
the whole, it would be something of an understatement to say that the
artistic merit of such a melange as this is rather questionable. (Prof.

Iran is home to several ethnic groups, including Kurdish,
Azerbaijanis, Bakhtiari and Baluchi peoples. Turkmen epic poets similar
to Central Asian musicians are common in Khorasan, while Kurdish music
is known for its double-reed duduk and an earthy, dance-oriented sound.
The most famous personalities in Iranian folk music are Pari Zangeneh
and Sima Bina.

Sima Bina is one of the most renowned traditional Persian singers.
As a true anthropologist of Khorassan music, she has been compiling for
years a traditional repertoire from this province. Singing in Persian,
but also in Turkish and Kurdish, she perpetuates a tradition of folk
music which praises nature and love, and which evokes nostalgia and the
changing times.

Bahman Alaoddin also known as Masoud Bakhtiari (b. 1940, d. 2006)
was a renowned Iranian musician, vocalist and songwriter and perhaps
the most notable figure in Bakhtiari music. A prolific musician, he
made some 50 music albums and numerous memorable songs.

Ghashghai Music


Khorasani Music

Kurdish Music

Lori Music

More To Come Soon. . . . .

Submitted by faramarz on Fri, 02/22/2008 - 5:49pm.