Ney (reed), probably the oldest pitched instrument known to man, is a wind instrument made from a piece of hollow cane or reed that has been played continuously for thousands of years. It is a forerunner of the modern flute and although common throughout the Near-east, the Iranian technique is probably the most versatile, using both the low breathy register and the sharp higher register (held between the teeth).

The pitch of the ney varies depending on the region and the finger arrangement. A highly skilled ney player can reach more than three octaves, though it is more common to have several “helper” neys to cover different pitch ranges or to facilitate playing technical passages.

Neys come in all sizes, in a range limited only by the reach of the fingers (for big neys) and the thickness of fingers (for small neys). Naturally, long neys are low pitched, and short neys are high pitched.

The Persian Ney is an oblique rim blown reed flute, held with both hands and with five finger holes in front and one thumb hole in the back. It is one of the principle instruments of Traditional Persian Music and has a range of two and a half octaves. The upper end is usually 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 Iranian Ney a distinct sound.


Setar (meaning “three strings”), a fretted plucked-string instrument, with sharp overtone series, is a member of the lute family. Its ancestory can be traced to the ancient tanbur of pre-Islamic period. Clay statues found in Haft Tape and Choqa Zanbil  ziggurat show musicians whose instrument is very  similar to the present day setar. These images indicate the existence of an instrument called the tanbur from around 3 to 4 thousand years ago. Farabi, in his book, Musiqi  al-Kabir, describes in detail the different kinds of the Iranian tanbur. These  tanburs are very similar to the present setar and indicate that the present  setar is the descendent of the old tanburs. Derivatives of setar are also played in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Two and a half centuries ago, a fourth string was added to the setar, which has 25 – 27 adjustable frets. Two of the strings are made of steel, two are of brass, and they are tuned to C, C semi-sharp, G, and C semi-sharp, respectively.

The  sound range of the setar is two and half octaves and its sound volume is  rather low. As a result, the setar used to be the instrument of the  musician’s solitude. Because of its delicacy and intimate sonority, setar is the preferred instrument of Sufi mystics. Today, because of the advanced sound devices, the  sound of the setar can be intensified. Therefore, it is played in the  ensembles as well.

The average setar is 85 cm long, 20 cm wide, and has a 15 cm deep gourd, and is made entirely of thin mulberry wood; unlike the tar which has a membrane streched across the body. Also, unlike the tar, the player plucks the strings with the nail of the index finger, instead of using a plectrum.

Persian classical music does not consider as compulsory the use of Western music standardized pitch. This Standardization was established in 1939, and was mostly designed to cut through tuning problems in European music orchestration (which can use up to hundreds of instruments and choir).

Such a problem obviously doesn’t exist in Iranian music as ensembles historically have had a limited number of musician and singers. Moreover, in Persian music primacy goes to human natural voice which means that if there is a vocalist in the ensemble the instrumentalists have to tune according to his or her voice. Even when played solo it is tuned slightly lower than the Western standard C. There is no hard and fast rule attached to this. It is a matter of experience! Setar simply sounds better at the lower pitch.

There are two kinds of setar: one with a small sound box and the  other with a larger sound box. The setar with a larger sound box is  known as the Kamaliyan model, and the setar with small sound boxes are  known as the Hashemi model. The main difference between the two models  is the sound quality of each model. Those who prefer bass sound choose  the Kamaliyan version, and those who like transparent and higher sound  choose the Hashemi model.


The tār (“string” in Persian) is a long-necked, waisted fretted plucked-string instrument. It has been adopted by other cultures and countries like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and other areas near the Caucasus region. It is also the root of the names of the other Iranian instruments like setar, the guitar as well as less widespread instruments such as the Turkish dutar and the Indian sitar are also based on it.

The tar is one of the main instruments of the Persian art music and it is played both in ensemble and as a solo instrument. The sound volume of this instrument is comparable with those of the santur, ney oud, and kamanche and can be played without using a microphone.

The exact place of origin of the tar cannot be confirmed. However, it is certain that it existed in the territories of the Iranian Empire before Sassanids. Tar appeared in its present form in the Saffavid era although references to its distinct shape exist for a long period before.

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 a half octaves, and is played with a small brass plectrum.

The melodies performed on tar were considered useful for headache, insomnia and melancholy, as well as for eliminating nervous and muscle spasms. Listening to this instrument was believed to induce a quiet and philosophical mood, compelling the listener to reflect upon life. Its solemn melodies were thought to cause a person to relax and fall asleep.

Tar is one of the most important Persian musical instruments. The general trends of Persian classical music have been deeply influenced by tar players. The most famous Iranian musicians in the past one hundred years have been the tar players.


The kamānche (“small bow”) is a bowed string instrument related to the bowed rebab, the historical ancestor of the kamancheh, and also to the bowed lira of the Byzantine Empire, ancestor of the European violin family. It is widely used in the classical music of Iran, Azarbaijan, Uzbakistan and Turkmenistan, with slight variations in the structure of the instrument. The Iranian instrument Ghyechak, the Russian Gudok and the Kazakh Kobyz are also related to kamanche.

In English the instrument is often known as the “spiked fiddle”, because of the spike protruding form its lower end, it is played vertically in the manner of the European cello though it is about the length of a viola. The end-pin can rest on the knee or thigh while seated in a chair.

It dates back to antiquity and like many other elements of Iranian music, entered Islamic music from the very beginning. The oldest written traces of the kamanche can be found in Farabi’s book, Musiqi  al-Kabir. In this book, Farabi calls this instrument the rubab which has  two strings. But, he also mentions the existence of a rubab with just  one string. It has a small, hollowed hardwood body (originally coconut shell) with a thin stretched sheatfish or ox pericardium membrane (now ship skin). Its neck is cylindrical, and it has four metal strings (originally two and three-stringed variants exited). The strings are played with a variable-tension bow.

The instrument is highly ornate and is about the size of a viola. The modern version has four strings. Up to the  beginning of the twentieth  century, the kamānche had three strings. The kamancheh’s sound box is a spheroid chamber which is  made from gourd  or wood. In the older version, the spheroid chamber was  heavier because  it was carved from a single block of a wood. As a  result, the sound  quality was not as good as the ones made in the new  method. The tuning varies depending upon the region of the country where it is being played. In Tehran, the kamanche is tuned in the same manner as a violin: G, D, A, E.


The santur is a struck zither in the form of a shallow, regular trapezoidal box. There are several sound posts inside the box, and two small rosettes on the top panel which help to amplify the sound. The santur has 72 strings, arranged in groups of four, i.e. each of four closely spaced strings are tuned to the same pitch. Each group of four strings is supported by a small, movable, wooden bridge; the bridges are positioned to give the instrument a range of three octaves. It is played with two small wooden hammers.

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. 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.

The Santur was invented probably around 1800 years ago and was traded and traveled to many different parts of the Middle East and each country customized and designed their own versions to adapt to their musical scales and tunings. The original Persian santur was made with tree bark, stones and stringed with goat intestines. The santur arrived in Europe during the Moorish occupation of Spain. Many instruments around the world at least in part, derive from the santur.

Similar forms of the santur have been present in neighboring cultures like India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Armenia, Turkey, and Iraq for centuries. The Indian santur is thicker, more rectangular, and has more strings. The Chinese yangqin also originated from the Persian santur. The Iraqi santur has, since its inception, been chromatic and allows for full Magham modulations. The Romans introduced a derivative of the santur called the cymbalum to Eastern Europe. The Greek santouri is also derived from the Persian santur, and in Nikos Kazantzakis’ classic novel Zorba the Greek, Zorba plays the santouri.


Tonbak or Tombak (or Zarb) is a single-headed chalice-shaped drum carved from solid mulberry wood about 43 cm in height with a 28 cm diameter head. 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.

It is considered the principal percussion instrument of Persian music. The tombak is normally positioned diagonally across the torso while the player uses one or more fingers and/or the palm(s) of the hand(s) on the drumhead, often (for a ringing timbre) near the drumhead’s edge. ‘Tom’ and ‘bak’ are reference to the two basic strokes, one low (tom) in the center, and one high (bak) on the side of the membrane. Sometimes tonbak players wear metal finger rings for an extra-percussive “click” on the drum’s shell.

Tonbaks with adjustable tuning have been produced experimentally but the head tension is normally fixed prior to performance with careful attention to the temperature and humidity. The player may heat or cool or dampen or dry the membrane to reach a desired fundamental pitch.


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. The tanbur’s body is a half-sphere up to 35 centimeters in diameter, constructed of staves glued together. The tied frets were originally made of twisted gut, but today, almost all tanbur players use frets of nylon monofilament. Modern tanburs generally have seven strings, but tanburs of the18th and 19th centuries had eight strings. In recent years, some players have had eight-string tanburs constructed.

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. 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.

The name “tanbūr” could have been derived from pandur, a Sumerian term for long-necked lutes. Lutes have been present in Mesopotamia since the third millennium BC. The Persian tanbur was already in use in the Sassanid period.


Daf is a type of frame drum that is depicted in many Persian miniatures and reliefs from centuries ago. The earliest evidence of the daf from the reliefs of Behistun dates back to Sassanid Iran. The Pahlavi (an ancient Iranic language) name of the daf is dap. The word daf is therefore the Arabicized form of the word dap. Daf is equipped with metal rings on the inside which add a jingle effect to the sound. The frame is covered with goat-skin.

Although it appears at first sight to be a relatively simple instrument, the Daf has the potential of producing intricate rhythmic patterns and sounds.

Frame drums are one of the oldest instruments on earth and were probably first used in the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s exactly in those regions that they’re still widespread and frequently used in all kinds of music from religious, trance to secular music.


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- or walnut wood.


Barbat is a shortneck fretless lute with five double-courses of strings tuned in fourths and traditionally played with an eagle’s quill. Many instruments such as the Arabic oud are derived from the barbat. Today’s barbat, however, is essentially the same thing as today’s oud. It is often called the barbat when played in a Persian tradition, while called the oud when played in an Arabic tradition.

Persian Barbat is the ancestor of the European lute, and the current oud and functions as a bass instrument in traditional Persian music. It originated in Persia in ancient times, and was refined during the Islamic age into its current form. Zaryab (9th AD), is said to have improved the Barbat by adding a fifth pair of strings, and using an eagle’s beak or quill instead of a wooden pick.

After the tanbur, it is the oldest string instrument in Iran. Historical evidence shows that around the 8th century BC a kind of barbat was used. In some books the invention of this instrument is ascribed to Barbod, the famous musician of the Sassanid era. Indeed, the reason this instrument is called Barbat is that this name is the Arabic form of Barbod, as they associated this instrument with him. But although Barbod was a famous player of barbat he was not its inventor.

The barbat is held similar to a guitar, but care must be taken to have the face vertical so that it is not visible to the player, and to support the weight with the thigh and right arm so that the left hand is free to move around the fingerboard. In all matters of holding and playing it is recommended that the player use only the muscles needed for any musical task and to relax as much as possible, using only as much force as is necessary. This will allow one to play longer, easier and to put the effort into creativity rather than mechanics. In the past many players sat cross-legged on a rug, but now most perform sitting, often using a classical guitarist’s footrest under the right foot to help hold the barbat.


Chang is an Iranian harp. It was very popular and used widely in ancient Persia, especially during the Sassanid Dynasty where it was often played in the royal court. Since the 17th century it has not been widely used.

The Sassanid Chang was based on the vertical, angular harp which had been developed in the Hellenistic world. The Persian design made them lighter.

These angular harps were themselves based on the more ancient mesopotamian lyre (or hand-held harps) which had been around since the 3rd Millennium BC. Archaelogical evidence from Susa (Shush) contain depictions of Persian angular harps that differ consistently from those in Mesopotamia: while their shapes are similar, the Persian harps are smaller in size.

In the contemporary Iranian musical  culture, the chang is not a regular instrument and is not a member of any  ensembles. However, some Iranian instrument makers have been trying to  revive the chang based on the existing cameos and writings of the past.


Robab (or Rubab and not to be confused with Rebab) is a short-necked lute made of wood, with goatskin covering the body. It is a plucked instrument with 12 to 18 strings. Only six of the strings are for playing; the rest being drone strings. It is played by a pick made of an animal horn or sometimes plastic and has a soft and bass sound.

The Robab is attested from the 7th century CE. It is mentioned in old Persian books, and many Sufi poets mention it in their poems. It is the traditional instrument of Khorasan and today it is widely used in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, India and Uzbekistan. In Iran it is mostly considered as a local instrument of the Sistan and Baluchistan province although it is being increasingly used in musical ensembles.

It is however very popular in Afghanistan. It is known as “the lion of instruments” and is one of the two national instruments of Afghanistan. Classical Afghan music often features this instrument as a key component. Elsewhere it is known as the Kabuli Rubab. It is the ancestor of the Sarod but unlike the sarod it is a fretted instrument.

Robab is made from the trunk of a mulberry tree. Originally the strings were made from the intestines of young goats, brought to the size of thread. But, today some strings are made of plastic as well. The melody strings  were originally five, but now they are six. In fact, each two melody strings are tuned the same; therefore, there are three pairs of strings which are tuned in fourths. The drone strings are tuned the same.


Dayereh (“circle”) is a medium-sized tambourine-like frame drum with jingles, used to accompany both popular and classical music in Iran. The simple drum is formed by attaching a skin cover onto a wooden ring with glue and cloth ties. This is similar to the Persian daf. The width of the frame is 45–50 cm and the depth, 5–7 cm.

It is found all over Asia and Eastern Europe. The history of dayereh goes back to many centuries. An engraved bronze cup from the pre-Islamic period at the National Museum of Iran, portrays a sorna, chang and dayereh in a shrine or a court procession.

The sound is produced by hitting the membrane with either hand – the left hand, which also holds the dayereh, strikes the edges, and the right hand strikes the center. The right-hand fingers are fastened about their neighbours and suddenly released (like the action of finger-snapping) to produce loud, rapid, sharp sounds.


Dohol is a large double-skin drum. It varies in sizes. One side is made of goat skin, the other side is made of sheep skin. The thin skinned is hit with a light wooden stick or twig, and the thick side is hit with a heavy stick used to play bass sounds. The bigger stick is called “chogan” and the shorter one is called “tarkeh”. It is generally played outdoors accompanied by a Sorna.

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 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 largest versions are played in Baluchestan.


Naghareh is also another popular drum, played in different regions of Iran. It is a combination of two drums and its size can vary from very small to huge ones that were tightened on elephant-backs in war fields in order to courage the troops. It is believed that the Indian tabla is based on naghareh. Generally Naghareh’s from the northern Iranian regions are smaller than the southern ones.

Their structure is like bowl. One is larger than the other. The large one is called Bam and the smaller one is called Zir (bass and treble). The drums are covered by cow’s skin, though in the past the skin of boar was used. The skin is tightened on the drums by band. The drums are played with two wooden drumsticks.


Sornā is an ancient Iranian woodwind instrument. It is made of apricot or pear wood and has a removable double reed. The word sorna is a Pahlavi derivative of sūr nāy (literally “banquet flute). It is played with a continuous blowing technique very much like an oboe.

It is the ancestor of Turkish Zurnay, Arabic and Armenian Zurna, Indian Shahnay, Chinese Suona and is most likely the immediate predecessor of the European Shawm. An ancient clay version of sorna is still played in the Eastern parts of Iran.

The modern sorna is a conical oboe, made of apricot wood, and uses a double reed which generates a sharp, piercing sound. Thus, it has historically been played outdoors during festive events such as weddings and holidays. Depending on the region it has different number of holes usually providing a range of one to one and a half octave.

Nay Anban

Ney Anban (also written as Neyanban) is a type of droneless double-chantered bagpipe. It 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.

It is an ancient instrument probably in use in Mesopotamia since the 2nd millenium BC. Neyanban is still very popular in South of Iran and still played not only at weddings, but also at funeral services. In recent years, some Iranian composers have become interested in using the neyanban in orchestras, either Western or Iranian.


The word rebab is an Arabic term coined probably after the 8th century to refer to a bowed stringed instrument. However, the roots of the instrument it refers to are in Persia. It was played at Sassanid courts. The earlier versions were plucked. It is not much in use today except in some local music. Kamanche has now replaced it.

The rebab usually consists of a small, usually rounded body, the front of which is covered in a membrane such as parchment or sheepskin and has a long neck attached. There is a long thin Neck with a Pegbox at the end and there are one, two or three strings. There is no fingerboard. The instrument is held upright, either resting on the lap or on the floor. The bow is usually more curved than that of the violin.

The rebab, though valued for its voice-like tone, has a very limited range (little over an octave), and was gradually replaced throughout much of the Arab world by the violin and in Iran by kamanche. But it was till the advent of the violin, the only bowed instrument in the Arab countries and the Ottoman Empire.


The dotar or  dutar is a traditional long-necked two-stringed lute found in Iran, Central Asia and South Asia. Its name comes from the Persian word for “two strings and is closely related to Setar and Tanbur. In the today Turkmenistan, the Dutar is considered a national instrument and is the instrument par excellence of the Bakhshis. In Iran, the Dotar is played mainly in the north and the east of Khorasan as well as among the Turkmen of Gorgân and Gonâbâd. The instrument remains the same but its dimensions and the number of its ligatures vary slightly from region to region.

In the instrument’s 15th-century beginnings in the hands of shepherds, its strings were made from gut. With the coming of the Silk Road, the strings were made from twisted silk. Modern instruments also have silk or nylon strings.

The Dotar has a warm, dulcet tone. Typical sizes for the pear-shaped instrument range from one to two meters. It is tuned in fourth or fifth intervals and the frets are placed in a chromatic scale of twelve semitones. It is a perfect instrument to accompany folk songs or embellish another instrument such as the Tanbur.


Qanun or ghanun was originally an Iranian  instrument. It was later adopted throughout  the Islamic Empire. It has now became a dominant  instrument in the Arab world. Its use in Iran became less frequent from about 500 years ago as new and more modern  instruments and styles began to develop during the Safavid era in Iran. But it is still popular in certain regions, especially Azerbaijan and at times used for a specific sound inside musical ensembles in Iran. Otherwise, in both Iranian and North Indian Classical music it is no longer in use. Santur has replaced it.

It is a flat trapezoidal  wooden box with twenty-four or twenty-six triple courses of strings made  from nylon or metal. The strings are stretched over a single bridge  poised on the animal-skins on one end, attached to tuning pegs at the  other end. The vibration of the strings will be transfered to the bridge.  As a result, the skin will be shaken and produce the sound. On the top  surface, there are big wholes called “gols” meaning flowers. These gols  play important roles in the sound quality of the instrument.

Quanoons were played on the lap by plucking the strings with two tortoise-shell picks, one in each hand, or by the fingernails. It has a range of three and a half octaves, from A2 to E6. The dimensions of Turkish “kanuns” are typically 95 to 100 cm long, 38 to 40 cm wide and 4 to 6 cm high. The instrument also has special latches for each course, called mandals. These small levers, which can be raised or lowered quickly by the performer serve to change the pitch of a particular course slightly by altering the string lengths. The Armenian ghanuns employ half-tones and the Arabic ones quarter-tones,