Introduction of Iranian Musical Instruments
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.
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 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. 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 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 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 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.) 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 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.
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.
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.
The ancient tanbur used to have two silk or in some instances gut strings tuned in 4th or 5th, similar to the dotar (meaning two stringed), its close relative widely used inEastern Iran. It has also been regarded as the tanbur of Khorasan in literary texts. Although these two instruments share a similar history and are basically the same, they have developed their own repertoires, playing techniques and functions. According to the master instrument maker Ustad Mehdi Kamalian the name tanbur is taken from the word tandur or tanur, meaning clay oven, as early instrument makers dried tree trunks chosen to carve the belly in tanours for several hours in order to perfect the sound. Gradually the instrument took on the name tanbur.
The present tanbur has three strings and covers the range of one octave and two notes. The lower pair of strings, made of steel, is tuned in unison normally anywhere from a (flat) to b and are fingered together functioning as the melody strings. The top string made of copper or brass, slightly thicker, tuned in lower fourth or fifth, functions as a sympathetic string with occasional fingering by the thumb.
The tanbur has always been considered a sacred instrument associated with the Kurdish Sufi music of Western Iran and it is believed that its repertoire is based on ancient Persian music. Up until the last fifty years this instrument was used only during djamm gatherings (devotional or liturgic ceremonies) of the Ahle-Haqq (the people of truth), followers of a particular Sufi order.