The Traditional Musical Instruments of Iran

Music is embedded into the Iranian nation. Played in restaurants, at weddings and occasionally in the street, the sweet sound of Persian music rings through the country. Iran’s history with music is long-lived. Dating back to the Elamite era, 800 BCE, the music of Iran has always been a firm form of expression. Although Iran has been invaded throughout the country’s history, Persian music and melodies have always stood strong and remained the same over time. Here is a look at a handful of Iran’s traditional instruments.

Playing the daf – Photo from Flickr user: Hamed Saber


The daf is one of the most well-known drums across Asia and North Africa. The circular frame of the piece is often made with hardwood. For the skin, cow and goat can be used, while fish is often the first choice. It’s the metal ringlets dotted around the frame which make the drum come alive with music. The jingling and jangling of the daf drifts through the air while the player’s fingers dance on the skin of the drum, producing a thunderous and infectious roar. 


Another drum to behold. The huge tonbak drum is also constructed of wood, but its head is made of goatskin. The tonbak produces a very unique sound. It’s much lower pitched than other drums out there, arguably because of its vase shape.


The santur is one of the most famous music instruments in Iran. A dulcimer, it’s formed of a rectangular-shaped zither with two rosettes which help to amplify the sound. Players use dainty mallets to tap over 70 strings to release heart-warming melodies. Different woods effect the sound quality of the instrument. Rosewood, betel palm and walnut are all common materials. Aside from Iran, other countries play the santur too, such as India, Egypt and Iraq. 


Literally translated as straw, this Persian instrument is produced with a flush of air directed by the tongue. It looks like a recorder with their structure being quite similar. Made of knotgrass there are five holes on the front of the instrument for the fingers, while a hole at the back is where the thumb sits.  


Another stringed instrument, the setar means ‘three strings’ in Farsi. It is formed with mulberry wood and over 20 adjustable gut frets. Nowadays, the setar can feature four strings, of which a pair are made from brass and the other from steel. The soft tunes from a setar are infectiously delicate but deep and rich in sound. 

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