Persian Drums in Iranian Music

Persian Drums in Iranian Music by Dr. Peyman Nasehpour

Dr. Peyman Nasehpour on the Daf

A Short Note on Persian Drums

A brief about Tonbak, Dayereh, and Daf


We are very lucky that we live in an era where we are the first generation of humans to experience the communication benefits of the internet. In the past, people typically had to study books that researchers had written about different drums. Other people were fortunate to meet drummers from different parts of the globe, those who had the chance to travel to different countries and play their drums in some festivals. But today, with the help of the internet, you can visit many percussive web sites and become acquainted with the drums of many different cultures, all from the comfort of your own home. 

In 1997, Peyman learned first hand of the power of the internet as a research and communications tool. The first drums that he found information on were the Indian tabla (this wonderful pair of small drums), and the Middle Eastern tabla or the doumbek (the name that has been used by Americans for this great goblet-shaped drum). It was noticed however, that there was almost no information about the drums of Persia (Iran), and so a decision was made to introduce them to people as soon as there was time and opportunity to do so. Since November of 2000, Peyman has been lucky enough to meet many kind people who promote different drums of the world, and with their help has published some articles about Persian drums such as tonbak, dayereh and daf. 

In this article, a brief introduction of the historic journey of Persian drums to different parts of the world will be offered. The internet will allow the journey of information on these drums to other parts of the world much easier than ever before. 

Tonbak: The Persian Goblet-shaped Drum 

Tonbak is the chief percussion instrument, and the first national drum of Persia (Iran). Etymology states that the Pahlavi (Persian pre-Islamic language) name of this drum was dombalak. Though there are many ancient manuscripts attesting to the different names of this drum, the oldest documented pictures that have been found by the author and his friend, Mehdi Moghiseh, are two Persian paintings painted in the 16th century showing some gypsy drummers and dancers, including tonbak players. 

The name dombalak is still used in Turkey today. In Turkish dialect it is called dumbelek. A similar name is the name of the Greek goblet drum, which is called toubeleki. The doumbek, with different spellings such as dumbek, doumbeq, dumbeq and so on, has been brought to the USA by Middle Eastern immigrants, and is also related to these names. 

The tonbak is played with a style that is very different from the style that the other goblet drums are played with, though they seem very similar at first sight. Also, the similarity of the names of different goblet drums should not cause the reader to assume that all goblet drums are played with the same style. The Turkish style is different from the Arabic style, although there are some similarities also. In Turkish style, like the Persian style, finger snapping is used. However, the structure of Arabic goblet drums doesn't let you play finger snaps on it. 

Fortunately for the Arabic/Turkish goblet drums, they have received widespread promotion. On the other hand, the Persian goblet drum is still relatively unknown today. The only goblet drum that the author knows is played similar to the Persian goblet drum, is the Afghani goblet drum which is called zirbaghali. 

Thanks to many Iranian tonbak masters such as Hussein Tehrani (the father of modern tonbak) and Nasser Farhangfar, the awareness of the tonbak in the general population of Iran has progressed very much.

Dayereh: The Persian Frame Drum 

Dayereh is one of the most popular frame drums played in the regional music of Iran today. Though it is not used in Persian art music, you can find it in many different regions of Iran. One of the most important styles of frame drumming in Iran is the Azerbaijani style played on the Azerbaijani frame drum called ghaval. Again, the similarity of the names of different frame drums should not cause us to assume that they are all played in the same style. 

The Pahlavi (Persian pre-Islamic language) name of dayereh is dareh. This name is still in use in Dezful city of Iran. The pandeiro of Spain, Portugal and Brazil is related to the dayereh. 

Ghaval is the Azerbaijani frame drum and is known by Persians as dayereh-ye-azari, which means Azerbaijani dayereh. Ghaval was the accompaniment drum in Azerbaijani art and folk music. The legendary ghaval player, Latif Tahmasebi-zadeh, has played many ghaval solos and added some interesting new techniques to the art of ghaval playing. 

Thanks to some frame drummers and drum makers in the western world, this drum has been introduced to the western world, but more promotion is still needed yet. 

Daf: The Persian Frame Drum 

Daf is a very famous drum in Iran that was used in Sufi music. Many famous poets such as Hafiz and Rumi have mentioned to this drum in their poems. Thanks to many daf players, particularly daf players from Kurdistan of Iran, this drum has been widely promoted in Iran, and today it is considered to be the second national drum of Iran (Persia). 

Originally, the Pahlavi name of daf was dap. Daf in Arabic countries is called duff and the adufe (the Portuguese drum) is related to this drum. The name dap is still used in Uyghuristan of China today. 

Acknowledgement: The author wishes to thank David Johannes of Drum Journey, who helped to make the English of this article more understandable, and for publishing it at his website to make it available to those who are interested in the drums of different cultures.

This article was first published at Drum Journey website.

For more on Iranian drums go to Articles section. | Iranian or Persian? A discussion on the words Iran and Persia.