The Stroke and Roll Techniques of the Tonbak

Ostad Nasser Farhangfar

The Great Master of the Tonbak (Zarb)

The Great Master of the Tonbak (Zarb)

An Article by Dr. Peyman Nasehpour

The tonbak has lots of different strokes and rolls, using all the fingers of the both hands. In this article, I like to explain the most popular ones of the style of Ostad Nasser Farhangfar (my master of tonbak). 

The bass stroke that is played in the center of the skin of the tonbak is called Ton or Tom (Similar to Turkish-Arabic Dum). For playing the Ton, the hand is not completely open or closed. As an example, envision your hand is partially cupped as if you were scooping water to wash your face and you should strike the skin with fingertips of the four fingers, from pinkie to index. Please consider that the Dum of Turkish-Arabic darbuka is played with the flat of the fingers. That is used in the motrebi style of tonbak playing. Motrebi music is the genre of music that is played in festive occasions particularly wedding ceremonies. Motreb (literally means somebody that creates joy) is the player that plays in these festive occasions. 

The treble stroke that is played in the rim of the skin of the tonbak is called Bak (Similar to Turkish-Arabic Tek or Tak). The Bak is played in two ways. Two-fingered Bak that is played with the flesh of the first joint of the two middle and ring fingers. One-fingered Bak is played in the same way but only with the ring finger. It is obvious that the sound produced by the one-fingered Bak is softer than the sound produced by the two-fingered Bak. 

It is to be noted that some believe the name of the tonbak comes from the sound produced by the Ton and Bak strokes, i.e. Ton+Bak. 

The other essential stroke is the Pelang or Beshkan that is simply the snap. The snap is played with pinkie, ring and middle finger. However it is possible to play the Pelang with the index finger too, but my master was always advising us to play the index finger similar to one-fingered Bak instead of snapping, while you put the index finger on the middle finger and forcefully strike middle or center part of the skin with your index finger. Since this is not a snap stroke, it is called Bargardan. I should explain that the skin of the tonbak is divided into three parts: 1. Center 2. Rim 3. Middle that is a part between the center and rim. 

All strokes of the tonbak are played with the two free and non-free hands -- I should explain that I have coined these two new words in order to ignore any confusion between the right and left hands. The hand that rests on the body of the tonbak is the non-free hand. So it is obvious that the other hand is the free hand. Similar names can be used for some frame drums such as daf or ghaval. 

One of the most essential and at the same time, the most difficult techniques of the tonbak is the roll that is called Riz in Persian language. Riz is a combination of some strokes played absolutely rapidly and periodically. We have many kinds of roll techniques and five of them come from the tradition of tonbak playing. Perhaps the most popular one is called Riz-e-por that literally means full roll. Full roll (Riz-e-por) is produced by combining two strokes of the free and non-free hand. When playing these two strokes you should not think of playing your fingers individually. For the free hand, when you play the stroke, you should drop the thumb, pinkie, ring, middle and index fingers on the skin respectively. For the non-free hand, you should play in the same way just from the pinkie to index finger. Since the non-free hand almost always rests on the body of the tonbak, it is not so easy to strike the thumb finger on the skin. At last since the Riz-e-por is produced by nine fingers of the two hands, it is sometimes called nine-fingered roll. 

In the above, I explained that the combination of these two strokes configures the most popular roll of the tonbak, i.e. Riz-e-por. In order of reference, I again have to coin a new word, Takriz for those strokes. Therefore Takriz of the free (non-free) hand is played with five (four) fingers of the free hand (non-free hand) in the way that I explained before. 

Another distinctive technique of the tonbak is Eshareh (literally means allusion) or Zinat (literally means ornament). Eshareh is the combination of some strokes and is a flourish prior to an accented stroke. The duration of the Eshareh should often be as short as possible unless you have enough time and as it is said it should be solved in the rhythm and adds beauty to the main stroke and its role is something like seasoning for food. This is one of the trickiest strokes of the tonbak. 

The most popular Eshareh of our style -- that is quite different from the Eshareh of the style of Ostad Hossain Tehrani (the father of modern tonbak) -- is produced by playing the Takriz of the both free and non-free hand together but with a short time gap between them. It is clear that the main stroke should be played after the Eshareh, again with a short time gap between them. This reminds me the similar stroke for the Indian tabla, the Kre, which is a tricky bol produced by playing Ka and Te together but with a short time gap between them. Ka comes first and then Te. 

At the end, I like to explain some other kinds of roll techniques of the tonbak as follows: 

Riz-e-shallaghi is the combination of the both two-fingered Bak of the free and the non-free hands. This kind of roll is played by morshed, the leader of athletes, singer and tonbak player of the zourkhaneh (literally means house of power) that is a Persian traditional gymnasium. The size of the tonbak played in zourkhaneh is larger than ordinary tonbak and is called tonbak-e-zourkhaneh or tonbak-e-ta'lim (literally means training). In Persian language 'e' is the same as 'of' in English. Therefore for instance tonbak-e-hindi means the tonbak of India or simply Indian tonbak. 

A similar Riz to Riz-e-shallaghi is the combination of the both one-fingered Bak of the free and the non-free hands that the sound produced by this kind of Riz is obviously softer than the sound produced by the Riz-e-shallaghi. This kind of Riz is sometimes called Riz-e-timpani since the sound produced by this roll is similar to the roll produced by the drumsticks on timpani. 

It is good to be noted that similar techniques to one fingered Bak, can be played in middle and center part of the skin of the tonbak and therefore similar rolls can be produced by these similar techniques. 

Another kind of roll technique is produced by combining the one-fingered Bak of the free hand and ring finger snapping of the non-free hand. This is called Riz-pelang though some believe this name is error allowed by usage. 

Date of Publication: Feb. 5th, 2003.