From left to right: Ostad Hossein Shahriar (poet), Ostad Mahmoud Farnam on ghaval, and Ostad Gholamhossein Beigchehkhani on Persian tar (Tabriz school).

Ghaval the Azerbaijani frame drum

by Peyman Nasehpour

Different frame drums are performed in Iran and neighboring countries. In this note, I introduce the ghaval, also known as, the daf (not to be confused with the Kurdish daf). I learned the ghaval from the late Ostad Latif Tahmasebi-zadeh.

Introduction. The ghaval (also spelled gaval in Azerbaijani Latin alphabets) is the Azerbaijani frame drum. In Persian, ghaval is sometimes called "Dayereh-ye Azari دایره ی آذری", because, in Persian, the medium-sized frame drums are generally called "dayereh". The ghaval - also called the daf in some Azerbaijani areas - is performed by a mugam singer and is an accompaniment to the Azerbaijani traditional ensemble. Note that in Azerbaijan a mugam singer is called Khananda coming from the Persian word khanandeh خواننده which means singer.

Ghaval. The "ghaval قاوال" (not to be confused with qawwali قوالی music) is performed in Azerbaijani folk and art music. In the folk music of Azerbaijan, "Ashiq آشیق" (poet-musician) sings and plays on "qopuz قوپوز" (nine-stringed long-necked lute) and sometimes composes poems on different festive occasions. The drum that usually accompanies the Ashiq is ghaval. In Azerbaijani art music, a traditional ensemble contains a singer, which plays on the ghaval and two instrumentalists, in which one plays on Azerbaijani tar (long-necked lute), and the other plays on Azerbaijani kamancha (bowed spike fiddle). In modern art music of Azerbaijan, an ensemble may sometimes have more than two instrumentalists. Usually, the drum that accompanies the modern ensemble is naghara (a kind of Azerbaijani cylindrical drum that is similar to the Armenian dhol).

The ghaval is almost the same as the Persian dayereh. In Iran (Persia), there are different types of frame drums. Among them, only the daf is considered to be a national frame drum. It is unfortunate that the ghaval has not been yet integrated into Persian art music like the daf, though some ghaval players, in particular, the late Ostad Mahmoud Farnam tried to do this by accompanying the great masters of Persian art music, Ostad Eghbal Azar (very skillful vocalist) and Ostad Gholam Hossein Bigchekhani (very skillful Persian tar player).

A brief on the history of the ghaval and related frame drums. The history of dayereh goes back many centuries ago. An engraved bronze cup from Lorestan at the National Museum of Iran, in Tehran, portrays a double ney (reed pipes), a chang (harp), and a dayereh in a shrine or court processional, as similarly documented in Egypt, Elam, and Babylonia where music involved the utilization of large orchestral ensembles.

Some believe that the word "dayereh دایره" comes from the Pahlavi (Persian pre-Islamic language) name "dareh داره". Note that "Abu Saeed Abolkheir ابوسعید ابوالخیر (967-1048)", a Persian poet, has mentioned the word "dayereh" as a drum in his works.

The ghaval was not considered a solo instrument. After the effort of Ostad Latif Tahmasebi-zadeh ghaval has found an independent role as a solo instrument.

The ghaval's frame is wooden, and the skin is stretched on one side of the frame. The skin of the ghaval can be goatskin or fish skin, though today the head of modern ghavals is synthetic (pre-fabricated) because the skin-headed ghavals are usually sensitive to changes in humidity. Some metal rings are incorporated into the frame of the drum to provide jingles. The diameter of the frame of the ghaval is much larger than the Western tambourine but smaller than the daf.

The basic rhythm cycles of the ghaval. According to the knowledge that I received from Ostad Tahmasebi-zadeh, there are traditionally four basic rhythm cycles in Azerbaijani music, though modern some drummers in Azerbaijan play new rhythm cycles in recent decades.

1) Diringi. The "diringi دیرینگی" is a light rhythm cycle for dance music, though it is found in vocal music also. It is played in both slow and fast tempos, depending on the occasion of the performance. The "diringi" is in 6 beats and can be considered equivalent to the Persian reng رنگ rhythm cycle, which is presented in the western system as 6/8 (in Persian ritm-e shesh-hasht ریتم شش هشت).

2) Yalli. The "yalli یالّی" is another light rhythm cycle for different rhythmic compositions of vocal, instrumental, and dance music. The yalli is in 8 beats and can be compared to the rhythm cycle for do-pa دو-پا dance music in Kurdish and Lorestani music.

3) Lazgi. The "lazgi لزگی" is the most famous Azerbaijani dance music rhythm cycle. It is played in medium to high tempo. Traditionally, it belongs to Azerbaijani instrumental music. The lazgi is in 6 beats.

4) Mahni. The "mahni ماهنی" is, in fact, a rhythmic form in Azerbaijani vocal music and can be considered equivalent to Persian tasnif تصنیف. The most famous rhythm cycle for the mahnis is in 6 beats. Some modern singers may sing some songs in other rhythm cycles, for example, influenced by Turkish music.


Ashiq: (Pl. Ashiqlar) Some believe that "Ashiq آشیق", also spelled as "عاشیق", comes from the Arabic word "eshgh عشق", while others believe that the word Ashiq has the same root as the words "Ashk اشک" and "Ashkanian اشکانیان". They believe that the history of Ashiq music dates back to the Ashkanian period (Parthian period 247 B.C.-224 A.D.) by mentioning this point that Ashgabat (in Persian, "Eshghabad عشق‌آباد", which is the capital of the Republic of Turkmenistan) had been one of the most important centers of Ashkanian. Note that in Azerbaijan, a famous tradition in the art of Ashiqlar, which is called de'ishma دییشمه is a kind of musical debate. According to a very old tradition of the skillful Ashiqs, occasionally the Ashiqs do the de'ishma musical debate, and if any of the Ashiqs loses the debate must give his instrument (the "saz" or the "qopuz") to the winner and leave the job! In this musical debate, composing poems by improvisation is often the winning tactic.

Qopuz: The "qopuz قوپوز" is a nine-stringed long-necked lute, performed by the Ashiqs in Azerbaijani music. It is more often called the "saz". Note that the "saz ساز" is a general term for any musical instrument in Iran, Turkey, and India. There is a similar long-necked lute, popular in Turkey called baglama.

Kamancha: The kamancha (an Azerbaijani dialect of the Persian word "kamancheh کمانچه") is a bowed spike fiddle performed in many countries like Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Central Asia, Turkey, and Egypt. Note that the word "kaman کمان" literally means bow and the word "kamancheh کمانچه" is a diminutive form of the "kaman".

Qawwali: "Qawwali قوالی" or ghawwali or kawali is the Islamic devotional song. It is a lively, light style, which has a popular appeal for both Muslims and Hindus alike.

Tar: Tar is a long-necked lute to be performed in Iran, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. Its Persian version is sometimes called "tar-e-shiraz تار شیراز" (i.e., the tar of Shiraz. Note that Shiraz is one of the most important cities in Persia), and its Azerbaijani version is called "tar-e-ghafghaz تارقفقاز" (i.e., the tar of the Caucasus). The word "tar تار" literally means string, chord, and so on. The word tar can be seen in the names of some other musical instruments such as "ektara ایکتارا", "dotar دوتار", "setar سه‌تار", sitar (in Urdu ستار), "khoshtar خوشتار", and even, guitar. Not to be confused with the Egyptian "tar طار", which is a frame drum.


[N]: Peyman Nasehpour, Personal Interview with Ostad Latif Tahmasebi-zadeh, Aug. 1994-Aug. 1995.

[S]: Mehdi Setayeshgar, Vazhe-Name-ye-Musighi-ye-Iran Zamin, Tehran, Vol. I (1995) & Vol. II (1996).

Keywords. ghaval, gaval, qaval, dayereh, dayere, frame, drum.

Also, see Azerbaijani Musical Instruments

Online Frame Drum Lessons

Peyman Nasehpour on the ghaval

Peyman Nasehpour on the ghaval and his music friends

Azerbaijani ghaval

Persian dayereh