Musical Instruments Popular in Afghanistan

Musical Instruments Popular in Afghanistan

by Peyman Nasehpour

Introduction. For historical reasons, Afghan music is strongly influenced by Indo-Persian traditional music as well as the folk music of Afghanistan's ethnicities. As a result, Indian and Persian instruments are heavily present in Afghan classical and folk music. Afghan classical music is closely related to North Indian classical music though, in their vocal music, they sing poems by Persian poets like Rumi. The following is a brief introduction to musical instruments popular in Afghanistan.

Armonia. The "armonia آرمونیا" is an Afghan name for the Indian harmonium (pump organ). The ancient Persian name for organ is "arghanun ارغنون" which is derived from its Greek name "organon όργανον". Many Persian poets included "arghanun" in their poems. For example, Farrokhi Sistani (1000 - 1040) says:

هنوز رود سرایان نساختند به روم     ز بهر مجلس او ارغنون و موسیقار

Chahartar. In Herat, the name "chahartar جهارتار" is used to indicate a Persian long-necked lute called "tar تار". For more on the term "chahartar" and the musical instrument "tar", check my note on Persian tar.

Chang. The "chang چنگ" stands for a Jew's harp in the Faryab province of Afghanistan.

Chimta. The "chimta چمتا" is a musical instrument consisting of metal tongs with circular metal jingles attached to it. It is popular in the religious music of Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

Daira. The "daira دایره" is a frame drum popular in many countries like Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Mainly played by women, the daira is also performed in Afghanistan. The name "dayra دایرا" is also used in Afghanistan to call this frame drum as Keivan Pahlevan reports. For more, see my note on the daf and dayereh.

Dambura. The "dambura (dambora) دَمبوره" (also known as "دامبوره") is a fretless two-stringed long-necked pear-shaped lute. It is performed in some countries like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also popular in northern Afghanistan. 

Delruba. The "delruba دلربا" (also spelled as dilruba) is an Indian musical instrument related to the Indian bowed instrument "sarangi سارنگی".

Dohol. The "dohol دهل" is a Persian double-faced cylindrical drum popular in Iran and many neighboring countries including Afghanistan. For more, see my note: Dohol Persian cylindrical drum.

Doholak. The "doholak دهلک" is a cylindrical drum popular in the folk music of Afghanistan, India, Iran, and Pakistan. The Persian term "doholak دهلک" is the diminutive form of the dohol.

Dutar. Traditionally, the "dutar دوتار" is a two-stringed long-necked lute though because of a radical change in the recent decades in Afghanistan, it has become a different musical instrument suitable for raga music. For more on the dutar and related instruments check my note: Dotar Persian two-stringed long-necked lute.

Ghaichak. The term "ghaichak قیچک" (also spelled as "ghichak قیچک") is the name for an Afghan spike fiddle with a large tin can as a resonator found in northern Afghanistan. The term "gheychak" is used for a kind of bowed musical instrument popular in Baluchi folk music, and also, Persian classical music. For more see Gheychak Persian Bowed Instrument.

Kemancheh. The "kemancheh کِمانچه" is a dialect of the Persian name kamancheh that stands for a kind of spike fiddle popular in Persian folk and classical music. For more, see Kamancheh Persian Spike Fiddle.

Nay. The "nay نی" (also spelled as "nai" in the Latin alphabet) is a kind of reed similar to the Persian ney. For more, see Ney the Persian Knotgrass Reed.

Qairaq. The "qairaq قایراق" is the Afghan stone castanets.

Qanun. The "qanun قانون" is a kind of zither popular in many Arab-specking countries, Iran, Turkey, and so on. It is also played in Afghanistan.

Qobuz. The "qobuz قوبوز" is the name of a fiddle, popular in northern Afghanistan, similar to the Indian sarinda and Persian gheychak. 

Rabab. The "rabab رَباب" is a general term for any kind of spike fiddle with a membranous belly. The "rabab" also stands for a kind of bowed instrument with a tin can as a resonator popular among Arab-speaking people in the Khuzestan province of Iran.

Rubab. The "rubab رُباب" is a short-necked lute with sympathetic strings heavily popular in the Pashtun music of Afghanistan. It is also used in Persian classical and folk music. In some Persian dictionaries, it has been explained that the term "rubab رباب" is the Arabicized term of "ravadah رَوادَه". In one of his verses, the Persian poet Adib al-Mamalek Farahani (1861 - 1917) explains that "rababah ربابه" is the same as "ravadah رواده". Note that "rababah" means a "rabab".

Santur. The "santur سنتور" is a Persian hammered dulcimer. Its Kashmiri version has become very popular in India, thanks to the efforts of Indian musicians like the late Pandit Shivkumar Sharma. It was played in Afghanistan also. For more, check my note Santoor Persian Hammered Dulcimer.

Sarangi. The "sarangi سارنگی" is an Indian bowed instrument also popular in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sarinda. The "sarinda ساریندا" is a bowed instrument played in Indian folk music and its shape is very similar to the Persian gheychak. It is also played in Afghanistan.

Sarod. The "sarod سَرُد" is a kind of lute performed in North Indian classical music. With a fretless metal fingerboard, it is played by a plectrum. The sarod is a development of the Afghan rubab.

Sitar. The "sitar ستار" is a typical Indian plucked long-necked lute also popular in Afghanistan.

Sormandel. The swarmandal or surmandal is an Indian box zither used as an accompanying instrument for vocal Indian classical music. Its Afghan name is the "sormandel سرماندل".

Sorna. The "sorna سُرنا" is the Persian oboe, also popular in Afghanistan.

Tabla. The "tabla طبلا" is a pair of small-sized Indian kettledrums popular in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is also called "tablah" in Afghanistan (in the Persian alphabet: "طبله" and "تبله"). For more, see my note on the Indian Tabla.

Tal. The "tal تال" is a pair of finger cymbals.

Tanbur. The "tanbur تنبور" is an Afghan long-necked lute with sympathetic strings. The Afghan tanbur is related to the Persian tanbour.

Tanpura. The "tanpura تنپورا" is an Indian long-necked-lute drone instrument also popular in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Tar. The "tar" is a Persian long-necked lute with a double-bowl-shaped resonator. A similar instrument with the same name is popular in the Caucasus. It is also used in Afghan music.

Tüidük. The "tüidük" is the name of a reed similar to the Persian ney, performed in the Qizilayaq region in the Faryab province of Afghanistan. A smaller reed, called "dili-tüidük", is popular in the same region. 

Tula. The "tula" is a wooden flute with six finger holes.

Ud. The "ud عود" is a lute popular in Arab-speaking countries and Turkey. It is also used in Afghanistan. For more on the Persian lute see my note on the barbat.

Waj. The "waj" (also called the "waji") is a traditional four or five-stringed arched harp played by Kafir people for story-telling in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan. The waj has two components: (1) There is a thick piece of animal skin stretched over the hollowed piece of wood that forms the soundbox. (2) On top of the soundbox, there is a curved branch that holds the strings.

Zirbaghali. The "zirbaghali زیربغلی" is an Afghan goblet-shaped drum similar to the Persian tonbak. For more on goblet drums, see the many names of doumbek.


[B]: John Baily, War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer's Tale, Routledge, New York, 2016.

[C]: David R. Courtney, Fundamentals of Tabla, Vol. I, Sur Sangeet Services, Houston, 1998.

[D]: Aloke Dutta, Tabla (Lessons and Practice), 2nd Edition, Texas, 1995.

[K]: Max Klimburg, The Arts of Societies of the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush, Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. Academic Search Premier EBSCO. 35 (3), 2004.

[P] Keivan Pahlevan, Daf and Dayere, in the history of Iran, in Farsi literature, and in Iranian world, Arvan publishers, Tehran, 2014.

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

The qairaq is the Afghan stone castanets.

The "qairaq قایراق" is the Afghan stone castanets.

Dutar, the two-stringed long-necked lute

Chang, the Jew's harp.