Sorna the Persian Oboe

Sorna the Persian Oboe

by Peyman Nasehpour

Introduction. The "sorna سرنا" is a Persian oboe usually performed on festive occasions. Its antiquity dates back to ancient times (at least Achaemenid's era). This note introduces the Persian oboe and some related instruments.

A lexical discussion of the term "sorna". The "sorna سرنا" is an abbreviation of "surnay سورنای", and "surnay" is the combination of the words "sur سور" and "nay نای", meaning "festival" and "reed", respectively. The other names for the sorna thoughout history are "surna سورنا", "sornay سرنای" (also with the spelling "صرنای"), "surnay سورنای", "sornay سُرنَی", "sornayeh صرنایه", "turna طورنا", "zorna زُرنا", "zornay زُرنَی", "zurnay زورنَی", and finally, "zurna زورنا". The plural of "sornay صورنای" is "sornayat صورنایات" [Dehkhoda dictionary]. Setayeshgar reports that the term "soriyanay سُریانای" also stands for the sorna.

In his book "Safarnama سفرنامه", "Nasir Khusraw ناصر خسرو" has included the term "sorna سرنا" once. A couple of ancient and contemporary poets have mentioned "sorna" in their works. Rumi, for example, has mentioned "sorna" in his poems several times. In one of his verses, he says:

بنال ای یار چون سرنا که سرنا بهر ما نالد     از آن دم‌های پرآتش که در سرنا دمیدستم

Another form of "sorna" is "sornay سرنای" and this form has also been mentioned in Persian poems. For instance, Rumi includes "sorna" and "sornay" in the following verse:

بانگ سرنای چه گر مونس غمگینان‌ست     از دم روح نَفَخنا دل سرنا چه خوشست

In Persian the terms "sornanavaz سرنانواز" and "sornachi سرناچی" are applied in the sense of a "sorna player".

Some wind instruments related to Persian sorna

The "karna کرنا" is an abbreviation of "karnay کارنای" and "karnay" is the combination of the words "kar کار" and "nay". Note that the word "kar کار" has many meanings such as "action", "occupation", and "work", but in the past, it meant "battle" and "war". The "karna" which is also played today was an imperative part of the music played on battlefields for the courage of soldiers. Ferdowsi and other poets have used the name "karnay کرنای" (another form of "karna") extensively. For example, Ferdowsi says:

بیارای پیلان بزنگ و درای    جهان پر کن از ناله‌ی کرنای

The oboe which is very similar to the sorna and popular in North Indian music is called "shehnai شهنای" (in Urdu "شہنائی") and it is played on festive occasions such as wedding ceremonies. A South Indian music version of shehnai is called "nadaswaram" and other names for nadaswaram are "nadhaswaram" and "nagaswaram".

The "suona" is a Chinese oboe that originated in Persian sorna.

The structure of the sorna

The sorna is a double-reed musical instrument popular in the folk music of Persia (Iran). Near the reed, most are equipped with a disc (pirouette). Breathing is controlled by pressing the lips against the disc enclosing the reed. A small spike is provided for adjusting the reed and finger holes. The length of the sorna is usually between 30 and 45 centimeters and sometimes it is longer up to 60 centimeters. 

The sorna is performed in many Iranian provinces such as Azerbaijan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Fars, Hormozgan, Khorasan, Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Lorestan, Mazandaran, and Sistan and Baluchistan. The sorna is usually accompanied by the dohol (Persian cylindrical drum), but in some Persian sub-cultures, it is accompanied by the naghareh (Persian kettledrum).


[B] Taghi Binesh, Tarikh-e Mokhtasar-e Musighi-ye Iran, Arvin Publisher, Tehran, 1995.

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

[D] B. Chaintanya Deva, Indian Music, New Delhi, 1974.

[LS] Loh, M., and Sing, L.Y., Traditional Chinese Music in Contemporary Singapore, Pagesetters Services Pte Ltd, Midview, 2020.

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

Also check my note on Nowruz Songs.

Ali Akbar Mehdipour Dehkordi the Master of Sorna

Ali Akbar Mehdipour Dehkordi the Master of Sorna

The sorna and the dohol

The sorna and the dohol

Also check my note on Nowruz Songs.