an indepth look

The history of tonbak

The Tonbak, also known as the Tombak, is a traditional Persian classical drum with a rich history that spans centuries. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Persia, where it was an integral part of Persian music and culture. The Tonbak's distinctive shape, resembling an hourglass, is believed to have evolved from the ancient drum "Naghara," which was used in various ceremonies and festivities.

 Throughout history, the Tonbak has undergone several transformations, reflecting the diverse cultural influences that shaped Persian music. It became more prominent during the Qajar dynasty in the 19th century, where it earned recognition as a key instrument in classical Persian music ensembles. Over the years, renowned musicians and composers have contributed to refining the Tonbak's playing techniques, resulting in a complex and nuanced percussive instrument.

Today, the Tonbak remains an essential part of Persian classical music, captivating audiences worldwide with its rhythmic intricacy and evocative tones, carrying on its ancient legacy and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Iran.


how it is made

Crafting a tar is a meticulous and intricate process that requires the expertise of skilled artisans. The instrument begins with the selection of high-quality wood, typically mulberry or walnut, for the body. The bowl-shaped body is meticulously carved and shaped, creating the resonating chamber that gives the tar its distinct sound. The neck, often made of walnut or other hardwoods, is attached to the body, and frets made from gut or nylon are carefully positioned along the neck.

The tar is adorned with a bridge, which supports the strings and transmits their vibrations to the body. The strings, traditionally made from silk or brass, are meticulously tied to tuning pegs at the headstock, allowing for precise tuning. Finally, the tar is finished with intricate decorative inlays and patterns, often using materials such as mother-of-pearl or bone. The craftsmanship and attention to detail invested in creating a tar result in a visually stunning instrument that possesses a unique and resonant voice, ready to inspire musicians and captivate audiences for generations to come.


The sound of tonbak


The sound of setar


How it is played

To play the tonbak, you need to hold it diagonally across your torso, with the head facing slightly upwards and the bottom opening slightly downwards. You can use a strap or a stand to support the instrument if you wish. The basic strokes are:

Dum: A deep bass sound produced by hitting the center of the head with the palm of your dominant hand.
Tek: A high-pitched sound produced by hitting the edge of the head with the index or middle finger of your dominant hand.
Ka: A muted sound produced by hitting the edge of the head with the index or middle finger of your non-dominant hand.
Chap: A ringing sound produced by hitting the edge of the head with two or more fingers of your dominant hand. You can combine these strokes to create different rhythms and patterns, and also use other techniques such as rolls, slaps, snaps, and clicks.

You can also vary the pitch and tone of the strokes by applying different amounts of pressure and finger placement on the head. Some tonbak players also wear metal rings on their fingers to create extra sounds by clacking them against the shell.

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