The Persian Tār

Historically speaking, the tār is derived from three other older instruments namely: barbat (ancient Persian lute), robāb (lute-like plucked instrument), and a member of the long-necked lute family, called tanbur (Vohdāni 1998, 21). The tār’s double sound boxes, or kāseh and naqāreh,1* which are hollowed from mulberry wood, are analogous to a figure 8 or two hearts, heterogeneous in size, that are attached together from their apexes (Caron and Safvat 2010, 205). The soundboard, or poost, is a thin membrane of lambskin that is stretched over the top face of both kāseh and naqāreh. The neck (dasteh) or fingerboard, which is attached from one end to the naqāreh and from the other end to the peg box or sar-panjeh, is made from walnut wood. Its top flat face, where the fingers touch the strings, is ornamented with two strips of camel’s bone equidistantly located from the central wooden section. The surface of the neck (dasteh) is enfolded by twenty-eight moveable gut2* frets, or pardeh. The peg box, or sar-panjeh, is also made from walnut wood, and it encompasses six tuning pegs, or gushi-hā, three on either side (Atrāi and Darvishi 2010, 15-20).

The Persian tār and its structural terminology

Considering the strings, the tar is comprised of three courses or sets of two-strings (double strings). The first set is called sim-ha-ye-sefid or hād, as they used to be called in ancient times. These two string-sets, which are made from identical material and tuned in unison, are located below the other two double strings. The second set of strings, which also consists of the same two strings tuned in unison, is called sim-ha-ye-zard or, historically speaking, zir. They are located between the first set and the third set and their constituent material is different from that of the other sets. The third set is called bam (bass) and is comprised of two dissimilar strings. The lower one is materially identical to the first double strings called zang or moshtāq.3* The top string of this set is called bam.4* These two strings are usually tuned one octave apart. The strings are stretched over the entire length of the instrument and woven around tuning pegs or gushi from one end and around the tailpiece or simgir―a wooden piece that is attached to the approximately flattened side of kāseh―from the other end. In addition, there exist two other sections where the strings are physically in contact with the instrument: bridge (kharak) and nut (sheytānak). The bridge or kharak is mounted on top of the portion of poost covering kāseh, and is made of antelope’s antler. After leaving the tailpiece, it is the first location on which the strings are mounted. The nut, or sheytānak, is located at the point where the dasteh is attached to the sar-panjeh. Before entering the pegs box, it is the last location on which the strings are mounted. The tār is played with a small brass plectrum, or mezrāb; a portion of this plectrum is covered with a malleable wax. The waxed part of the mezrab is placed on the middle finger and supported from above by the thumb. This is then covered by the index finger for cosmetic reasons.5*  1* – The bigger heart is called kāseh while the smaller heart is called naqāreh. 2* – Other equivalent materials are also used nowadays, such as nylon, badminton racket net, and so on. 3* – The setār, another instrument belonging to the long-necked lute family, has the same string nomenclature. However, in contrast to the tār (where the first and second set of strings are double-strings), each set of strings comprises a single string only. In the 18th century, a famous Sufi master who was also a setār player, Moshtāq Ali Shāh, added an extra string to the third single-string set, which is nowadays called the moshtāq string in his honour. Later, in the 19th century, Darvish Khan also added the moshtāq string to the tār and thereby increased the number of strings from five to six. 4* – As mentioned earlier, the name bam also applies for both bass strings (see Figure 27).

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