Category Archives: The Art Of The Persian Santur

فرامرز پایورMaster Farāmarz Pāyvar -SANTUR

Luigi Pesce, Mosque of Qom, Iran, c

“ I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” – Hafez


(Born in  Tehran, 1932). Persian  santur player and composer. He comes from a musical family and for six years, from the age of 17, studied the santur with Abolhasan Sabā, followed by further training with other masters of Persian traditional music. Pāyvar has combined a career as a virtuoso performer and composer with scholarship which has yielded a number of significant publications. They include original compositions as well as arrangements and books on the technique of santur. His recordings, published both in Persia and abroad, are numerous. They encompass recordings of some of the dastgāhs with the inclusion of all known guڑes, also shorter renditions of dastgāhs, original compositions and ensemble pieces written or arranged by him. He has travelled widely and is known internationally for his many concerts and recordings.

Pāyvar has a thorough knowledge of the radif of Persian traditional music. He has advanced the technique of santur playing to levels not attained by any other santur player. His performances of any given dastgān generally display exceptional agility and smoothness of hammer action on the santur, use of a wide range of sound, and the interpolation of difficult and lengthy composed èahārmesrābs. On the other hand, his performance style is peppered with features of western virtuoso displays such as rapid scale movements, arpeggio patterns and passages in parallel thirds, all of which are essentially alien to Persian music.



Master Faramarz Payvar

Dastgah Shur
Dastgah Homayoun
Dastgah Segah
Zarb solo
Dastgah Chahargah


Payvar [Faramarz] (1932) Composer, santour player, born in Tehran. He knew Radif. His father was Ali Payvar [he was Painter and he was play Setar and Santour]. Payvar studied Music in Darolfonoun School. However, he studied English languagein Cambridge University at 1341 (1962).

His teachers were Abol Hassan Saba [6’th years], Abdollah Davami and Nour Ali Broumand [Sing Radif], Hussein Dehlavi and Melik Aslanian [Harmony and Counter Point] and Hussein Tehrani. He published
many book for Santour. He conducted Farhang-Honar Ensemble at 1345 (1966). He published Davami’s Radif and Roknoddin’ssongs.

He recorded many Cassettes, Disc, and CD with Hussein Tehrani, Ali Asghar Bahari, MohammadEsmaeili, Houshang Zarif, Hassan Nahid and … He has many students, including Saeid Sabet, Pejman Azarmina and …
« Faramarz Payvar is a well-known name in Iran for he is the most prominent santur virtuoso and his touch has created the most beautiful sounds of the cascade-like glissandi on the instrument, all of them products of a highly cultivated mind. He was born in 1932 in Tehran. His father was a professor of French language and also a keen and productive painter. His grandfather,
Mosavvar-od-Doleh was the court painter in Qajar period; Some of his paintings are kept in royal palaces of Iran. Both could play violin and santur and was in close relationship with some masters of the day. Faramarz Payvar began his musical studies at the age of 17 with Abolhasan Saba and completed radif in 6 years. So prominent was his development, that he accompanied his
master in several occasions. Their collaboration has been recorded and is made available for music-lovers. He completed his primary and high schools in Asjodi School and in Dar-ol-Fonun. In 1952 he began his military service and after that was employed by the Ministry of Finance and Economy. After Saba’s death, Payvar continued his studies with Ostad Davami, Ostad Ma’rufi and Ostad Borumand by surveying and learning radifs of Darvish Khan, Aqa Hoseyn-Qoli and Mirza Abdollah and
perfected and completed his musical knowledge. In this period he compiled and transcribed the great legacy of Persian music,thus preserved it for the ages to come.

The most important works that he collected are: Volcal Radif of Persian Music accordingto the version of Abdollah Davami Anthology of old Tasnifs; Works of Sheyda, Aref, Sama’ Hozur… Works of Darvish Khan andRokneddin Mokhtari. Payvar also studied composition with Ostad Dehlavi and Emanuel Melik-Aslanian. He began his career as aperforming artist – playing santur – in 1955, and arranged solo recitals as well as duos with Abolhasan Saba and Hoseyn Tehrani
for radio broadcasting.

After National Television was founded, Payvar managed to perform live programs which turned out to be of high importance in making people get familiar to Persian music. In 1963 he went to England to study English in Cambridge University. During the 3 years of language studies, he could also give santur recitals and lectures on Persian music in Cambridge and London Colleges. After returning from England, he performed remarkably in Shiraz Art Festival with numerous musicians
and other masters of Persian music. In 1967 Rudaki Hall was founded and the peak of his career began. He performed many pieces by past masters and accompanied great vocalists of the day in concerts held in newly founded place. In
1968 he was transferred to the Ministry of Education and retired in 1976.” (Source :


Faramarz_Payvar_Hossein Therani

Zarbe Osoul
Chaharmezrab Shour az Saba
Mahouro Delkash & Chaharmezrab
Ghet`e Ferdows
Renge Tork az Darvishkhan


[sadouri, santûr, sant’ur, santuri, sintir, tsintsila].

Dulcimer of the Middle East, south-eastern Europe and South and East Asia. It is used in Iran, Iraq, India, Kashmir, Turkey, Greece, Armenia, China and Tibet.

The prototype of the instrument may be seen in a harp, carried horizontally and struck with two sticks, found in iconographical documents of the ancient Babylonian (1600–911 bce) and neo-Assyrian (911–612 bce) eras. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the santir appears among the instruments in the orchestra of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Chaldea (604–562 bce). Certain Arab sources mention its use during the Sassanian era (226–641 ce). In the 11th century the instrument was known to Spanish Muslims and, in the 14th, Ibn Khaldûn mentioned its use by Arabs in North Africa. In the 16th century the Egyptians made a distinction between the qânûn and the santûr; Villoteau (Description de l’Egypte, Paris, 1809–28) referred to the santûr as marginal in Egypt itself, though the instrument was most definitely used at that time in Iraq.

In Iran the santur consists of a trapeziform case made of walnut wood, approximately 90 cm wide at the broad end, 35 cm wide at the narrow end and 6 cm deep. The sides form an angle of 45° to the wider end. The strings are fixed to hitch-pins along the left-hand side and wound round metal wrest-pins on the right by means of which they are tuned with a tuning-key. Each quadruple set of strings rests on a movable bridge of hardwood (kharak). These bridges are aligned almost parallel with the sides of the case. The right-hand rank corresponds to the bass strings and that on the left to the treble strings. In the centre of the santur the low-pitched strings on the right cross the high-pitched strings on the left.

The left-hand strings can be played on either side of the bridges. In this way three different courses of strings are available: the lowest-sounding on the right, a second series, sounding an octave higher, left of centre, and the highest-sounding series, giving the third octave, on the left. There are nine (or sometimes 11) quadruple strings on either side so that, with 18 groups of strings, 27 different notes can be played. The bass strings are of brass and the trebles of steel. The first series of strings has a range of e’–f”, the second e”–f”’ and the third e”’–f””. The tuning can be readily modified by adjusting the position of the bridges.

The santur is played by striking the strings with two light hammers (mezrâb) held in three fingers of each hand. The hammers do not rebound and the tremolo is controlled solely by a rapid alternating movement of the right and left wrists. Tradition calls for a delicate and precise tone-quality which is obtained only with light hammers of hardwood, and some players stick felt to the ends of the hammers to soften the impact; others have obtained the same result by laying a piece of cloth on the strings. During the second half of the 20th century the Iranian santur virtuoso Farâmarz Pâyvar wrote several books on performance techniques.

The contemporary Iraqi santûr consists of a trapeziform soundbox made from two boards of wood joined together by splints of varying height; hardwoods such as walnut, bitter orange, white beech or apricot may be used. It is approximately 80 to 90 cm wide at the broad end, 31 to 41 cm wide at the narrow end and 7 to 12 cm deep, though when an instrument is made to accompany a specific singer, the size of the soundbox may be changed to accommodate the register of the singer’s voice.

The Iraqi santûr generally has 23 (recently 25) courses of strings (triple, quadruple and rarely quintuple) tuned in unison. There is no damping mechanism, so the sound of the struck melody notes is accompanied by the sympathetic vibrations of the other strings. Strings were traditionally metallic and varied in thickness, treble ones being of steel and those for the lower octaves of bronze. Bronze has now been replaced by nylon, either used by itself or alternating with brass or steel wire. Each group of strings rests on a movable hardwood bridge with a circular base in the shape of a bobbin. The bridges are placed so that the strings are divided into three sections, giving the fundamental note and two higher octaves. The santûr is played with two light sticks held in three fingers of each hand (see illustration); the ends of the sticks are usually covered with cloth to soften their impact on the strings.

Unlike its modern counterpart, the ancient Persian santûr has fixed bridges, which make it impossible to tune the notes during performance; only a number of basic modes may be played and transposed by three or more degrees on any one instrument. The ancient santûr is still played in Iraq. The santûr has a range of more than three octaves from g to a”’.

In South Asia, the santûr was restricted until recently to Kashmir, with its strong Persian culture. The construction of the Kashmiri santûr is similar to that of its Iranian counterpart (though smaller, deeper, and held on the player’s lap), but the tuning differs. Its 100 strings are tuned to nine scalar degrees to the octave (whole tones plus a flat 3rd and 7th) and the range is over one-and-a-half octaves. 12 degrees have two quadruple courses (one of steel, struck with the sticks, and one of brass, resonating sympathetically); the 13th has only a steel course.

In Iran the santur is an important instrument in the traditional orchestra, with the same repertory as the târ and setâr (lutes). It is also used in motrebi (music for entertainment), but never in folk music. In Iraq the santûr is part of the classicalshâlghî al baghdâdî (‘Baghdad ensemble’) along with the jûza (four-string spike fiddle), the daff zinjârî (frame drum with cymbalets), the tabl (single-headed drum) and the naqqâra (double kettledrum). The principal role of the shâlghî is to accompany classical singing (maqâm ‘irâqî) in teahouses, private homes and concerts. In the Caucasus, the sant’ur or santuri (which may have from 13 to 26 courses from triple to quintuple) is used mainly in the sazandar and ashugh (folk poet-singers) ensembles. In Greece its equivalent, the sadouri, is used in small folk ensembles.

The Kashmiri santûr is the leading instrument of the religious art-music ensemble sûfyâna kalâm (‘Sufic utterance’). Together with the setâr (long lute), dukrâ (drums) and (formerly) the sâz-î-kâshmîr (spike fiddle), it accompanies kalâm songs in a repertory of over 50 modes, some with Indian râga names, some Middle Eastern. It was introduced into Hindustani râga music by Shiv Kumar Sharma, who has become the instrument’s most famous exponent. Fixed-pitch chordophones were not formerly prominent in Indian court music because of the stylistic importance of voice-derived portamento (mir), but Sharma introduced a virtuoso stick-technique which re-creates the sound of vocal portamento through timing and tremolo. Since then the instrument has enjoyed growing popularity. It does not have a fixed tuning system but is re-tuned from piece to piece to a scale in the râga system, in three octave registers.

H.G. Farmer: ‘The Music of Ancient Mesopotamia’, ‘The Music of Islam’, NOHM, i (1957), 228–54, 421–77

M.H. al Ridjab: Al maqâmal-‘irâqî [The Iraqi maqâm] (Baghdad, 1961)

N. Caron and D. Safvate: Iran: traditions musicales (Paris, 1966)

S.A. Rashid: Târîkh al-âlât al-mûsîqîyya fî-l-‘irâq al-qadîm [History of musical instruments in ancient Iraq] (Beirut, 1970)

B.C. Deva: Musical Instruments of India (Calcutta, 1978)

S.Q. Hassan: Les instruments de musique en Irak et leur rôle dans la société traditionelle (Paris, 1980)

J. During: La musique iranienne: tradition et evolution (Paris, 1984)

N. Tremoulhac: ‘‘غd, santur, naqqara’, Journal of the Académie Musicologique du Forez, France, i (1984), 44–9

J. Pacholczyk: Sûfyâna mûsîqî: the Classical Music of Kashmir (Berlin, 1996)



Veteran Iranian composer and Santour player Faramarz Payvar has passed away at the age of 77 in the capital city of Tehran.

Payvar, one of the country’s prominent composers, died on Wednesday morning after struggling with brain damage for a long time.

Faramarz Payvar started learning music at the age of 17 under the tutorship of great Iranian master Abol-Hasan Saba.

His achievements in traditional Persian music and playing the Santour brought him great fame, leading to his co-operations with the Iranian Department of Art and Culture in 1954.

Payvar founded the ‘Art and Culture Orchestra’, which included such renowned figures as Hossein Tehrani, Khatere Parvaneh, Houshang Zarif, Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, Rahmatollah Badiee and Abdol-Vahab Shahidi.

He also played the Setar and published a book on Tar and Setar in 1996.

After getting a scholarship from Iran’s National Music Conservatory, Payvar majored in English Language at Cambridge University and was graduated in 1965.

Payvar, who was also studying Western music at the Royal Academy of Music in London, ended his life as a master composer of Persian music.

The veteran artist amazed music lovers by his performances in every corner of the world. His world tours took him to countries like the US, Germany, the UK, Sweden, France, Japan, Italy, Malaysia, and Russia.


Farâmarz Pâyvar and his place in Iranian music

LAP Lambert Academic Publishing ( 2010-05-21 )

This book describes the contribution of an eminent Iranian musician and composer, Ostâd Farâmarz Pâyvar, to the performance practice of contemporary Iranian classical music. It argues that Pâyvar was responsible for the rehabilitation of the Iranian hammered dulcimer or santûr within the Iranian classical repertoire, developing and refining its playing techniques and repertoire and transmitting his innovative and sophisticated ideas about the performance of Iranian classical music through his pedagogical practice and publications. A brief biography of Pâyvar, emphasising his musical lineage and heritage and his influence on subsequent generations of musicians, is also included. The thesis is in part a personal tribute to Pâyvar, who was the teacher and musical mentor of the writer.

Book Details:




Book language:English
By (author) :Qmars Piraglu

Number of pages:160
Published on:2010-05-21

see also :                81yvar_and_His_Place_in_Irani.html?id=3gOxNQAACAAJ&redir_esc=y




Kharanaq old city, Iran

Introducing the Persian Santur

A Persian Qajar Pottery Tile with Star, Tehran, 19th C


Persian santur (san-tour) is a fixed string musical instrument which is played with a couple of light wooden hammers. Santur has an isosceles trapezoidal shape. Its overall shape, tuning design, and playing methods are similar to the American hammered dulcimer and East Indian santoor. Santur’s origin traces back to other instruments “played by striking cords with hammer like implements,” back to ancient Persians in the Middle East, India, and perhaps ancient China. Contemporary santur design, however, is most likely no more than two centuries old. This santur is prevalent mostly in Middle East, but is also used in Greece and Turkey. There are many variations of santur design depending on the region of origin, the musical notes it produces, and preferences of instrument maker and musicians. In fact the santur images in this article vary somewhat from the stated design specifications. In this article, we focus on a santur design that is most popular in contemporary Iran or Persia. Persian pronunciations (e.g. santour) are included (in italics) as a courtesy to the culture that has fostered the evolution of this instrument over centuries. A glossary at the end provides the words in Persian script.

Santur provides over three octaves of musical notes (E3 – F6 or mi3-fa6). Each musical note is delivered by a course of four strings (seem) tuned exactly to the same pitch. The strings of same course share the same chessman style bridge (kharak). In this design, there are two columns of nine courses each, with bass courses on the right, and treble courses on the left. Accordingly, this type of santur is named Nine-bridge (noh-kharak). Treble bridges are positioned so that the resulting two (left and right) treble courses provide two consecutive musical octaves (higher and mid-range) with one additional overlap note. Bridges are positioned on the soundboard. Santur soundboard rests on the frame (kalaaf) which consists of top rail, bottom rail, and hitch pin block on the left and tuning pin block on the right side. Santur frame is attached to the back board opposite to the soundboard. The space encased by the frame rails, soundboard and back comprise the santur soundbox. Every string originates via a loop from a hitch pin (seem geer) over the left side bridge (sheytaanak / zehvaareh) and saddle rod (maftool), sharing a bridge with three other strings in the course. The string then travels to the right side saddle and side bridge and is eventually wound around its own tuning pin (gooshi). There are 72 strings, hitch pins and tuning pins in a “Nine-bridge” santur. Bass bridges are arranged with the top bridge positioned at 50MM, and bottom bridge at 130MM from the right saddle The musical notes on the right side of bass bridges are not used.

The nine phosphorous bronze alloy (bass) string courses provide (E3 – F4 or mi3-fa4). The middle and higher octaves are played on the steel (treble) courses in the middle and left side which are tuned to (E4 – F5 or mi4-fa5) and (E5 – F6 or mi5-fa6) respectively. The two most popular Nine-bridge santur types are distinguished by the tuning of the third (from the bottom) bass course. The most prevalent version has this course tuned to (G3 or sol3), and is traditionally known as G-tuned (sol kouk) santur. The other less popular version is tuned to (A3 or La3) as third bass note, and is traditionally known as A-tuned (La kouk) santur. The latter type provides (F3  –  G6  or  fa3-sol6) musical note range. This article will focus only on the “Nine-bridge” G-tuned (sol kouk) santur.

About Persian Music

Santur is mainly used in playing traditional (sonnati) music of Persia. It is not conducive to playing Western style music. Persian and generally Middle Eastern music has much more complex nuances than could be discussed here. Most common practice in Persian traditional music is to use the chromatic scale. Tones similar to Quarter-tones (half semitone) notes are also used routinely. A quarter-tone is equal to 50 cents or 2 Pythagorean commas. The scale of Persian music is not fixed on the same twelve notes. Accidental notes are used routinely. Because of these complexities which add additional burden of re-tuning, violin, Persian oud, and other non-fretted instruments are much easier to tune for Middle Eastern music. Quarter-tone note tuning of santur is often accomplished by moving the bridges and not using the tuning pins. This practice, although convenient for the musician, diminishes somewhat the acoustic response of the santur if not its structural integrity.

Persian traditional music differs from its contemporary rhythmic counterpart in that it is melodic, mostly slow and very structured. Singing in the traditional Persian music, to the ears of Westerners, is an enchanting blend of yodeling and Western opera. Traditional Persians are passionate about poetry. The traditional music lyrics though lacking opera like story line, is poetry-based and somewhat similar in lyric tone to that of American blues music.

General Santur Structure

A typical santur structure is said to be under a tensile force equivalent to 900 + Kg (1,980 lb or one ton). It is generally made to be light and portable typically (3–4 Kg or 8 lb), and constructed of thinnest-size parts. From a structural viewpoint, it is relatively no less complex than a wide underground tunnel designed and built by civil engineers. Santur design has an additional requirement in that it must produce pleasant and uniform volume musical sounds.


The santur frame (top rail, bottom rail, tuning pin block, hitch pin block) resides between the soundboard and the back, and provide the bulk of support for santur’s structure. The frame also plays a role in the tonal quality of the santur. Top side of frame where it is in contact with soundboard is tapered down on the interior edge to minimize the contact area between the soundboard and frame rails.

Top and Bottom Rail

Top and bottom rail provide the main structural support to the pin blocks and somewhat contribute to the acoustic performance of the soundbox. Bottom rail has a sound hole at its center. This design differs from typical Persian santur in that the pin blocks are lapped over the ends of top and bottom rails. Top and bottom rails are thus not extended all the way to the corners or dado joined as practiced in Persia. The lapped-over joint is said to provide better support for the pin blocks.

Tuning and Hitch Pin Blocks

Some Persian santur makers glue three layers of hardwood with the middle later in a transverse grain orientation to prevent cracking of the tuning pin block.

Tuning Pins

Hammered dulcimer tuning pins will work just as well. Refer to the supplier’s specifications for pin sizes.

Shape: overall cylindrical, tapered thread at one end; square or rectangular cross-section at other end – pierced to accommodate string winding
Material: Nickel or chrome plated steel Overall length: 41MM
Tapered thread length: 23MM
Diameter: 5MM
Square end side: 4MM

Hitch Pins

Hammered dulcimer hitch pins will work just as well. Refer to the supplier’s specifications for pin and drill bit sizes.

Shape: cylindrical Material: Nickel or chrome plated steel
Length: 25.5MM
Diameter: 3.7MM

Pin Holes

There is one hole for each string in the tuning and hitch pin blocks. The holes are arranged in a single column, although some suggest staggering of the holes as well. There are eighteen columns and four holes per column. Drilling these 144 holes in the pin blocks is a tedious process, and requires accuracy as well as patience. Using jigs and prior practice is definitely recommended.


Soundboard covers the upper part of frame rails. Be sure to drill / carve the sound holes at proper location on the soundboard before gluing. Soundboard is the most costly piece in santur in terms of the wood, cut and quality. Use a separate 10MM thick piece of scrap wood on top of the soundboard when and if drilling to prevent splintering. Practice drilling on scrap wood first. A good soundboard is made of dense and dry wood like walnut. It has uniform fine wood grain lines (2–3MM apart) in parallel with the strings with little or no anomaly in the wood pattern. Thinner soundboards provide best tonal quality in a santur. The vertical stress on the soundboard comes from the bridges (downward) and from the frame rail and soundposts (upward). The areas on a soundboard most vulnerable to cracking are the strips at the top and bottom edges of the soundboard, between the frame rails and the nearest bridge. Some santur makers vary the thickness (up to three different sizes) of the different regions of soundboard to accommodate this. You will find it easier if you measure the exterior dimensions of soundboard and back slightly larger (1–2MM) and trim it by sanding or routing after the construction is completed. Mark the precise location of sound holes on the soundboard.


Back board encases the lower part of frame rails completing the soundbox and supporting the soundboard via soundposts. It will help a lot to draw the diagram of santur on the back board and identify precise location of soundposts, frame rails, etc. You will find it easier if you measure the back panel slightly larger (1–2MM) and trim it after the construction is completed. Mark the precise location of frame and soundposts on the inside of the back board.


Santur has four support soundposts and one tuning soundpost inside the soundbox between the soundboard and the back. Support soundposts are glued to the back board only. Soundposts are not glued to the soundboard. Soundposts must not be positioned closer than 19MM to any bridge; must be installed in horizontal positions between adjacent bridges; and not in a column parallel with any bridge column. The santur design presented here, strives to accommodate occasional tuning-movement of bridges by adding additional clearance between the soundposts and the nominal bridges. General location of these soundposts is as follows;

• Between and to the left of C & D bass bridges
• Between and to the left of B & C treble bridges
• Between and to the right of C & D treble bridges
• Between and to the left of F & G treble bridges

There is also one “tuning” soundpost which is intended to balance or regulate the tonal balance of santur’s music box. The latter is installed only after the santur is completely assembled and a string is tuned. Tuning soundposts are not glued at all.


Bridges are customarily turned from hardwood; one bridge for each course in contemporary santurs. Taller bridge heights are used with harder wood like walnut. Taller bridges also increase the stress on the soundboard. Individual bridges in santur facilitate semi/quarter tone adjustment of string notes by moving its bridge instead of using tuning pins. This practice is counter to maintaining the structural integrity and tonal quality of a santur, and may shorten the useful life of a santur. Bridge bottom (khazineh) surfaces are carved (actually turned) in a concave manner with a rim of about 1–2MM wide, and depth of 1–1.2MM. Bass bridges are located with string length of 50MM and 130MM from the right saddle (top and bottom respectively – center to center). Treble bridges are located at approximately 1/3 distance (center to center) from the left saddle so that the left side of each course produces the pitch of the same note in the next higher octave. Bottom surface of bridges should be sanded and polished to a smooth surface. Bridge cap (saachmeh) should be made of tempered nickel plated steel rods. Do not use Delrin rods or bronze rods for santur.

Bridge caps:

Shape: cylindrical

Material: Nickel or chrome plated steel
Length: 16MM
Diameter: 2.5MM

Side Bridges

Make side bridges from hardwood like walnut. Tuning side bridge is installed with 2MM over-hang along the pin block. Saddles or side bridge caps should be made of tempered nickel plated steel rods with same material and diameter as hitch pins. Do not use Delrin rods or bronze rods for santur.


Selection – More dense varieties of walnut and birch are the primary wood used for making fine santurs in Persia. Other hardwood such as Siberian Elm (Choob-eAazaad), betel palm (foofel), and mulberry wood have also been used. Autumn lumbered, fine fiber dense wood from warm and dry climates is more suitable for making santur. The narrower and closely aligned grain lines, the more suitable the wood. Forest grown trees tend to grow more straight and thus produce more uniform wood than the urban variety. Climate change and other factors influence the closeness and width of the rings in cross section of trees which produce the grain lines. There should be no knots or other anomalies in the wood grain of the soundboard. Use of soft or unseasoned wood should be avoided. There is no requirement that you use different types of wood in santur. The same type of wood can pretty much be used for all the pieces.

Seasoning – The wood for musical instruments must be prepared dry and free of tree sap and oil. Steaming is sometimes used to dissolve and extract the tree sap within the wood fibers for thinner pieces. Heating of the wood in a large kiln or pizza oven is another method to “boil the sap” out of the wood. This process requires experience and care must be taken so that the wood remains hard yet flexible. Fully seasoned wood should have between 12-15% (never over 19%) moisture and this could take a long time if it is done naturally. The wood that is dried naturally in the shade and in the flow of air for an average of a couple of years produces the best sound quality. Wood that has not been seasoned adequately is susceptible to warping and produces inferior tonal performance. To maintain a good sound quality, keep the santur away from exposure to moisture and sunlight. Store this instrument in its own case with desiccating chemicals or drying agents.

Strings (seem)

Use only the type of steel string made for musical instruments (music or piano wires). Strings are susceptible to rusting in humid environment. Chrome or nickel plated music steel wire is used for treble strings and phosphorus bronze plated steel music wire is used for bass strings. Gauges are .015″–.016″ (.38MM–.41MM). All strings are looped at hitch end, and wound at tuning end, with minimum of (7) windings to ensure stable winding.

Hammers (mezrab)

Santur is played with a couple of wooden hammers (mezrab), much thinner, lighter (4 grams) and traditionally more ornate than those of American hammered dulcimers. The short dimensions of santur hammers (22–24MM x 30MM) make it possible to use just about any types of dry light, very dense but high resonance hard wood like rosewood. The striking surface tips of hammers are sometimes covered with felt to produce a milder sound.


Use an adhesive that provides a good bond and cures to at least the same hardness as the soundboard. Persian santur makers use a gelatin based hot hide glue (serishom), which when heated indirectly and applied, dries to a hard, durable and moisture free texture. Steam is used in a double layer pot to heat this glue. You can use any type of glue which is appropriate for American hammered dulcimer including Franklin’s Tightbond II.

Wood Finish

Santur finish must dry fast without much penetration in the wood; protect exterior of santur surface against heat and moisture; endure high pressure from bridges and transmit vibrations from the bridges to the soundboard without flaking or cracking. Persian santurs are coated with a natural spirit varnish after the trimming, sanding and sometimes staining. The varnish is a mixture of lacquer as main resin and alcohol (lock-alkol). Somewhat darker non-reflecting finishes are preferred for santur. Color pigments stains are also used to improve color tone of lacquer. Violin shops are good places to get advice about varnish for santurs.

Construction Steps

Santur building is a time consuming project. Measurements must be made with less than one Millimeter tolerance. Having a viable blueprint and instructions is a must. If you are not experienced with woodworking, or have not previously built musical instruments, practices building each piece with scraps of wood until you are satisfied with the results. It is helpful to construct each piece as specified before attempting assembly. It also helps to build a frame jig from scrap wood that would surround and hold the frame of your finished santur frame while the adhesive cures. Always have the retaining clamps ready to use. Dry run the gluing process before you actually apply the glue to make sure everything is ready once the glue is applied. Practice gluing and curing on scrap wood to gain expertise in glue application. Always wipe any extra glue immediately after the clamps are applied. Take care to not let the adhesive get on the surrounding jig or retaining clamps. After the curing of the glue is complete, sand the inside of any visible glue. Sand and dust the inside surfaces to a smooth finish. Inside of your santur soundbox should be somewhat smooth and free of any visible glue marks. Do not use nails.

1. Prepare the Pieces – Cut and prepare each piece in precise dimensions according to the blueprint. You will find it easier if you measure the soundboard and back panel slightly larger (1–2MM) and trim afterward. Draw the layout on the interior surface of back board and identify the position of the support soundposts on the drawing. Draw the layout on the exterior surface of soundboard and identify the position of the sound holes on the drawing.

Pre-drill all holes in pin blocks. This is probably the most difficult part of building a santur as these holes are all at angle to the pin block surface (parallel to the courses). It is helpful to use a template or more preferably a jig to obtain precise cuts and holes. For best holes, keep your drill bits sharp and cool. A wood hole with charred inside will not be able to hold the string tension. When drilling, use separate10MM thick pieces of wood scrap between the drill and the santur surface to minimize splintering. Use a stopper guide or bushing around your drill bit to prevent drilling through the pin blocks. American dulcimer makers have found that counter sinking the holes by 1–2MM improves the aesthetics of their instruments. If you mis-drill a hole, the whole pin block will most likely need to be replaced. Blow out any dust that may have collected inside the pin block holes.

2. Glue Soundposts to Back – The back and soundposts can be cut and assembled at this point. Use a level or lay the back on top of the soundposts to verify uniform height of soundposts. A thread spool- like block may be used to ensure the correct vertical orientation of the soundpost on the back while the glue is curing. Take care to insure vertical orientation and uniform height between soundposts.

Remove any dust from interior of the pieces. Dry fit the frame pieces together on a flat surface to ensure tight fit, uniform height, and adequate surface contact. Test use of jigs and / or clamps to hold the glued pieces together while curing. Glue the frame pieces two pieces at a time (top rail and hitch block, and bottom rail and tuning pin block), and then complete the gluing of the final two pieces.

There are two approaches in the way you order gluing the back and soundboard to frame. The first approach (practiced in Persia) glues the frame to the back first, then the soundboard. The second approach (described here) would glue the soundboard to the frame first then the back. The advantage of the second approach is that if there are any problems with the height of the soundposts or if you feel you must correct for any warping in either boards, you still have one more opportunity to adjust the height of, or even replace a soundpost. A second advantage of the latter method is that gluing of the soundboard to the frame is more of a delicate process because the surface being glued is tapered. Gluing and having access to the interior side of the glued surface enables you to better clean any glue overlap. You do not have that option with the first approach unless you remove the back first.

3. Glue the Soundboard to Frame, then Frame to the Back – Spread the glue only on the narrow flat edge near to the exterior edge at the top of frame where the soundboard would be attached. It is important that you use the glue sparingly, and avoid gluing the tapered part of the top of the frame. Place and glue the soundboard on top of the frame using sturdy clamps.

Verify that the height of soundposts is 1–1.5MM above the frame by placing the back on top of the frame. The back should sit on soundposts with a 1MM gap with the frame. This is a critical step. If a soundpost is too short, the benefit of soundposts is essentially nullified and buzzing may even render your instrument useless. If a soundpost is too tall, it will create problem for other soundposts. Correct any problem before proceeding to the next step.

Next glue the frame to the back being careful not to tip over any of the support posts. Do not glue the top of supporting posts. You will need to use a dozen sturdy clamps to press the frame against the back in spite of the resistance by the soundposts. Do not remove the clamps until the glue is fully cured. This may take several days. Once the glue is cured, any over-hanging part of the soundboard and back may be removed by sanding or routing. After the bond between the back and frame rails is cured, the side bridges may be glued and clamped on to the soundboard.

4. Mark and carve the string guide notches on the exterior side bridges -Santur strings tend to ride up toward the top side if not guided properly. The grooves or notches on the outer edge of side bridges play an important role in the spacing between and alignment of strings on the bridges. If these notches are not laid properly, the player will see uneven spacing of strings on a course and between courses which is least desirable. It may help to use wooden dowels in tuning pin holes so that proper contact point of the strings with tuning pins may be best approximated. Place saddles on both bridges. Mark the top outer edge of the side bridge where the center positions of the 18 courses will be located. The center position is half way between the second and third string in a course. Mark the notch locations 2MM apart measured along the bridge length around the center positions. Bend a solid 2MM thick wire in form of letter “J” with a length of 100MM and bottom diameter equal to the diameter of a tuning pin. You will be using this J-rod to approximate the path of the string for which you are creating the notch. Mark the side bridges as close to, and parallel to the J-rod direction. Continue this process for the bottom and top strings of every course, and then mark the position of other strings evenly. Use a very thin (0.3MM) finishing X-acto razor saw to carve the notches starting at the top of the bridge and ending about 1MM below the top surface of the pin block. The groove depth should be curved to best approximate the natural path of the strings from saddle to the tuning pin. Place the string inside the first few grooves to test the correct angle and width of the cut. If you cut too shallow, the pressure from the strings may crack the side bridge or work against the adhesion of the bridge to the soundboard. If you cut too deep it may undermine the ability of the side bridge to keep the strings in tune. You may want to practice on a scrap wood first. Repeat this process for the hitch pin block.

It is customary to test the sound quality of the santur at this point. An experienced ear is an absolute requirement. First tap the instrument with finger tip and listen to the echo sounds form the music box. Next install a single string for the treble “B” or “C” course including the bridge in the correct location and examine the sound. The string and hardware is removed following this test.

5. Apply stain and finish – Give your santur its last sanding and clean it dust-free with a tack cloth. If you plan to stain your santur, be sure to use an alcohol (not water) base stain. Moisture is the #1 enemy of the tonal quality of santur. Use a small rag, soaked dry in stain to lightly rub the surface of santur. Darker colors and mat finishes are preferred because they minimize reflection of light from playing surface and make it easier for the musician to see the string courses. If the colors are too dark, they show off dust and absorb more heat from sunlight. You may need to repeat this step to darken the stain, but avoid pressing the rag against the surface as doing this will enable the moisture to get inside the wood. Be mindful of getting any stain or finish inside the pin block holes. Pat dry (or floss) corners, edges and groove areas where the stain tends to over-darken the surface. Place the santur in a moisture free warm location and let the stain dry completely (up to several days) before applying the varnish. The best varnish product for a santur is one that dries to a durable finish; the harder the better. Let the finish dry for a few days. Persian santur makers use a mixture of natural colors by boiling skin of walnuts, pomegranate, copper sulfate and tree sap. As a varnish, a 1:3 mixture of lacquer or shellac flakes and methyl alcohol (lock-alkol) is also used.

6. Install hitch and tuning pins – Gently tap in the hitch pins so that all but 5–7MM of it remains outside of the hitch pin block. A uniform protrusion of these pins enhances the appearance of your santur. Practicing the next few steps on scrap wood is recommended. It is helpful during tuning to use blue plated tuning pins for treble strings and nickel plated pins for bass strings. Measure the depth of a tuning pin hole and mark the tuning pins so that your tuning pin will not penetrate the holes beyond their depth. Doing so will crack your tuning pin block. Gently tap the first 1–2MM of the tuning pins into the holes until you get a straight and firm footing and then screw in the next few MM until you feel the tight grip of the wood. You will be turning the tuning pin clockwise. Do not use power tools for this step and do not press the tuning pin in while turning it. A wooden dowel with markings can insure uniform penetration between pins. You may want to test the adequacy of penetration of tuning pin on the upper treble strings first.

7. Install the bridges and strings – The upper strings of courses are installed first. The remaining strings are installed from bottom up alternating between the treble and bass courses. Loop the strings by clamping the ends of a loop (50MM long) adjacent to each other in vise, and turning the loop with a steel rod exactly 7 revolutions. Other method will suffice. Install the string by hooking the loop around the hitch pin inside the corresponding side bridge grooves and over the side bridges saddles. Keep the string taught while threading. Take care to unwind the string from its spool while doing so. Thread the string through the corresponding tuning pin eye and cut the string with about 60–70MM slack beyond the tuning pin. Bend the last 5MM tip of the string to make it easier for the string to stay in the tuning pin eye. You will be turning the tuning pin clockwise with the saddle side of the string rapped on the inside. It is helpful to guide the string with your fingertip. Keep an eye on the alignment of the string with the side bridge grooves. When the tension on the sting is tight enough to hold the string, continue to install the other strings in the course. Install the bridge for the courses. Wear eye-protective gear while doing this. Snip any excess string from the tuning pin.

8. Tuning the Santur – Tuning the strings is done by using a Tuning Wrench (kelid) that matches the end shape of tuning pins. Santur strings are ordinarily tuned to the key of G from bottom to top (E F G A B C D E F) with the middle (C – do) bass note being equivalent to the middle C 4 in piano. Check the alignment of bridges before you start tuning the strings. Tune the top and bottom treble strings and double check the harmonic pitch of the left and right treble strings. Tune the santur one octave lower first time and let it rest for a few days to allow the wood to adjust to the string tensions. Tune the top string of a course for all courses, and then continue with the second string and so on until the first tuning phase is completed. After the first tuning phase is complete, check the sides of the santur for signs of warping.

The tuning of the soundbox is made by installation of the tuning soundpost. The purpose of this soundpost is to regulate the echo characteristics of the soundboard so that a pleasant and uniform volume is produced by all santur courses. This step is rather tricky in that that it is used to adjust the lack of balance of sounds across courses. Furthermore, access to the inside of the soundbox is limited to the treble sound hole and the hole at the center of the bottom rail. The method used in Persia is as follows. The soundpost is held by two long nose metal pieces (like chopsticks) which are bent in the middle for better handling. A fabric string holds the soundpost firmly between the chopsticks. The string is knotted in such a way that by pulling its end, the soundpost is disengaged from the chopsticks thus allowing you to retrieve them from inside of santur. As of late a new tools have been devised to accomplish this. You may need to improvise your own installation tool.

Final tuning of santur may be accomplished at this point. Never tune the santur to higher octaves as doing this will structurally damage the instrument.

Playing the Santur

As with all musical instruments, good playing techniques from the onset help the musician avoid poor habits. To play the santur, the player stands, or sits on the floor with legs crossed, facing the santur at the bottom end. The payer’s forearms are held parallel and approximately 100–150MM above the soundboard. Santur hammers are held between the index and middle fingers, and are moved by the wrests, and not by the forearms.

Courses are struck 30–40MM from the bridges. Acquiring these playing skills is said to take a long time.

Santur Case

Santur case is made of a hard shell, and is padded on the inside to protect santur against shock and moisture. Santur strings should be loosened when freighting or transporting santur in rough train to protect the soundboard from cracking. Drying agent (Silicone based) packets are recommended to be used inside the santur case in humid climates.
Location of Sound Holes and Soundposts (MM)

Vertical distance to bottom edge

Horizontal distance to bottom corner
Bass Sound Hole (Horizontal distance measured from RIGHT frame corner)     142     330
Treble Sound Hole (Horizontal distance measured from LEFT frame corner)     107     227
Soundpost #1 (Horizontal distance measured from RIGHT frame corner)     163     299
Soundpost #2 (Horizontal distance measured from LEFT frame corner)     152     298
Soundpost #3 (Horizontal distance measured from LEFT frame corner)     174     405
Soundpost #4 (Horizontal distance measured from LEFT frame corner)     84     378


The contemporary santur in Iran owes a great deal to the dedicated lifetime work of santur makers such as (Mehdi Naazemi). These master instrument builders contributed to Persian music by leaving a legacy of not only beautifully sounding santurs but more importantly by sharing their decades of knowledge and experience with others.

The goal of this article is to document a design for santur in form of an introduction including the text, diagrams, design parameters and other specifications. The target audience is the Guild of American Lutherie readers and English speaking instrument builders who generally have access to woodworking information and supplies. Although every effort was made to keep this design reasonably close to the overall contemporary santur specifications, it is not represented as an authentic, acceptable-by-all authority on this instrument. The author’s hope is that this article will begin a dialog on this instrument amongst the instrument experts, builders, and musicians through whose participation, will emerge a future standard and guide for design and construction of contemporary Persian santurs. The author is indebted to Tim Olsen for his graphic support, editing and most of all coaching and patience, and to Nasser Shirazi for courteous encouragement and valuable information sources he unselfishly offered to this project.


There is an immense amount of information about material and construction tips for hammered dulcimer and other musical instruments in GAL archives, books and Internet that would be very helpful to santur builders.

“Building the Kamancheh” by Nasser Shirazi
American Lutherie #4, BRBAL 1

“Building the Tar” by Nasser Shirazi
American Lutherie #10, BRBAL 1

“A Practical Approach to Hammered Dulcimers” by John Calkin
American Lutherie #41, BRBAL 4

Understanding Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley
Identifying Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley
Taunton Press

Self-Learning of Santur by Hossein Saba
Iran – 1959 – Farsi language

Santour va Naazemi by Arfa’ Atra’i
Part Publishing – Iran – Farsi language

Vijhegi-e Santour by Mehdi Setaayeshgar
Iran – Farsi language

Setar Construction by Nasser Shirazi


English Translation            Farsi Pronunciation                 Farsi

A-tuned     la kouk                                                                     لاکوک
betel palm     foofel                                                                   فوفل
bridge bottom     khazineh                                                     خزینه
bridge cap     saachmeh                                                         ساچمه
bridge     kharak                                                                          خرک
frame     kalaaf                                                                            کلاف
G-tuned     sol kouk                                                                سل کوک
hammers     mezrab                                                              مضراب
hitch pin     seem geer                                                          سیم گیر
hot hide glue     serishom                                                    سریشم
nine-bridge     noh-kharak                                                نه خرک
saddle rod     maftool                                                        مفطول
santur     santour                                                                سنتور
shellac lock     lock-alkol                                                    لاک الکل
Siberian elm     Choob-e Aazaad                                    چوب آزاد
side bridge     sheytaanak / zehvaareh                       شیطانک \ زهواره
sound holes     gol-e santur                                            گل سنتور
strings     seem                                                                    سیم
traditional music of Persia     sonnati                       سنتی
system of traditional Persion music     radeef     ردیف
building blocks of radeef     dastgah                         دستگاه
tuning pin     gooshi                                                        گوشی
tuning wrench     kelid                                                    کلید

(Courtesy by Javad Naini)

The Art of The Persian Santur Vol 03 پرويز مشكاتيان

Parviz Meshkatian__

Parviz Meshkatian – SANTUR

Dastgah-e Segah

Radif of Mirza Abdollah

دو نوازی سنتور و تمبک

در دستگاه سه گاه
استادان : پرویز مشکاتیان و ناصر فرهنگفر
در غم و در آمد ، بداهه سه گاه ، چهار مضراب مخالف ، مخالف سه گاه ، چهار مضراب پگاه
روحشان شاد


Born in Neyshabur in 1955, he began his musical training at the age of six with his father Hassan Meshkatian, who was a professional tar and santur player.

He learned the radif, the total collection of more than 200 gushehs — traditional melodic entities — in all 12 dastgahs, studying under Iranian maestros Nur-Ali Borumand and Dariush Safvat.

He was also a student of Mohammad-Taqi Masudieh, Abdollah Davami, Saeid Hormozi, and Yusef Forutan, who helped him improve his skills.
After some years, he became one of Iran’s most prominent musicians.

In 1977, Meshkatian founded the Aref  Ensemble with Hossein Alizadeh and Mohammadreza Lotfi. The group performed many concerts in Iran, Europe, and the Americas. He was also one of the founding members of the Chavosh Artistic and Cultural Foundation. The Chavosh foundation has played a major role in the development of Iranian music for a few decades.

He also performed with some of Iran’s greatest vocalists like Mohammadreza Shajarian, Shahram Nazeri, and Iraj Bastami.

(see also :

The collaborations resulted in the creation of the albums “Bidad”, “The Court of the Beloved”, “Mystery of Love”, “Nava”, and “Dastan”, which are all very popular in Iran.

Meshkatian toured Europe and Asia and regularly performed in countries such as France, Germany, England, Sweden, Netherlands, and Denmark. In the spring of 1982 he published the book Twenty Pieces for Santour. In spring of 1992 Meshkatian and the Aref Ensemble won the first prize of the Spirit of the Earth Festival in England.

Der wohl größte Santur-Spieler unserer Zeit starb im Alter von nur gerade 54 Jahren. Meshkatian galt als genialer Musiker, Komponist und Orchester-Leiter und war einer der wenigen Giganten der klassischen persischen Musik. Er war eines der Gründungsmitglieder des Aref Ensemble’s (gegründet 1977) und vom Sheyda Ensemble. Er tourte durch Europa und Asien und trat regelmässig in verschiedenen Ländern Europas auf. 1982 veröffentlichte er das Buch ‚Twenty Pieces for Santour’. 1992 gewann er mit dem Aref Ensemble den ‘First prize of the Spirit of the Earth Festival’  in England. In Zusammenarbeit mit Mohammad Reza Shajarian produzierte Meshkatian einige der schönsten Aufnahmen  der zeitgenössischen persischen Musik.

Meshkatian starb am 21. September 2009 viel zu früh an einem Herzinfarkt. Die Welt verliert mit ihm ein Genie der klassischen persischen Musik.

در گذشت پرویز مشکاتیان

رفتی و رفتن تو آتش نهاد بر دل                              از کاروان چه ماند؟جز آتشی به منزل

خبر تاسف بار درگذشت استاد پرویز مشکاتیان هنرمند گرامی و بی همتای موسیقی باعث تاثر وتاسف همگان به خصوص اهالی موسیقی وهنرمندان عزیز کشورمان ایران شد

هنرمندی که با نغمه های گرانسنگش یادها و خا طره های زیادی را در دل مردم به یادگار گذاشت و دلش همیشه برای آزادی و تعالی مردمش می تپید و به فرهنگ بومی و ملی ایران سخت دل بسته بود و از فرهنگ بیگانه به شدت دلزده…  پرویز مشکاتیان در تاریخ 21.سپتامبر به علت ایست قلبی در منزل شخصی خود دار فانی را وداع گفت و با رفتنش ملت ایران و به خصوص جامعه موسیقی را داغدار کرد

افسوس و صد افسوس

شرکت فرهنگی هنری سه تار ضایعه درگذشت این هنرمند گرامی و بی همتا را به ملت ایران و جامعه هنری تسلیت گفته و آرامش روح آن فقید را از خداوند مسالت می نماید

شرکت فرهنگی و هنری سه تار

Parviz Meshkatian_Memorial


The gem of the Persian music ring passed away

The news of Parviz Meshkatian’s death was an unbearable and unbelievable.  The Iranian music community and many ordinary people burned with the grief of losing one of the most influential artists in the genre of Persian classical music and the source of musical creativity. Meshkatian was born in the year 1955 in the city of Neishabour. The city which is located in eastern Iran, the province of Khorásán. If Iran’s history can be divided into two main phases which are pre-Islamic Iran and Iran after the advent of Islam, Khorásán will be the cradle of Iranian art and science in the second phase of its history. This region is the birth place of Persian poetry and mysticism as well. It is where Ferdosi, Attar, Khayam, and many others were born and raised. Meshkatian started his musical training at the age of six with his late father, Hassan Meshkatian. The late Meshkatian played the tar and the santur masterfully and was also familiar with the violin and the setar.
Meshkatian entered the Music College of Tehran University and studied theory and technique with the masters Nur Ali Borumand, Dariush Safvat, Mohammad Taghi Massoudieh, and Mehdi Barkeshli. He chose the Radif of Mirza Abdollah as his main topic of research. After finishing his academic studies, Meshkatian continued the study of music with such masters as the late Abdollah Davami, Saied Hormozi, and Yousef forutan. He won the first prize of Barbad competition in the field of santur.

Meshkatian was among a few musicians who demonstrated his incredible musical creativity and talent since his early age. While he was still in his twenties, Meshkatiyan joined the Iranian Radio and began to collaborate with many distinguished musicians.  He was one of the founding members of the Aref Ensemble, founded in 1977. He was also one of the founding members of the Chavosh Artistic and Cultural Foundation. The Chavosh foundation which was both a conservatory and cultural center played a major role in the development of Iranian music in the recent years. At Chavosh, Meshkatian cooperated with the influential musicians such as Mohammad Reza Lotfi, Mohammad Reza Shajariyan, Hussein Alizadeh, and Shahram Nazeri. Meshkatiyan along with Lotfi and Alizadeh composed and performed many beautiful pieces which attracted the youth and made Persian classical music popular among the younger generation.

One of the main aspects of Meshkatian’s character was his awareness of the political and social situations of his time. In 1979 before the Islamic Revolution when the country was in its political upheaval and some people were killed in the event of the Jale Square, he along with the musicians of the Chavosh Institution resigned from the Radio. He composed several songs during the Revolution which became very popular. Two of these songs sang by the most famous singer of Persian classical music, master Mohammad Reza Shajarian.

Listen to the song “Hamrahsho Aziz” composed by Meshkatian and sang by Shajarian

Meshkatiyan composed many beautiful pieces in different genres of Persian classical music. He composed many songs for master Shajariyan and produced some of the most beautiful recordings of contemporary classical music of Iran. Meshkatiyan also composed many instrumental pieces which are very beautiful and rich in the technical sense.

Master Meshkatian performed in Iran and throughout the world. In spring of 1992 Meshkatian and Aref Ensemble won the first prize of the Spirit of the Earth Festival in England. Master Meshkatian also taught the santur and radif at the music college of the Tehran University, Chavosh Institute, the Center for the Preservation and Dissemination of Music, and also privately. Many of Iran’s santur players of the recent generations have been his students or have been influenced by him. He also published the book titled “Twenty Pieces for Santur” and many of his works are ready to be published.

Meshkatian was not among those musicians whose works are only appreciated by the experts. In fact, his works were understood by the masses and admired by the experts. He is among the major figures who, in the past thirty years, have revolutionized the Persian classical music. His innovative approach of combining the traditional with new elements, both in terms of music and technique, has injected a new vitality into a very old tradition. His original creativity and the deep-rooted emotional quality as well as the knowledge and understanding of the Persian classical music repertory or radif as well as Persian poetry have made him a unique figure in the realm of Persian music. As master Hassan Kasai, the prominent nay player of Iran, wrote as a part of his condolence letter “Meshkatian was the gem of the Persian music ring”.

Master Parviz Meshkatian passed away after going into cardiac arrest on September 21, 2009. He died at the age of fifty-four in Tehran. God bless him

(Written by Aryan Rahmanian)

The Bam Szaz

The Bam Szaz_


On The Geometry Of Time In The Classical Music Of Persia

Persian tile - Style circa 11th Century


“Music is a moral law. It gives inspiration to the entire world, wings to the soul and raises the thoughts of man up to the heavens. Music is the basis of order. It is the embodiment of eternal beauty and glory”


The Classic Music of Iran

Advanced Lectures in Time Cycle Tables

Various Lessons by Iranian Masters
By Vocal,Santur,Setar and Tonbak






The Art of The Persian Santur Vol 02




The Scale of Kings




History of Santur:

The santūr for the first time appears in the Moruj al-Zahab, a history book written by Abol Hassan Ali Ibn Hussein Masudi (tenth century). He mentions the santur when talking about Persian music and its various instruments during the Sassanid Empire. Also, the santur is mentioned by the famous Persian poet, Manuchehri (eleventh century). Although Abdol Qader Maraqe’i (a great Persian Musician of the thirteenth century) in his writings introduces an instrument called the yatufan which is very similar to the santur, the instrument that today we know as the santur is absent from Persian music history until the nineteenth century. However, a very similar instrument called the qānūn existed in the Iranian plateau for centuries. Farabi (Persian philosopher and musician of the tenth century) in his famous book, al-Musiqi al-Kabir, portrayed the qānūn. Also, this instrument is seen in the paintings and miniatures of the Chehelsotun building (sixteenth century). This point should be made here that the santur is similar with the qānūn only in shape.

Early Music from Persia



Performed by the Nassehpoor Ensemble



The Art of The Persian Santur

Faramarz Payvar – Santur




The santūr for the first time appears in the Moruj al-Zahab, a history book written by Abol Hassan Ali Ibn Hussein Masudi (tenth century). He mentions the santur when talking about Persian music and its various instruments during the Sassanid Empire. Also, the santur is mentioned by the famous Persian poet, Manuchehri (eleventh century). Although Abdol Qader Maraqe’i (a great Persian Musician of the thirteenth century) in his writings introduces an instrument called the yatufan which is very similar to the santur, the instrument that today we know as the santur is absent from Persian music history until the nineteenth century. However, a very similar instrument called the qānūn existed in the Iranian plateau for centuries. Farabi (Persian philosopher and musician of the tenth century) in his famous book, al-Musiqi al-Kabir, portrayed the qānūn. Also, this instrument is seen in the paintings and miniatures of the Chehelsotun building (sixteenth century). This point should be made here that the santur is similar with the qānūn only in shape. The santūr is played by special-shaped picks (mezrab) whereas the qānūn is played by the fingernails. The santūr did not exist at least in the urban music until the middle of the Safavid era. Later, the santūr appears in the miniatures of this era. Most historians believe that the origin of the santūr is Iran. This instrument with little differences in shape and name is seen throughout the world. In China, this instrument is called the yangqin, in the west it is called the hammered dulcimer, and it exists with different names in the other parts of the world.


The santūr is a trapezoid-shaped box whose longest side (the side which is in front of the player) in the regular ones is 90 cm. The shortest side (the side which is on the opposite side of the longest side) is 35 cm. The other two sides which are diagonal are 38 cm and the height of this instrument is from 6 to10 cm. The santūr is often made of walnut, mulberry, cypress, boxwood, rosewood, and betel palm. There are several sound posts inside the box, and two small rosettes on the top panel which help to amplify the sound. The santūr has seventy two strings. These strings are made of two different materials and are in two different colors. The yellow strings (the low-pitched strings) are made of brass and the white strings (high-pitched strings) are made of steel. Up to the twenty century when metal strings did not exist, the strings were made of silk. The strings are arranged in groups of four, i.e. each of four closely spaced strings are tuned to the same pitch, and if they are not exactly in the same pitch, they will produce cacophonous sound. Each group of four strings is supported by a small movable wooden bridge; the bridges are positioned to give the instrument a range of three octaves. Two rows of nine articles called “kharak” (totally eighteen kharaks) divide the santur into three positions and each lead four unison strings to the right and left side of the instrument. The santūr with the two rows of nine kharak is called “nine kharak santūr”. There are santūrs with eleven or twelve kharks as well, but they are not prevalent. The distance between each kharak from the left raw to the left side of the santūr is called “posht-e kharak” (behind the kharak). The tuning of the santūr is done by turning its strings by an especial spanner. Like the tuning of the piano, the tuning of the santūr is difficult. The santūr is played with the special-shaped picks called mezrab which are held between the index and middle fingers. In the past, the picks were heavier and without felt. Now most picks are lighter and have some felt. As a result, the picks with felt let the player to increase his playing speed and do more maneuver. On the other hand, the pick without felt which are heaver produce stronger sound and are able to do some detailed ornaments peculiar to Persian music. Today, both kinds of the picks are used. The santūr with nine articles or sometimes called the Sol (G)-tuned santūr is the most popular one. Most notations of Persian classical music are written for this kind of santūr. Another version of this santūr which is smaller in size and higher in pitch is known as the La (A) – tuned santūr. In comparison with other Persian instruments, the santūr has some limitations. As a result, the santūr player cannot play the various modes of Persian music with one system of tuning, and he or she should retune the instrument for playing the different modes. Sometimes, the player has to change the kharaks’ locations for retuning the strings, which in turn may result in the different pitches of the paired strings. In general, tuning of the santūr is very difficult. The player should always be aware of all the seventy two strings which are very sensitive and can go out of tune by humidity or any change in temperature. Therefore, many skilled santūr players are sometimes unhappy with the sound quality of their instruments. Habib Soma’i, an undisputed master of the santūr once said; “The tuning of the santūr made me old”.


The first recoding of the santur in Iran belongs to Mohammad Sadeq Khan from the Qājār period. After him, the playing of some santur players, such as Ali Akbar Shahi, Hassan Khan, and Habib Soma’i was recorded. Abol-Hassan Sabâ was another famous santūr player who is considered as the leading figure of the modern movement of playing the santūr. Unfortunately, there is no recording of him. But, we can figure out about his style from his students and those who followed his style. Hussein Malek, Dariush Saqafi, Reza Shafian, Faramarz Payvar and his student, Saeed Sabet are some santur players who followed Saba’s style. Some santūr players like Mansur Sarami, Reza Varzandeh, and Majid Najahi chose their own style of playing and produced unique sounds which were not heard before. In the new era, the style of playing the santūr was confronted with different experiences which has roots in traditions from one side and was related to new innovations from another side. The leading figures of this movement are Parviz Meshkatian and Pashang Kamkar. On the other hand, the traditionalist movement was shaped under the leadership of Majid Kiani who tried to revive the playing style of the past generations specially that of Habib Soma’i. In this style, the player seats on the floor and the santur is little higher than him and will be located in front of him. Also, in this style, the picks do not have felt. On the other hand, the modernist will seat on the chair and put their santūrs on a table and their picks have felt. The santūr is more popular among Iranian women than other instruments. Because of this fact there are many skilled santūr players among women. Arfa Atra’i, Azar Hashemi, and Susan Aslani are among the well-known female santūr players.

Family Instruments

As mentioned, the santūr has some limitations especially with its tuning system and is not capable of performing different modes of Persian music without retuning. To solve this problem, in 1961 two new santūrs were invented under Hussein Dehlavi’s suggestions and advice. One was a chromatic santūr with seven more kharaks (total of 16) and the other one was the bass santūr. The chromatic santūr is little bit bigger than the regular santūr. Also, in the chromatic santūr the strings are arranged in three instead of four. The advantage of this new santūr is that the player can do modulation and play different Persian modes without retuning the instrument. But, the chromatic santūr has some disadvantages as well. First, because of the extra kharaks, its playing is more difficult than the regular santūr. Second, the resonance of those strings which are not used in a particular mode can still be heard; as a result, the whole sound quality of the instrument will be affected. Because of theses unwanted harmonies created by the extra strings and kharaks, the chromatic santūr is usually used in the orchestra or larger ensembles so that its undesired harmonies can be covered by other sounds and not heard that much. In general, the chromatic santūr has not been a successful invention so far in the history of Persia music. But, the other invented santūr, the bass santūr has been accepted much warmer by the Iranian musicians. Probably, the reason is that the bass santūr is not very different from the regular santūr since it is just the regular santur with bass sound. Also, it does not create the problems which the chromatic one does in terms of undesired harmonies and tones.

(c) By The “Simorq”(Simorgh) project.