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Introduction and History of the Daf Instrument
Persian Traditional Music

Introduction and History of the Daf Instrument

Jun 09, 2024    |    0

The Daf, a traditional Persian frame drum, holds a significant place in Iranian and Kurdish music. This captivating instrument is integral to various musical and spiritual traditions in the Middle East.

Structure and Design

A typical Daf comprises a circular wooden frame covered with animal skin or synthetic material. It often includes metal rings or chains, which create a distinctive jingling sound when played. The frame’s diameter ranges from 50 to 55 cm, with a width of 5 to 6.5 cm, allowing for a wide array of tones. There are three standard sizes: two-fourths, three-fourths, and four-fourths.

The Daf’s main components include:

  • Klaf Asli (main frame): Made from wood, often joined with an angled cut for sturdiness.
  • Poost (skin): Traditionally made from animal skin, particularly effective when crafted in spring.
  • Halghes (rings): Metal rings that add a jingling effect.
  • Gol Mikh (nails): Used to secure the skin to the frame.

Playing Techniques

Playing the Daf involves striking the membrane with fingers and palms, producing a variety of rhythms and tones. Musicians use intricate finger techniques to create rapid, complex rhythms, with the metal rings adding a unique layer of sound.

Historical and Cultural Significance

The Daf dates back to ancient Persia, with evidence of its use in the Sassanian courts and even earlier in the Elamite civilization. Rectangular Dafs from the 7th and 8th centuries BCE are still used in some Arab countries. The round Daf appeared in Egypt around 1300 BCE. In Persian miniatures from the Gurkani and Safavid eras, Dafs are often depicted alongside other instruments like the ney. It was commonly associated with spiritual and ceremonial uses, especially in Sufi rituals.

In pre-Islamic times, the Daf was prominent in both Iranian and Kurdish music. After the advent of Islam, it found a haven in Kurdish Sufi lodges, particularly in the ceremonies of the Qadiri and Yarsan orders, where specific rhythms, or maqams, are played during various spiritual chants. This tradition continued for over 13 centuries until the instrument was reintroduced to broader public performance by musicians like Mohammad Reza Lotfi and Bijan Kamkar in the 1970s.

Geographic Spread and Modern Usage

Beyond Persia, the Daf is widely used in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Its global popularity has risen, and it is now appreciated in various modern music genres for its unique sound. The Daf remains particularly prevalent in Kurdish regions, where it holds a special place in local culture and religious ceremonies. Followers of the Qadiri and Yarsan orders, as well as Naqshbandi and other Sufi traditions, often use the Daf in their rituals. Its popularity has surged in recent years, with Daf playing becoming more common across Iranian cities and educational institutions.

Prominent Daf Players

Contemporary masters like Bijan Kamkar and Massoud Habibi have significantly contributed to the Daf's revival and popularity, integrating it into both traditional and modern music contexts. Kamkar, in particular, has played a crucial role in elevating the Daf within Iranian classical music.

Learning the Daf

If you are living outside Iran, finding access to good teachers can be challenging. However, if you are interested in learning the Daf, you can use FarsiCity, an online platform offering access to expert teachers. One such teacher is Sasan Salaseli, who has an extensive background in traditional Persian percussion. Sasan began his musical journey in 1990 and has since performed internationally, conducted workshops, and contributed significantly to music education. His classes cover various aspects of Daf playing, including rhythm comprehension and ensemble performance.

For more information on learning the Daf online, visit FarsiCity’s Daf Lessons Page and check out Sasan Salaseli's profile.


The Daf is more than just a musical instrument; it is a cultural artifact steeped in history and tradition. Its distinctive sound continues to captivate audiences worldwide, ensuring its enduring relevance.