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Introduction to the Tar: Exploring Its Construction and Rich History
Persian Traditional Music

Introduction to the Tar: Exploring Its Construction and Rich History


May 30, 2024    |    0

The tar is a long-necked, waisted lute known for its distinctive sound and integral role in Persian classical music. This traditional instrument has a rich history that reflects the cultural and musical heritage of Iran and other regions in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and areas near the Caucasus.

Historical Background

The tar, meaning "string" in Persian, has been a central instrument in Persian music for centuries. Experts believe it has common roots among all Iranian peoples, symbolizing the shared cultural heritage across the region. Historically, the Persian tar had five strings. However, a sixth string was added by the renowned musician Gholam Hossein Darvish, also known as Darvish Khan, which remains in use today.

According to tradition, the tar existed since the time of Farabi (circa 260-339 AH), a famous Persian musician, and was further developed by Safi al-Din al-Urmawi and others. The earliest known depiction of the tar dates back to the Safavid era (circa 1080 AH) in the murals of the Chehel Sotoun palace in Isfahan. Paintings from Shiraz, dated 1775 and 1790, show that the tar was popular during the Zand dynasty. The instrument as we know it, with its distinctive shape (double-bowl body and long neck) and six strings, became prominent during the Qajar dynasty.

Renowned music scholar Morteza Hannaneh referred to the tar as the national instrument of Iran. In his book "Steps of Lost Melodies," he emphasized the instrument's deep cultural significance. The late Ruhollah Khaleqi, another distinguished Iranian musician, mentioned in his book "The Story of Music" that the tar was mentioned in the poetry of Farrokhi Sistani (circa 370-429 AH), illustrating its historical importance.

The tar's design has been refined over centuries, with the last significant modifications made by Darvish Khan, who added the sixth string to enhance its range. The final unique design of the tar, as seen today, was perfected by the famous tar maker Yahya II (circa 1254-1310 AH), known for his technical and artistic craftsmanship.

Construction of the Tar

The tar's construction is a meticulous process requiring skilled craftsmanship. It is traditionally made from a combination of wood, animal skin, and metal strings. Here are the key components of the tar:

1. Body (Kaseh)

The body of the tar is carved from a single piece of mulberry wood and consists of two hollowed-out sections of different sizes: a larger section (kaseh) and a smaller section (naqareh). The open ends of these sections are covered with a thin layer of lamb or goat skin, which acts as a soundboard. The bridge rests on the skin of the larger section, contributing to the instrument's rich sound.

2. Neck (Dastgah)

The neck of the tar, made from walnut or mulberry wood, is long and narrow. It features adjustable frets made from animal gut or nylon, allowing for precise tuning and pitch control.

3. Strings

The tar traditionally has six strings, arranged in three pairs. The strings are made of metal, with different thicknesses for varying pitches. The first and second strings are of white metal, the third and fourth are of brass, the fifth (waqhon) is of white metal, and the sixth (bam) is of yellow metal. They are plucked with a small brass plectrum called a mezrab.

4. Tuning Pegs and Bridge

The tuning pegs, located at the end of the neck, adjust the string tension. The bridge, typically made of bone or wood, supports the strings and transmits vibrations to the soundboard.

5. Other Components

The tar also includes a small bone piece called a "sheytanak" at the end of the neck, guiding the strings to the tuning pegs. The "mizrab" (plectrum) is usually made of brass and covered with wax for grip.

Significance in Persian Music

The tar holds a revered place in Persian classical music, serving as a solo instrument or part of an ensemble. Its expressive range and ability to produce intricate melodies make it ideal for performing the complex modal systems, or "dastgahs," that characterize Persian music. The tar's rich tonal quality and dynamic capabilities allow musicians to convey a wide range of emotions, from melancholy to joy.

Conclusion

The tar is not just a musical instrument; it is a symbol of Persian cultural heritage and musical tradition. Understanding its construction and history offers a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry that go into creating this remarkable instrument. Whether you are a musician, a music enthusiast, or someone interested in Persian culture, the tar's enduring legacy is sure to captivate and inspire.

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