Styles of Tonbak Playing in Classical Music of Persia

Dr. Peyman Nasehpour


Every artist has his own unique style. Therefore, any classification will be very broadly based. Modern method of playing Tonbak can be divided into four major overlapping styles. One of them is based on traditional style of playing Tonbak and recent masters have developed the others.

Tonbak Players of the Past

Before Ostad Hossein Tehrani we had a primitive style of tonbak playing. Tasnifkhans (Tasnif performers) were playing on tonbak and it was considered as an accompaniment instrument. A good example for this style is Ostad Abdollah Davami. According to our information the oldest tonbak player that had this style is Agha Jan-e-Avval. Folk style is very similar to the old style of the Tonbak players of the past, though this needs more research. Folk styles can be found in folk music of Kurdistan, Lorestan and Hormozgan, three provinces of Iran. Unfortunately the folk style is not considered an important style and has not been researched carefully.

Ostad Hossein Tehrani

Ostad Hossein Tehrani is considered as the father of modern style of Tonbak playing. He devoted his life to the promotion and development of the art of tonbak playing. Before his time, Tonbak was not considered as an independent instrument. He gathered motrebi and ruhozi rhythms, added many techniques to the art of tonbak playing and made many attractive pieces for tonbak. Also he established a Tonbak ensemble in Tehran and started performing in many places. He has trained many students. Major characteristic of his style is to mute the skin of tonbak, to play on the wooden part of the Tonbak and to use two rings of middle fingers of the two hands. His style is the most colorful. Today some tonbak players follow his style.

Ostad Nasser Farhangfar

Ostad Nasser Farhangfar has spent a great deal time in zourkhaneh during his youth and because of this his style is strongly based on the heroic and ancient style of tonbak-e-zourkhaneh. In this style there is no muting of the skin of tonbak or using the wooden body of tonbak. He has added some special techniques such as compound-pelang and chakkoshi. For more information please refer to Composed Rhythms of Ostad Nasser Farhangfar. Today many tonbak players follow his style.

Ostad Bahman Rajabi

Ostad Bahman Rajabi has added new techniques, which most of them can be found in his book. He has developed the techniques of the other masters of tonbak particularly Ostad Amir Naser Eftetah. The most important characteristic of his style is to develop rhythmical motifs. He has trained many students.


Motrebi rhythms: Rhythms to be played by motrebs (musicians who play at wedding and other festive ceremonies).

Ruhozi rhythms: Motrebi rhythms.

Tasnif: This literally means "song". It is a rhythmical composed piece for vocals and one or several instruments, which can be placed anywhere in a performance. Most of the traditional tasnifs are in 6 beats and almost always in slow tempo.

Tonbak: Persian goblet drum.

Tonbak-e-zourkhaneh: Persian large-sized goblet drum to be played in zourkhaneh for leading and encouraging the athletes.

Zourkhaneh: Zourkhaneh (that literally means the house of power) is a place for traditional Persian martial art. In zourkhaneh morshed (leader of athletes) plays on Tonbak-e-zourkhaneh (Persian large-sized goblet drum to be played in zourkhaneh) and sings heroic poets in order to encourage them. Recently, after the great morshed, Pahlavan Akbar Khorasani, Zang (a kind of bell to be played in zourkhaneh) has been used, though in the past it was only an ornamental instrument. Also we should add that in the past Ney (Persian knotgrass reed) had been played there.