Unraveling the Mysteries of Persian Santur: A Comprehensive Exploration

The Persian Santur, also known as the Iranian Santur, is a traditional musical instrument that has been an integral part of Persian music for centuries. It is a type of dulcimer, consisting of a trapezoidal shaped board with a set of metal strings stretched across it. The instrument is played by striking the strings with small hammers, producing a melodious sound that is unique to the Santur. The instrument has a rich history and cultural significance in Persian music, and its complex musical structure and intricate playing techniques have fascinated musicians and music lovers alike. In this comprehensive exploration, we will delve into the mysteries of the Persian Santur, exploring its history, evolution, construction, playing techniques, and its role in Persian music. Join us as we unravel the secrets of this enchanting instrument and discover the magic of Persian music.

The Origins of Persian Santur: Tracing its Roots

The Evolution of Persian Santur from Ancient Times to Modern Day

The Persian Santur, a traditional instrument with a striking resemblance to the modern-day piano, has been an integral part of Persian music for centuries. Its origins can be traced back to ancient times, where it was first used in the court of Persian kings. Over the years, the Santur has undergone several changes and evolved to become the instrument we know today.

One of the earliest forms of the Santur was the Persian Daf, which was a frame drum used in ancient Persia. The Daf was eventually replaced by the Persian Psaltery, which was a stringed instrument that resembled a large harp. The Psaltery was used in religious ceremonies and was played by skilled musicians.

During the Safavid dynasty, the Santur began to take shape as we know it today. The instrument was modified to include a keyboard and became known as the “Santur-ye Mahnal.” This new version of the Santur was played with both hands and featured a total of 72 strings.

The Qajar dynasty saw further evolution of the Santur, with the addition of a pedal system that allowed for greater versatility in playing. This new version of the instrument was known as the “Santur-ye Qajar.”

In the 20th century, the Santur underwent significant changes with the introduction of the “Santur-ye Foroughi.” This version of the instrument featured a total of 106 strings and a wider range of notes, making it possible to play a wider range of Persian music.

Today, the Persian Santur remains an essential part of Persian music, with skilled musicians using the instrument to create beautiful melodies and harmonies. Its evolution over the centuries has allowed it to adapt to changing musical styles and continue to be a beloved instrument in Persian culture.

The Cultural Significance of Persian Santur in Iran and Beyond

Persian Santur holds a special place in the hearts of Iranians and has played a significant role in the country’s cultural landscape. It is not only an integral part of classical Persian music but also a symbol of Iran’s rich musical heritage. The Santur has been passed down through generations, with each master honing their skills and contributing to the development of the instrument.

In Iran, the Santur is deeply rooted in the traditional music scene, with many prominent musicians dedicating their lives to mastering this instrument. The Santur has also been featured in various Persian poems and literature, showcasing its significance in the country’s cultural identity. The instrument’s distinct sound is often associated with feelings of nostalgia and longing, evoking emotions that are central to Persian culture.

Beyond Iran, the Santur has gained recognition and appreciation in other parts of the world. Persian music has a global following, and the Santur’s unique sound has contributed to its popularity. Many international musicians have collaborated with Iranian artists, incorporating the Santur into their music and introducing it to new audiences. This has led to a growing interest in the instrument, with some musicians outside of Iran adopting the Santur into their repertoire.

In addition to its cultural significance, the Santur has also played a role in preserving Persian classical music. The instrument’s complex melodies and intricate rhythms require years of dedication and practice, making it a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the musicians who play it. As classical Persian music faces challenges in a rapidly changing world, the Santur remains a vital part of maintaining its traditions and ensuring its survival for future generations.

Understanding the Santur Instrument: Anatomy and Key Components

Key takeaway: The Persian Santur has a rich history and cultural significance in Iran and beyond. Its unique sound and intricate design have made it a versatile and expressive instrument, used in various musical genres including classical, folk, and popular music. Famous musicians and composers have made significant contributions to the art of Santur playing, and the instrument has also had an impact on global music scenes. To preserve its cultural significance, it is important to address challenges and explore opportunities through digitalization, collaboration, and education. There is also potential for innovation and evolution in Persian Santur music, with possibilities for experimentation with sound and timbre, integration with electronic media, fusion with other musical genres, and expansion of musical forms and structures.

The Physical Structure of the Persian Santur

The Persian Santur is a traditional Iranian musical instrument that has been an integral part of Persian music for centuries. Its unique design and construction have captivated musicians and music lovers alike, leaving many wondering about the intricacies of its physical structure. In this section, we will delve into the details of the physical structure of the Persian Santur, examining its various components and how they contribute to its distinct sound and timbre.

The Persian Santur consists of two main parts: the soundboard and the keys. The soundboard, typically made of wood, is the heart of the instrument and is responsible for producing the Santur’s rich and resonant sound. It is typically rectangular in shape and is often adorned with intricate designs and patterns. The keys, on the other hand, are the means by which the player produces sound on the instrument. They are typically made of plastic or wood and are arranged in rows and columns on the soundboard.

One of the most distinctive features of the Persian Santur is its unique tuning system. Unlike other keyboard instruments, the Santur’s keys are not connected to any specific pitch. Instead, they are arranged in groups based on their relationship to one another. This allows the player to produce a wide range of sounds and tones, making the Santur a highly versatile instrument.

Another important aspect of the Persian Santur’s physical structure is its frame. The frame is responsible for holding the soundboard and keys in place and for transmitting the vibrations produced by the keys to the soundboard. It is typically made of wood and is often decorated with intricate designs and patterns.

In conclusion, the physical structure of the Persian Santur is a complex and intricate system of components that work together to produce its unique and captivating sound. From the soundboard and keys to the tuning system and frame, each element plays a crucial role in the instrument’s overall design and function. Understanding the physical structure of the Persian Santur is essential for anyone seeking to master this beautiful and complex instrument.

The Key Components of the Santur: Strings, Bridge, and Soundboard

The Santur, a traditional Persian musical instrument, is an intricate fusion of mechanics and aesthetics. Its unique sound, a blend of melody and rhythm, captivates listeners and transports them to the vibrant cultural tapestry of Iran. To appreciate the beauty and complexity of this instrument, it is essential to understand its key components, including the strings, bridge, and soundboard.


The strings of the Santur are made from fine-quality steel, known as “takhti” in Persian. They are stretched across the instrument’s frame, connecting the metal frame and the keyboard. The strings are of varying lengths, each corresponding to a specific note on the musical scale. Each key on the keyboard is connected to a string, allowing the player to create a range of sounds by pressing the keys and adjusting the strings’ tension.


The bridge, known as “chand tasir” in Persian, is a small, rectangular piece of wood located at the bottom of the Santur’s frame. Its primary function is to transfer the vibrations from the strings to the soundboard, amplifying the sound and providing resonance. The bridge also serves as a fulcrum for the levers, which are an essential component of the Santur’s unique mechanism.


The soundboard, or “sabkosh,” is the largest and most visible component of the Santur. It is typically made from a combination of wood and membrane, providing a hollow, resonant space for the vibrations to reverberate. The soundboard’s curvature and thickness play a crucial role in shaping the instrument’s overall sound, allowing the Santur to project its melodies with rich timbre and clarity.

Understanding the roles and interplay of these three key components is essential for appreciating the Santur’s unique sound and intricate mechanics. The strings, bridge, and soundboard work together in harmony, creating a symphony of notes that echoes the depth and complexity of Persian culture.

The Art of Playing Persian Santur: Techniques and Styles

The Basics of Persian Santur Playing Techniques

The Persian Santur is a unique and captivating instrument, its complex sound and intricate design requiring a particular set of skills to master. For those seeking to explore the basics of Persian Santur playing techniques, it is essential to understand the fundamental principles that underpin this traditional art form.

I. Developing the Proper Grip

One of the first steps in learning to play the Persian Santur is to develop the proper grip on the instrument. This involves positioning the fingers of the right hand in such a way as to allow for fluid and precise movement across the strings. It is important to note that the right hand should be used for plucking the strings, while the left hand is responsible for damping the strings with the aid of the Santur’s damper pedal.

II. Understanding the Basics of Santur Scales

The Persian Santur is known for its unique scales, which differ from those found in Western music. There are two main scales used in Persian music: the Radif and the Dastgah. The Radif is a system of scales that is taught in a specific order, while the Dastgah is a collection of melodies that are played within a particular mode. Understanding these scales is essential for any aspiring Persian Santur player, as they form the basis of most traditional pieces.

III. Developing a Strong Musical Ear

Another fundamental aspect of Persian Santur playing is the development of a strong musical ear. This involves learning to recognize and replicate the various tones and rhythms that are characteristic of Persian music. Listening to recordings of traditional Persian music and attending live performances can help to develop this skill, as can practicing with a knowledgeable teacher or mentor.

IV. Learning Basic Persian Santur Repertoire

Once a player has mastered the basics of Persian Santur playing techniques, they can begin to explore the instrument’s rich repertoire of traditional pieces. These pieces often have specific rhythms, melodies, and modes that must be learned and mastered in order to play them accurately and expressively. It is important to practice these pieces slowly and carefully, focusing on the intricacies of each melody and the subtleties of each rhythm.

In conclusion, the basics of Persian Santur playing techniques are rooted in the development of a proper grip, an understanding of the instrument’s unique scales, the cultivation of a strong musical ear, and the mastery of basic repertoire. By focusing on these fundamentals, any aspiring Persian Santur player can begin to unlock the mysteries of this captivating instrument and develop their own unique style and voice.

Exploring the Different Styles of Persian Santur Music

Persian Santur music is a unique and complex art form that has evolved over centuries. The instrument itself has undergone various changes and improvements, leading to the development of different styles of playing. In this section, we will explore the various styles of Persian Santur music, their distinct characteristics, and the musicians who have made them famous.

One of the most prominent styles of Persian Santur music is the classical style, which is characterized by its intricate melodies and rhythmic patterns. This style is often associated with the classical music of Iran and is typically played by highly skilled musicians who have spent years mastering the art of playing the Santur.

Another style of Persian Santur music is the folk style, which is characterized by its simple melodies and rhythms. This style is often associated with the traditional music of Iran and is typically played by musicians who have grown up playing traditional instruments such as the Tanbur or the Oud.

A third style of Persian Santur music is the modern style, which is characterized by its fusion of traditional and contemporary elements. This style is often associated with the contemporary music of Iran and is typically played by musicians who have been influenced by various genres of music such as jazz, rock, and pop.

In addition to these three main styles, there are also several sub-styles of Persian Santur music, each with its own unique characteristics and techniques. For example, the Kurdish style of Persian Santur music is known for its fast and complex rhythms, while the Azerbaijani style is known for its use of modal melodies and dissonant harmonies.

The different styles of Persian Santur music reflect the rich cultural heritage of Iran and the diversity of its musical traditions. Each style has its own distinct characteristics and techniques, and the musicians who play them have made significant contributions to the development of this art form. Whether you are a seasoned musician or a beginner just starting out, exploring the different styles of Persian Santur music is a rewarding and enriching experience.

Persian Santur in Popular Culture: Influence and Impact

The Role of Persian Santur in Traditional and Contemporary Music

The Persian Santur has played a crucial role in the traditional and contemporary music of Iran and other countries in the region. It has been used in various musical genres, including classical, folk, and popular music. In this section, we will explore the role of Persian Santur in traditional and contemporary music.

Classical Music

In classical music, the Persian Santur is used as a solo instrument, as well as in ensembles with other instruments such as the Tar and the Setar. The Santur’s distinctive sound and rhythmic patterns add depth and complexity to the music, and its fast and intricate fingerwork showcases the virtuosity of the performer. The Santur’s ability to produce a wide range of tones and colors allows it to imitate the human voice and other instruments, making it a versatile and expressive instrument in classical music.

Folk Music

In folk music, the Persian Santur is often used to accompany singers and dancers. Its rhythmic patterns and percussive sounds help to drive the music forward, and its melodic lines provide a counterpoint to the vocals and other instruments. The Santur is also used in traditional dance music, such as the Lavar and the Chahar Mekham, where its fast and complex rhythms are essential to the performance.

Popular Music

In recent years, the Persian Santur has also found its way into popular music, both in Iran and in the diaspora. Many contemporary musicians have incorporated the Santur into their music, blending its traditional sound with modern instruments and electronic beats. This fusion of traditional and contemporary elements has helped to keep the Santur relevant and popular among younger audiences, and has also helped to introduce the instrument to a wider global audience.

In conclusion, the Persian Santur has played a significant role in traditional and contemporary music in Iran and the surrounding region. Its unique sound and rhythmic patterns have made it a versatile and expressive instrument, and its use in classical, folk, and popular music has helped to keep the instrument alive and relevant in the modern world.

The Impact of Persian Santur on Global Music Scenes

The Persian Santur has left an indelible mark on global music scenes, transcending cultural boundaries and influencing artists from diverse backgrounds. This section will delve into the impact of Persian Santur on various music genres, showcasing its versatility and universal appeal.

Iranian Music

In Iran, the Persian Santur has played a pivotal role in traditional and classical music, shaping the country’s rich musical heritage. Artists such as Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Maestro Parviz Meshkatian, and Hossein Alizadeh have incorporated the Santur into their performances, creating a unique sound that captures the essence of Iranian music.

World Music

The Persian Santur has also made its way into the realm of world music, blending its melodies with other musical traditions. Collaborations between Persian musicians and artists from various countries have led to the creation of innovative fusion projects, bringing together diverse cultural elements and celebrating the universal language of music.

The Persian Santur has been embraced by classical music composers and performers, with many incorporating its distinctive sounds into their compositions. Western classical musicians have sought to integrate the Santur into their symphonies and chamber music, while Persian classical musicians have experimented with blending traditional melodies with Western harmonies, resulting in a fusion of East and West.

Jazz and Improvisational Music

Jazz and improvisational music artists have found inspiration in the Persian Santur, using its unique timbre and rhythmic patterns to create innovative and experimental compositions. Santur players have collaborated with jazz musicians, blending traditional Persian scales and modes with the improvisational nature of jazz, resulting in a fusion of musical styles that pushes the boundaries of both genres.

The Persian Santur has also made its way into popular music, with many artists incorporating its sounds into their productions. From hip-hop and electronic dance music to pop and rock, the Santur has been featured in a variety of popular music genres, showcasing its adaptability and versatility.

In conclusion, the Persian Santur has had a profound impact on global music scenes, transcending cultural boundaries and inspiring artists from diverse backgrounds. Its distinctive sounds and rhythms have enriched various musical genres, demonstrating its universal appeal and enduring influence.

Famous Persian Santur Musicians and Composers: A Historical Overview

The Greats of Persian Santur: A List of Renowned Musicians and Composers

In the world of Persian music, there have been countless musicians and composers who have made significant contributions to the art of Santur playing. Here is a list of some of the most renowned figures in the history of Persian Santur music:

  1. Hossein Alizadeh: One of the most celebrated Iranian musicians of the 20th century, Alizadeh is widely regarded as a master of the Santur. He has played a key role in popularizing the instrument both in Iran and internationally, and has collaborated with numerous artists across various genres.
  2. Mahammad-Reza Shajarian: A prominent classical singer and composer, Shajarian is also a virtuoso Santur player. He has received numerous accolades for his contributions to Persian music, including the prestigious UNESCO Music Prize.
  3. Abbas Alizadeh: A highly influential composer and musician, Alizadeh is known for his innovative approach to Persian classical music. He has written numerous compositions for Santur, and has performed with many notable musicians both in Iran and abroad.
  4. Salar Aghili: A versatile musician who has made significant contributions to both classical and contemporary Persian music, Aghili is a highly skilled Santur player. He has released several albums featuring his compositions and interpretations of traditional pieces.
  5. Sirvan Khosravi: A rising star in the world of Persian music, Khosravi is known for his masterful Santur playing and innovative compositions. He has performed with many notable musicians and has released several critically acclaimed albums.

These are just a few examples of the many great musicians and composers who have made their mark on the world of Persian Santur music. Through their skill, creativity, and dedication, they have helped to ensure that this beautiful art form continues to thrive and evolve.

The Contributions of Persian Santur to World Music

  • Persian Santur’s influence on classical music
    • The integration of Persian Santur into Western classical music
      • The adaptation of Persian melodies and rhythms
      • The incorporation of Persian modes and scales
    • The fusion of Persian Santur with other classical instruments
      • The collaboration with pianos, violins, and cellos
      • The creation of new soundscapes and harmonies
  • Persian Santur’s impact on contemporary music
    • The use of Persian Santur in popular music
      • The incorporation of Persian Santur in pop, rock, and electronic music
      • The blending of traditional and modern sounds
    • The rise of Persian Santur virtuosos
      • The development of new techniques and styles
      • The global recognition of Persian Santur musicians
  • Persian Santur’s influence on music education
    • The teaching of Persian Santur in music schools and conservatories
      • The preservation and promotion of Persian music traditions
      • The development of new generations of Persian Santur players
    • The role of Persian Santur in music therapy
      • The use of Persian Santur in healing and wellness practices
      • The exploration of the therapeutic effects of Persian music

Exploring the Future of Persian Santur: Preservation and Innovation

The Challenges and Opportunities in Preserving Persian Santur for Future Generations

Preserving the art of Persian Santur is crucial for its continuity and to maintain its cultural significance. However, several challenges and opportunities arise in this process.


  1. Lack of Awareness: The art of Persian Santur is not widely known or appreciated, and there is a lack of understanding about its cultural significance. This makes it difficult to promote its preservation.
  2. Limited Resources: Preserving Persian Santur requires resources such as funding, skilled artisans, and access to traditional materials. These resources are often scarce, making it challenging to maintain the quality and authenticity of the instrument.
  3. Competition from Modern Instruments: In today’s world, traditional instruments like Persian Santur face competition from modern electronic keyboards and other instruments. This makes it difficult for Persian Santur to maintain its relevance and appeal to younger generations.


  1. Digitalization: Technology can be leveraged to digitize Persian Santur, making it more accessible to a wider audience. This can include recording and archiving traditional music, creating digital tutorials, and using digital platforms to promote Persian Santur.
  2. Collaboration: Collaboration between traditional Persian Santur artisans and modern musicians can create innovative new forms of music that incorporate both traditional and modern elements. This can help to maintain the relevance of Persian Santur while also introducing it to new audiences.
  3. Education and Outreach: Educational programs and outreach initiatives can help to promote the cultural significance of Persian Santur and increase awareness about its importance. This can include workshops, concerts, and educational programs that showcase the art of Persian Santur.

In conclusion, preserving Persian Santur for future generations requires addressing both the challenges and opportunities that arise. By leveraging technology, promoting collaboration, and increasing awareness, it is possible to ensure the continuity of this unique and beautiful art form.

The Potential for Innovation and Evolution in Persian Santur Music

While the traditional repertoire of Persian santur music remains an integral part of its cultural heritage, there is also potential for innovation and evolution within the genre. The versatility of the instrument, its ability to blend with other musical instruments, and the ever-evolving tastes and preferences of listeners all contribute to the potential for innovation in Persian santur music.

Experimentation with Sound and Timbre

One area where innovation is possible is in the exploration of the instrument’s sound and timbre. Santur players can experiment with different playing techniques, such as using the thumb or fingers to produce a wider range of timbres and textures. This can lead to the creation of new sounds and effects that enhance the expressiveness and dynamics of the music.

Integration with Electronic Media

Another area of innovation is the integration of Persian santur music with electronic media, such as digital instruments and sound processing software. This integration can expand the possibilities of the instrument by allowing for new effects, sounds, and techniques. For example, the use of electronic effects and processing can create new textures and sonic landscapes that were not possible with traditional acoustic instruments.

Fusion with Other Musical Genres

Persian santur music also has the potential for fusion with other musical genres, both within and outside of Iran. This fusion can introduce new rhythms, melodies, and harmonies that can enrich the traditional repertoire of Persian santur music. For instance, the combination of Persian santur with jazz, blues, or rock music can create unique and interesting musical hybrids that appeal to new audiences.

Expansion of Musical Forms and Structures

Finally, the potential for innovation in Persian santur music lies in the expansion of musical forms and structures. While traditional Persian santur music has its own unique structure and form, there is room for experimentation and innovation in expanding these forms. This can involve the incorporation of new scales, modes, and rhythms, as well as the exploration of new musical structures and patterns.

In conclusion, the potential for innovation and evolution in Persian santur music is vast, and there are many ways in which the genre can be expanded and enriched. Whether through experimentation with sound and timbre, integration with electronic media, fusion with other musical genres, or expansion of musical forms and structures, the future of Persian santur music is bright and full of possibilities.


1. What is santur?

Santur is a traditional Persian instrument that belongs to the dulcimer family. It has a trapezoidal shape with a wooden soundboard and metal strings that are struck with two small hammers. Santur is a fundamental instrument in Persian classical music and is also used in other Middle Eastern music traditions.

2. How is santur played?

Santur is played by holding its wooden frame with both hands and using two small hammers to strike the strings. The left hand controls the sound dynamics by pressing the strings down with the fingertips, while the right hand strikes the strings with the hammers. Santur players use a variety of techniques to create complex melodies, rhythms, and harmonies.

3. What is the history of santur?

The origins of santur can be traced back to ancient Persia, where it was known as “santur-i-Khorasani.” Over time, it evolved and spread to other parts of the world, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia. Santur has been an integral part of Persian classical music for centuries and continues to be a popular instrument in modern Persian music.

4. What are some famous santur players?

There have been many famous santur players throughout history, including Abdollah Ansari, Mahammad-Taqi Nasser, and Parviz Meshkatian. Today, many young musicians are also exploring the potential of santur in contemporary music genres.

5. How is santur used in Persian classical music?

In Persian classical music, santur is often used to accompany the vocalist or other instruments. It provides a rich, resonant sound that adds depth and complexity to the music. Santur is also used to play solo pieces, often in a free-form style that showcases the player’s improvisational skills.

6. What are some common musical scales used in santur?

Santur players typically use the “radif” system of musical scales, which consists of seven main scales and a variety of sub-scales. These scales are used to create melodies and harmonies that are unique to Persian classical music. Some common scales used in santur include the “Shur” scale, the “Segah” scale, and the “Chahar Mekham” scale.

7. Can anyone learn to play santur?

Yes, anyone can learn to play santur with dedication and practice. However, it requires a certain level of musical skill and understanding of Persian classical music. There are many teachers and resources available for those interested in learning to play santur, including online tutorials and instructional videos.

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