Tar is an Iranian plucked string instrument and it is common in Iran and some other countries of the Middle East, such as Tajikistan, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia and other areas near the Caucasus to perform classical music of these countries and regions. The word “Tar” itself means string in Persian; although it may have the same meaning in the languages influenced by Persian or other Iranian languages such as Kurdish. This has led Iranian experts to believe that Tar has a common root among all Iranian ethnicities.
In the past, the Iranian Tar had five strings. An Iranian musician, Gholam Hossein Darvish known as Darvish Khan, added a sixth string to it that is still in use.
History of the Tar
Tar means string in Iranian language and in terms of organology, it belongs to the group of plucked string instruments. According to a narrative, Tar has existed since the era of Farabi (872 AD - 950 AD), the great Iranian philosopher, scientist and musician, and after him, it has been more completed by Safi al-Din al-Urmawi (1216 AD – 1294 AD) and others. An example of Tar in the Safavid era is shown in a painting of the Hasht Behesht palace in Isfahan (1669 AD). Two images of Tar painted in Shiraz, one in 1775 AD and another in 1790 AD show that playing this instrument had been common in the Zand era in Shiraz. But we cannot find the name of a specific player of this instrument in documents from the Zand era, and therefore, we can conclude that this instrument had may have another name in that era. Tar with current features and characteristics (dual sound box like two hearts face to face, with an attached neck and having 6 strings) have seen since the Qajar era. Tar reflects Iranian taste (curves and arches that we can observe in the structure of Tar exist also in Iranian calligraphy, painting, miniature and architecture) and over the years it has become more complete. The last modification was carried out by Darvish Khan, a master of Iranian music (1872 - 1926) by adding a sixth string to complete and extend the audio range of Tar. This instrument has 28 frets (that means less than three octaves). The last unique pattern for making Tar belongs to Iranian famous luthier, Master Yahya II (either technical or artistic); he designed the wood knot on the instrument sound box in symmetrical form (called four flowers).
Structure of the Tar
The sound box of Tar is mostly made of old mulberry tree stump; whatever the wood is older, its vessel elements are drier and Tar will have a better sound. Frets are made of sheep gut and the neck and the head are definitely made of walnut wood. The form of the sound box is like two attached hearts, and from backside it looks like a sitting person. The bridge is made of capra horn. Camel bone is used for the two sides of the neck. Tar has a very clear sound due to the skin on the sound box. This skin is usually the skin of lamb fetus, but fish skin can also be used for this purpose.