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Daf is one of the ancient musical instruments of Iran and its neighboring countries. It is classified as a percussion instrument. Today, it is considered a part of the Membranophones family, which similar to the Doyreh, is subcategorized as “single-sided” (only one side has the skin stretched over it) with a “frame” body.
In contemporary Dafs, this membrane is also made out of plastic to avoid being affected by humidity. The player usually holds the Daf with the left hand (for right handed players). Using the 5 fingers of the right hand placed on the side of the instrument and 4 fingers of the left hand holding it, the player is then able to play and create music. Daf has four main techniques. Using these four techniques, all different rhythms and sounds can be produced. The right hand techniques are called “Tom” and “Bak” while left hand techniques are called “Chap” and “Zanjir”. All the other techniques (adding up to 20) are auxiliary and complimentary to these four main techniques.
This Persian instrument has been in use in mystical Sufi and Dervish traditions for a long time. In the past few decades, it has surpassed its original place in the Sufi’s “Khaneqah” and has found its status as a versatile instrument in different musical endeavors. Today, Daf is utilized in traditional Iranian music as well as world music and percussion bands, Daf ensembles, and even the classical music bands focused on the music of the renaissance age.
It is said that Moses who was educated and taught by the great teachers of Pharaoh’s court, used to play an instrument named “Toof”. According to a Turkish researcher in the wedding celebrations of Solomon and Queen of Sheba, it could be joyously heard. In some Assyrian ruins, stone carvings display instruments similar to it. Some other carvings depict priests making offerings to deities as some play Daf and harp.
Daf is a Sumerian term and in the past, the instrument was referred to as “Dub”. Later, it changed to “Duppu” or “Tuppu” in Akkadian, and later on Assyrians called it “Dup”. Eventually in the Arab world, it came to be referred to as “Dof”. Scientifically, the oldest signs of Daf’s existence in the Middle East are the illustrations that exist in the ruins of the ancient city of Ashur. In these illustrations, embedded between different musicians, there is a Daf player.
Online Daf lessons by Hooman Tootoonchian at Rhythmitica Academy