Kamancheh is an Iranian bowed string instrument used also in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. It is related to the Rebab, the historical ancestor of Kamancheh and also to the European violin family. The strings are played with a variable tension bow. The word “Kamancheh” means “little bow” in Persian. Traditionally, Kamanchehs had three silk strings, but modern ones have four metal ones. Today, all Kamanchehs have four strings therefore; there are four pegs on top of the instrument for tuning. Up to the 20th century, three stringed Kamanchehs were usual, however, after the introduction of violin to Iran, a fourth string was added.
Kamancheh can be tuned in different ways, with a few tunings being more standard than others. It is played using a bow with a length of approximately 60 centimeters. It is a wooden cylinder with a circumference of 4 to 6 millimeters and the hair most typically utilized for it is horse hair. The hair, unlike on western bowed instruments, is not pulled taught. Instead, the player will have to adjust the tension using their fingers according to the song while playing.
Kamancheh may have highly ornate inlay and fancy carved ivory tuning pegs. The body has a long upper neck and a lower bowl-shaped resonating chamber made from a gourd or wood, usually covered with a membrane, made from the skin of Lamb, goat, or sometimes fish, on which the bridge is set. In Turkeman Sahra a special fish skin is used that reduces the sound changes Kamancheh can be prone to in humidity. In dryer areas, Camel is used which is less responsive to humidity.
There are two methods for creating the resonance cup. The older version is to use a singular piece of hollowed out wood. These cups are heavier and make it difficult to rotate the body; therefore, their sound is not too great. In different regions, including south Asia, the cup may be made out of metal, coconut, or squash. However, the newer method calls for using smaller pieces of wood that are bowed and attached to each other to form a sphere. The wood used is usually from mulberry, walnut, or evergreen trees. These kamanchehs typically sound better and due to their lighter weight, they are easier to play. The diameter of this cup is usually around twenty centimeters. Much smaller ones exist in regional music with the smallest ones belonging to the Turkemans. Kamancheh’s neck is typically made out of walnut. It is 31 centimeters long, 35 millimeters in circumference at the top, and 30 millimeters in circumference around the bottom.
The player usually sits down and places the base of the instrument on the floor or depending on the shape of the base, the player can choose to sit on a chair and place the base on his/her lap. In either setting, it is the instrument that rotates, instead of the bow, in order to accommodate the easy contact of the bow with the strings. Bow is usually held with the right hand and the instruments and strings are handled with the left. Kamancheh is perfect for solo and duet performances.
Online Kamancheh lessons by Negar Kharkan at Rhythmitica Academy