Tar is a string instrument played with a pick or fingernail. The player sits down and places Tar instrument on his/her lap to play. It is held horizontally as the main body of the instrument leans against the player’s leg. The player then uses the right hand while holding a pick to play the music.
Not a lot is documented when it comes to the conception and development of Persian Tar. It can be seen in old miniature designs and ancient books, however, all we know is that today’s Tar, especially the two part body, does not appear in the older designs of the instrument.
Tar’s current form is only 270 years old. There are no depictions of it during the Safavid era. It must be a memorabilia from a time between the Afshar and Qajar eras. Tar instrument is made up of mulberry or walnut wood, ram antlers, camel bone, and sheep skin and gut. All of these point to the fact that Tar was created in central Iran with its dry, arid climate, especially considering the fact that skin does not respond well to humidity. Yahya, a famous maker of this instrument from the Qajar and Safavid eras, played a significant role in the evolution of this instrument. He did so in such a way that all Tars that came after him resemble his style.
Tar is from the family of plucked string instruments, and it is played using a stainless steel pick (a combination of copper and brass which was used to make bells for camels and other cattle). In order to make holding this pick easier it is typically covered in bee’s wax on one side. In a Persian Tar, the animal skin is stretched over the resonance cup which itself is shaped like an infinity sign, though one half is bigger than the other. The smaller chamber of the cup, which sits on the top, is known as “Naqara” and the bigger chamber sitting on the bottom is known as the “belly”.
Tar has three couples of strings which are tuned using six tuning pegs sitting in the pegbox. The first couple of strings from the bottom are tuned to C, the middle two are tuned to G or F, and the top two strings, which are made of two different materials, are tuned to different notes based on the pieces being played.
Iranian Tar is made up of two main parts: the resonance cup and the neck or fingerboard. Once the cup is created, the neck or finger board is attached atop of which sits the pegbox and the tunings pegs are secured there. There are two styles of pegboxes, one is the more traditional design and the other is more contemporary and credited to Ostad Ebrahim Ghanbari Mehr.
The fingerboard is 45 to 50 centimeters long. It is usual to design it using two thin strips of bone and one of wood.
The bridge is a small piece made of ram, goat, or sheep horn over which the strings pass and translate the vibration through it and into the resonance cup for further amplification. In the last few years, a plastic bridge has also been invented that according to some makers and players creates a better sound.
Tar’s range is two and a half octaves. There is a variety of ways Tar can be tuned. Some tunings are better for certain Dastgahs than others. There are 25 to 28 frets on the fingerboard. Frets are made of sheep intestine.
Tar, although younger than other Iranian instruments, is considered one of the most important instruments of the past 200 years.