Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Family Music

Hear me oud!

7 medieval Persian instruments to know


Published: 5 Jun 2020

Time taken : ~10mins

Instruments from a medieval era

These Persian instruments have been around for a long time, some even more than a thousand years. They have seen the rise and fall of many empires and kingdoms and are a part of many cultures and traditions around the world, especially in places like the Middle East and Central Asia. 

Some were used in songs sung in praise of god, while others were thought to be answers to medical problems. Many of these instruments are still a part of people's daily lives or are played during special occasions.

Let's find out more about seven of these amazing medieval instruments that are older than anyone alive. 


The tar is a plucked-string instrument.

In its current form, this Persian (modern day Iran) instrument has been around since the 18th century. People thought that melodies played on the tar could cure headaches and sleeplessness. Today, it is a big part of Persian classical music.


The oud is the king of instruments.

The oud is one of the most popular instruments in Arabic music but it came from the Persian instrument, barbat. The string instrument is used in every occasion imaginable, whether it is to celebrate a happy event or to express sadness.

It is believed to be the ancestor of the European lute. Historians believe that the instrument's presence in the Arab world goes all the way back to the 1st century BC. That's more than 2,000 years ago! Can you even begin to imagine what life was like then?


A dayereh is a frame drum with jingles.

The tambourine-like instrument goes by many other names depending on which part of the world you are in. You can find it in places like Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and many more. In Macedonia, the drum is used in folk music and during rituals like weddings.

Nobody knows exactly how old the instrument is but a version of the dayereh appears in paintings from more than 500 years ago. 


A kamancheh is played with a bow.

The instrument is popular in Persian, Azerbaijani, Turkmenistan and Kurdish music and has a history that is more than 1,000 years. The word "kamancheh" means "little bow" in Persian. To craft and play this instrument takes time and plenty of skills. In Iran, the instrument is an important instrument that is played during social and cultural gatherings.


A santur is a hammered dulcimer instrument.

That means, a musician plays it by hitting the strings on the instrument with special hammers. The instrument was invented in ancient Iran and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).

Did you know that this instrument was brought all over the the Middle East as part of trade? Over time, each place adapted the instrument to their liking. It is believed that the santur is the ancestor to instruments such as the Chinese yangqin, the Middle Eastern and North African qanun and the European harpsichord.


The tombak is a wooden drum.

The tombak is a pre-Islamic drum from the Persian empire. That's at least 1,400 years ago. In the pre-Islamic era, the tombak was called dombalag.

While the instrument is a main percussive instrument in Persian music today, musicians who played the tombak were not always highly regarded among other musicians and society at large. They were considered lower in status up until the 1950s. This was when tombak musicians showed that the instrument was a force to be reckoned with and that they were just as good as any other classical musician.


The setar is a plucked-string instrument.

Not much is known about the history of the humble looking instrument. The only fact known to historians is that the instrument went through a lot of changes and was almost forgotten in the 19th and early 20th century because of the popularity of another instrument, the tar

The Persian setar used to have three strings but a dervish Moshtaq-Ali Shah, added another string to the instrument to improve its sound. This is why the 4th string is also known as Moshtaq's string. Moshtaq was thought to have loved the instrument so much that he used to play the setar while reading the Quran, the holy book of Islam.

Guess the medieval instrument

Click on the boxes in the puzzle below to read the clues and solve the crossword puzzle. You can type your answers directly into the boxes. Give it a go!

Want to explore the world?

For more trivia, puzzles and colouring fun, download and print the Stay Home PLAYpack below and travel the world in a day.