The Persian Santoor
My Persian Hammered Dulcimer
A Full Sensory Experience
The Santoor - such a beautiful name for an instrument. It has a dense, wooden body shaped in a trapezoid with strings that are played with delicate wooden hammers. Santoor playing is a high art with two distinct playing and tuning styles. One is from India, the other is from Iran (Persia). Persian santoor was what I wanted to learn.
You could say that the santoor is a cousin to the hammered dulcimer you hear in Blue Grass music. They both are played by hitting the strings. Standard santoors have nine groups of strings. Each group has 4 strings tuned to the same note (36 strings in all). There are chromatic santoors that can play in many keys, but the most popular and easy to play are tuned in one basic key.
My santoor is in the standard G Persian scale. This scale sounds much like the G minor scale except some of the notes like A and D are tuned down a quarter tone. This makes them sound 'flat' or 'exotic' to Western ears. The end result is an exquisite and lush listening experience.
Santoors are moderately priced as far as classical instruments go (300.00 on up) but for the beginning player even that price can be daunting. I was looking for a santoor and only found one main distributer in Turkey.
Videos of Santoor Playing - Mahour Darwishkhan
My Santoor Traveled All the Way From Turkey
My Buying Experience
It was going to be a gamble. The instrument would be shipped from overseas which would be expensive to ship. I needed to get their cheapest one (below 300.00) which for a musician like me was not a comfortable option.
Anything could go wrong, the santoor could have been built poorly, it could have been damaged during shipment. Sending it back would be very expensive.They did, however, have a great eBay rating and I decided to take the plunge. As far as shipping, it took over a month, but they had tracking. I could see when it finally got through customs in NYC. I had to go to the post office because I needed to sign for it (good) and I found it to be very well wrapped. I opened the case and took out my santoor. Its made of walnut and is built solid. Nice, heavy wood. Everything in great shape. No chips no cracks or scratches.
Persian Santoors on eBay
There is quite a wide range in price. Look for someone that has a high rating.
I should have been more careful with the hammers. I broke one within 5 minutes! I wasn't even playing it, I sat the hammers next to me and when I placed my hand back to shift my weight on the sofa, I heard a 'crack'! As a percussionist, that was pretty embarrassing. I was able to repair it with superglue and electrical tape, but I immediately ordered western hammers (thicker) as well as replacement Persian hammers.
My Santoor PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Santoors on Amazon
Pricey but worth looking at.
Fabric Store Beads to Help Find Notes G, B flat and D
Finding Written Music
My Playing Experience
There is a giant lack of method books for Persian santoor in English (like none). I did find online an old public domain piano book of 12 Persian folk songs by Blair Fairchild. I then transcribed the melody into approximate keys (G minor, E flat major, B flat major) and printed out my own music with my Songwriter notation software. I spent the first day tuning it which became more interesting as I got better at it. I only broke one string. I followed the tuning guide I got on the internet. You can also find lessons on youTube (in Farsi). You can sort of follow along.
BIG CHEAT! Okay musicians please don't send me hate mail. The strings blended into the background and no matter how much I angled the santoor or how much light I used, I kept losing my place in the strings. I needed to add my own place markers so I could find the notes more easily. I went to a craft store and got these imitation pearl buttons with some adhesive on the flat bottom. I placed them under the G, B flat and D strings to help find the notes. And I have to say, it works!
Free Santoor Resources
- Petrucci Music Library: 12 Persian Folk Songs
This is where you can download the piano music for 12 Persian folk songs.
- Persian Music and the Santur Instrument: Academic Paper
Information on the history and tuning of the santoor.
- Tuning Reference Page for Santur by Pejman Azamina
A well written and tabled description of the various tunings. Excellent.
12 Persian Folk Songs arranged by Blair Fairchild (public domain)
Transcription of 11 for the Santoor by Kim Milai
For Personal Use Only:
Here is a link to my Photobucket Images of all 11 Songs. They are free and available for direct download! Persian Folk Songs for Santoor
Below is a Sample Song: