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What is a Daf?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 23, 2024
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A daf is a Middle Eastern frame drum. Like other frame drums, it is designed with a head diameter greater than the depth of the shell of the drum. The daf is an ancient instrument that originated in the Middle East and has many different names and variations in many countries. It is most popular in Iran and Greece, where it was first played. It can also be found in ancient Persian and Kurdish rituals, and the popular and classical music of many countries.

The daf has many different styles and can be played in many different ways. It is famous for its clear sound and low tone. Many dafs feature ringing bells and plates around the edges in a tambourine-like style. The daf is, like many hand drums, made of bent wood with animal skin stretched over. The shell of the drum is generally sturdy and hollow. It is constructed different than many simple frame drums in that its drum head is fixed with metal tuning screws to alter the pitch and tone of the notes. These screws offer changes in the low, musical tones of the drum.

The different kinds of daf dictate the style of play and the sound of the music. A solo daf is used in solo performances and has a generally clear sound. An orchestra daf is larger and has a soft sound. A summer daf has skin not covered loosely on the shell and a winter daf has skin stretched tightly, to give the instrument a different timbre. Like the tambourine, the daf can be played in one hand while standing, or between the legs while sitting down like the bongo. It can be played with a multitude of different finger taps and claps or with a mallet.

As well as many different kinds of dafs, there are many related instruments worldwide. These variations include: the defi, the daire, and the dap. The daf, though, has remained the most popular around the world, especially in Iran, where it is the second national drum, behind the tonbak.

The daf has been very important in Persian and Iranian culture throughout the ages. Its importance predates the advent of Islam, and played a strong part in religion and art music at that early time. It has since occupied a spiritual role in the many rituals and ceremonies of Iranian and Kurdish life. The daf was introduced to the West through Spain in the 15th century and since has permeated the rest of Europe, and has found a small niche in the United States with specialty instrumentalists.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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