Tonbak or Tombak is the chief percussion instrument, and the first national drum of Iran. Etymology states that the Pahlavi (Persian ancient language) name of this drum was Dombalak. Though there are many ancient manuscripts attesting to the different names of this drum, the oldest documented pictures that have been found by Mehdi Moghiseh are two Persian paintings painted in the 16th century showing some gypsy drummers and dancers, including Tonbak players. The history of Persian music shows that many books have been written on Persian music and it is unfortunate that many of them have not survived and many of them that have survived have not been published in Iran.
The Tonbak is played with a style that is very different from the style that the other goblet drums are played with, though they seem very similar at first sight. Also, the similarity of the names of different goblet drums should not cause the reader to assume that all goblet drums are played with the same style. The Turkish style is different from the Arabic style, although there are some similarities also. In Turkish style, like the Persian style, finger snapping is used. However, the structure of Arabic goblet drums doesn’t let you play finger snaps on it.
The Tonbak is normally positioned diagonally across the torso while the player uses one or more fingers and the palms of the hands on the drumhead, often near the drumhead\’s edge. Its shell is carved from a single block of wood, maybe with a carved design or geometric pattern. At the bottom the shell is somewhat thicker than at the top for strength. The throat is nearly cylindrical and connects the top cavity to the hollow base.
The structure of tonbak is considered to have five parts: Skin, Body, Throat, Small Opening and Large Opening. Skin of Tonbak is glued on the head of Tonbak. Goatskin is most popular. Body of Tonbak is wooden. This is in fact the sound box of Tonbak. Sometimes many furrows are carved on its wood. Throat is almost cylindrical and it is connected from top to the body. Tonbak is open from the top and bottom. Small opening is in the bottom. It is similar to the mouth of trumpet. In fact throat and small opening together are in the form of a trumpet. Large opening is in the top and the skin is covered on it.