Pashto Musical Instruments


A Rabab is the most prominant amongst all the musical instruments used in Pashto music. It can be heard in almost all melodies and songs, wether as a sole stringed instrument, or as an accompaniment. It's construction is "drum like" because the mane of a Rabab is skin covered like a drum with the exception of the permanent tension on the skin, where as on a drum the tension is adjustable. It's sound can be heard from quite far away. A Rabab is popularly played, also in Kashmiri and Baluchi music.

Chatralay Sitar

A Chatralay Sitar is a vey simple and very old musical instrument with the most magical sound, directly influenceing the solar plexus. It is not loud and can barely be heard in a mix of musical instruments, but heard being played and accopmanied by Mangay, it is pure tranquility. Even though it is played over a vast region, including Afghanistan, parts of Iran and in two provinces of Pakistan, namely N.W.F.P. and Baluchistan, it carries the name "Chatralay Sitar", meaning the sitar from Chitral (a small but beautiful, and one of the north western-most areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. Here I must say, that the most carefully manufactured and best sounding "Chatralay Sitars" do come from Chitral.

Baja (Harmonium)

A Baja is an organ type instrument. It is very popularly played in Pashto music, and is usually used by singers as an enhancement to vocal rehearsals. It's keys are played with one hand while the other hand is used to pump air into the instrument. It is played very commonly in all the countries of the Indian sub-continent and Afghanistan.

Shpelai (Bamboo Flute)

A Shpelai is a common bamboo flute used almost all over the world. It has a very special place in Pashto music and is loved by almost everyone, especially when faintly heard from far away in the quiet of a moon-lit summer night. It is frequently played by sheep herders, just like it has been played by sheep herders through thousands of years.


A Banjo is a very unusual musical instrument. (It is totally unlike the American banjo). This stringed instrument is pick-strummed and is keyed like a Baja (Harmonium). A very pleasant sounding instrument which is quite popular amongst Pashto music listeners, but unfortunately not too many people play this instrument professionaly, hence is not as common as some of the other musical instruments used in Pashto music. It is played throughout Pakistan but not too much, despite of it's pleasant sound.


A Sarinda is an un-common stringed and bowed instrument. It has a very high pitched but enchanting sound and is commonly used in Pashto music. It is played while sitting on the ground just like most south asian intruments. It is generally played joyously but can be played otherwise.


This instrument is without any doubt unusual, not just because the only person (Zarnosh) that plays it, has also invented it. But the whole instrument is two six inch wheat stems not even attached to one another. Both the stems are flatened on one end, (like a reed) and a constant flow of air is blown through the flatened ends. One of the stems has just three frets and the other has none. It is played by maintaining a pocket of air in the mouth which is blown into the stems and simultaneously intaking air through the nasal passage to maintain a constant sound. It sounds like an Indian snake charmer's wind instrument (Been).


Duprai/Dukrai is the Indian Tabla. A pair of percussion instrument played by highly skilled players when played classical. It is very commonly used throught the world. It is played a little bit differently in Pashto music, since most of Pashto music has a Greek/Macedonian type beat. Tabla players around the Pashto music listening areas are commonly observed pasting dough onto the center of the larger of the drum pair to improve the sound.


A Mangay is a recepticle used for the storage of water, and has been used as such for thousands of years. It has a wide belly with about a four inch opening at the neck. It is used as a musical instrument only when completely dry. It is played with the flat palm of one hand, trapping and releasing air in the Mangay, producing a booming sound, and with the other hand, softly striking its outside either with a finger-ring, a coin or a pebble. To produce a greater boom, a sheet of inner auto-tyre tube rubber is tightly tied onto the neck of the Mangay and is beaten with the hand like a drum. To further enhance the sound, it is accompanied by a "Chillum" (the base of a hubble-bubble or a waterpipe) into which water is poured, proportionate to sound desired, and is beaten with a soft shoe sole producing a sharper and higher pitched boom. Played together with a Chatralay Sitar is trancedental.


A dol is a two sided percussion instrument, which comes in many sizes, It is sometimes played by striking it with bare hands and sometimes with wooden sticks. It is widely used all over the Indian sub-continent. In Pashto speaking areas, it is commonly used by the Khattak tribe, to a distinct beat, of which the Khattak dance is performed. It can be, and is used as a stand-alone instrument which accompanies wedding songs sung generally by women in the many thousands of villages and towns of south Asia.


Besides the Musical instruments mentioned above, there are many others, like Cheng, Dutara, Gungru, Naghara, Santoor, Surna, Tambal, etc. that are used in Pashto Music, inluding most european and eastern ones.

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