Santoor (or santur, sadouri, santour) is a hammered dulcimer or struck zither expanded throughout Middle East, East Asia and instruments from the same family are even found in eastern Europe. It is used in a variety of musics in Iran, Iraq, India, Kashmir, Turkey, Greece, Armenia, China and Tibet.
It is believed that this instrument has originated in Persia. Santoor’s origin goes a long way back until the ancient Babylonian (1600 – 911 BCE) and neo-Assyrian (911 – 612 BCE) eras, it is understood from the iconographical documents of those eras that it was a kind of harp carried horizontally and struck with two sticks like it is today. In the Hebrew Bible (old Testament), the santir is cited among the instruments in the orchestra of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Chaldea. Historical references continue and it is interesting that Egyptians note its distinction from qanun in the 16th century.
Now santoor occupies a material place in the traditional Iranian orchestra, it also has a place in motrebi (music for entertainmet) but never in folk music. The contemporary Iran santoor has has a case made of walnut wood in the shape of a trapeze. Across this case are stretched metal strings that are beaten with small wooden hammers or mallets called mezrab. The strings are fixed to the pins on both sides, you can tune santoor with the metal wrest-pins on the right. Santoor has a great melodic potential, 27 different notes can be played on this instrument. Its bass strings are of brass and the trebles are of steel. There, three courses of strings being lowest-sounding, strings sounding an octave higher and highest sounding series being the third octave each between E and F. Its tuning can be readily modified by adjusting the position of the bridges. The strings generate a thin, bright sound full of harmonics. Its timbre is almost magical and attractive.
It is possible to hear that the same attractive sound rising from Indian music. The santoor’s recent entry to Hindustani music came via northwestern Indian subcontinent Kashmir where it has traditionally been played in music-accompanying ceremonies of the Sufi sect of Islam. In south Asia, the santoor was restrictively played in the Kashmir region. It is similar to Iran santoor although it is smaller and held on the player’s lap, on the other hand its tuning is different. The Kashmir santoor is the leading instrument of the religious art-music ensemble sufyana kalam (‘Sufic utterance’). It accompanied kalam songs in a small ensemble composed of setar, dukra (drums), saz-i-kashmir (spike fiddle). Those songs were composed of a repertory sang within over 50 modes some with Indian raga names, some Middle Eastern. Shiv Kumar Sharma (also spelled as Shivkumar or Sharma), the Indian santoor virtuoso introduced santoor in Hindustan raga music in the mid-20th century. Fixed-pitched instruments such as santoor were not very suitable to Indian music because they could not give the voice-derived portamento sound (where the voices slide from one note to the other passing through the notes between the beginning and the end notes) but Sharma introduced a virtuoso stick-technique which can generate the sound of vocal portamento through timing and tremolo. Since then the popularity of santoor has grown and it is even often heard on film sound tracks and in popular-music performances in India.