By Artur Yeghikyan
Artur Yeghikyanis a performer and educator living in Los Angeles.
He teaches percussion and composition at the International
School of Music in Glendale, California. He served as Principal
Percussionist of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra from
1985–99, and was founder and director of the Armenian Phil-harmonic
Orchestra’s percussion ensemble. In 1995 he founded
the Armenian Percussion Art Union and was their President
until 1999. From 1997 to 1999 he was President of the Armenian
PAS Chapter. As a composer he has produced several
works for percussion including the ballet “Grigor Lusavorich”
(for percussion and duduk) as well as works for percussion ensembles
History and information of Armenian
Many kinds of percussion instruments are used in
territory of Armenia. A variety of cymbals, tambourines,
drums, and other percussion instruments have
throughout the ages of Armenian history in rites and
The earliest mentions of Armenian percussion instruments
found in historical documents pertain to the time period of
3000–2000 B.C. According to ancient manuscripts, several
kinds of timpani were used during worship of the goddess
Anahit (Srbuhi Lisitian, Armenian Folk Songs and Dances, Vol.
2). Ancient cymbals, dated about 800 B.C., were found at
Karmir Blur (Red Hill) excavations.
An instrument that has remained from pre-Christian rites—
a metallic, decorated disk with little bells on the edges called
Kushowthes, is still used in the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Considering that Armenia adopted Christianity as its official
religion in the year 301, it is obvious that the age of the instrument
dates back to much earlier times.
Of the many percussion instruments presently used in Armenia,
the most widely used and popular is the duhole, a drum
with a cylinder-shaped body that is covered with either one or
two membranes. Both the cylinder and the heads can be made
from different materials. Ancient people used ceramic, walnut,
and copper shelled duholes. It is generally agreed that the best
duholes are made from walnut. However, because walnut is difficult
to work with and is prone to cracking whan making the dhol, other kinds of wood
and plastics are more widely used today. Nevertheless, and despite
its heavy weight, duhole players mainly favor walnut
duholes due to
their rich timbre. The membrane(s) can be on the top, or
the top and bottom of the duhole. If there is a membrane
on both sides of a duhole, they must be connected so that the
can be tuned. They must be stretched from both sides of the duhole
with a string that zigzags from hole to hole and from one membrane to
Tightening or loosening the string tunes the instrument.
Membrane material could very well depend on the type of
The duhole can be played with hands or drumsticks. Drumstick-
played duholes are called copal duholes. (Copal is a name
for a particular stick.)
Depending on the copal’s place of origin,
it can be of different shapes and sizes. Copals from some regions
have clublike shapes, while others are simple sticks 30 to
40 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters in diameter.
Independent of shapes and sizes, copals always have the
same performing function. Copals are used to strike the upper
membrane to produce low-pitched sounds and to accentuate
strong beats of a rhythmic pattern. Copal duholes may have different
names, which also depends on the dialect of the place
from which they come. For example, combal (from the
Karabakh region), chomakh (from the Balu region), and
toghmagh (from the Little Armenia region) are all names for co-pal
Tchipot: Another stick, called tchipot, is used to strike the bottom
membrane. It is a thin stick, which might be a tree branch, 30
to 40 cm long. They are usually made from cornelian cherry
wood or wayfaring tree wood, and are therefore strong and flex-ible.
There are two main types of tchipots, and they vary ac-cording
to the region from which they come. One is a regular 30
to 40 cm long branch; the other is the same length but has a
leather strap at one end in which one or two fingers are placed.
They both have the same function.
The left hand of a duhole player has multiple functions. In
addition to holding the tchipot it also holds the bottom of the
duhole and balances its position.
The method of holding the sticks for copal duholes is similar
to that of military drums. The right hand holds the stick deep
into the palm, while the stroke goes downward from above. The
holding of the tchipot stick and the striking technique is differ-ent
and rather interesting as well. It is usually held by the
thumb and index fingers. However it is also held by the index
finger with a leather strap attached at the end of the stick. The
stroke goes from below to above. Unlike the copal, tchipot
strikes are of many different types. There are plain (straight)
strikes to the membrane, strikes with the whole surface of the
stick, and the press-roll strike.
High and low pitches of a copal duhole depend not only on
the type of copal or tchipot, but also on the type of membrane.
Upper membranes are made mostly from sheepskin, while bot-tom
membranes are made from goatskin. However, today’s
duholes are made of a large variety of skins and even plastics.
Depending on the function and regions from which they come,
copal duholes vary in size, ranging from 30 to 90 centimeters of
Copal duholes, like other drums, usually perform a supportive
function, although in some Armenian dances they do hold
the solo position.
For example, in “Bert” and “Kochari” (two Armenian
dances), the soloist is the duhole player. In addition to
playing the duhole, the player also dances in these dances.
Recently, copal duholes become widespread in the Kurd-populated
regions in Armenia. Some Armenian composers used
copal duholes in symphonic orchestras, such as “The Dance of
Kurds” from “Gayaneh” Ballet by Edgar Hovannesyan.
Hand duholes differ from copal duholes because they are
played with hands and not sticks.
Hand duholes are from 20 to
60 cm long. They are mainly made from walnut. However, they can also be
made from plastics, metals, or ceramic.
Membrane - Heads
membranes also differ from copal duholes, in that they are usu-ally
made from sheepskin and calfskin. However, modern
duhole players use pigskin, some fishskin, and different kinds
of plastics witch is wildly used this days by many of our dhol players,
since it lasts longer and those not need to bee tuned every moment do to
moister or heat.
Duhole players are referred to as “duholchees,” “tumbook-chees,”
and “tumpkahars.” Hand duholes are played both standing
and sitting. While standing, the duhole is held by a specific
rope around the shoulder. While sitting, the duhole is placed on
the left foot and leaned on by the left elbow. Because the right
hand is free, it performs the main and strong beats. The left
hand plays the accompaniment and uses unique Armenian finger
Three main areas are beaten on the duhole, and beating in
different ways will produce different sounds. For example, the
sound produced near the center is called “dump.” In Armenian,
“dump” means many things: low, pitch sound, and main. A
“dump” sound may be produced by the palm or the fingers. The
palm can have the fingers touching each other or separated
from each other. Any finger can be used in addition to any fin-gertip.
Another sound is called “zil.” Once again, “zil” has many
meanings in Armenian: good, good sounding, and loud. The “zil”
sound is produced by beating the edge of the membrane using
the palm or finger(s). One other sound produced is called “kut.”
Snapping the middle and ring finger produces it.
Just as eastern music varies in many ways, so do the traditions
of duhole players. In Armenia, you may come across many
drums covered with golden plaques received by the musician
from his or her fans. You may also come across duholes covered
with valuable stones showing how much the musician values
his or her duhole. One Armenian tradition is that elder duhole
players give their duholes to young ones so that they continue
the elder’s style of playing the duhole.
The duhole sounds:
The duhole sounds equate to the notation in the following
musical examples as follows: “dump” (center) = C, “zil” (rim) =
R, and between “dump” and “zil” = normal notation (N).
Many composers used different folk instruments in classic
and contemporary music. Armenian composers used many folk
percussion instruments. For example, Alexander Spendarian
used the duhole in “Erevanian Portraits.” Avet Terterian used
the “dupp” in “Symphony #7” with a symphony orchestra.
Composers of many nationalities, especially Caucasians, used
folk percussion instruments in their music. In my opinion, the
very best use of these instruments in symphonic music was by
“Gayaneh” (often spelled “Gayne”) Sabre Dance - was performed for the
very first time (with the participation of Aram Khachaturian) in
Armenia. Some parts of this ballet were performed by playing
the duhole. When this ballet was to be performed in Armenia,
Khachaturian didn’t have to give specific details to the
duholchee. However, when other countries around the world be-gan
performing this ballet, it became necessary to use other
symphonic instruments instead of the duhole or duppe. Many
tests took place using tomtoms, bongos, timpani, etc., to see
which one worked the best. In Armenia, the use of snare drums
without snares and timpani became widespread. Khachaturian
was very satisfied with this.
The principle of transferring a part to be played on one instrument
to another instrument is simple: the timbre and
(music ornaments) of the snare drum or timpani must
be as much like the duhole’s timbre and melisms as possible.
When the “Gayaneh” ballet was played outside of Armenia,
equivalents to the rhythms and sounds played by duholchees
became necessary. Discussions and disputes arose pertaining to
this matter and, therefore, many experiments took place.
For exploration purposes, let’s look at “Lezginka” from
“Gayaneh” ballet. The Lezgins are people who live in the moun-tain
regions of Georgia and Aphasia. Many composers have
written a “Lezginka,” including Ipolitov-Ivanov, Paliashvily, and
Edward Mirzoyan. In all such examples, the composers’ rhyth-mic
structure is basically the same.
Iplitov-Ibanov wrote “Lezginka” from “Iberia” in 6/8: