Dastgah is a musical modal system in traditional Persian art music. According to musicians themselves, the etymology of the term dastgah is associated with “the position (gah) of the hand (dast) [on the neck of the instrument]”. The Persian term dastgah can be translated as “system,” and dastgah is then “first and foremost a collection of discrete and heterogeneous elements organized into a hierarchy that is entirely coherent though nevertheless flexible.


Persian art music consists of twelve principal musical modal systems or dastgahs; in spite of 50 or more extant dastgahs, theorists generally refer to a set of twelve principal ones. A dastgah is a melody type on the basis of which a performer produces extemporised pieces. Each dastgah consists of seven basic notes, plus several variable notes used for ornamentation and modulation. Each dastgah is a certain modal variety subject to a course of development (sayr) that is determined by the pre-established order of sequences, and revolves around 365 central nuclear melodies known as gushehs (each of these melodies being a gusheh) which the individual musician comes to know through experience and absorption. This process of centonization is personal, and it is a tradition of great subtlety and depth. The full collection of gushehs in all dastg?hs is referred to as the radif.

The dastgah system has been a major influence in the maqam system in the Arabic music, both of which are deeply rooted in the Sassanid Persia’s melodies which entered into the Islamic world following the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th century.

The system of twelve dastgahs and gushehs has remained nearly the same as it was codified by the music masters of the nineteenth century, in particular Mîrz? Abdoll?h Far?h?ni (1843–1918). No new dastgah or large gusheh has been devised since that codification. When in the modern times an ?v?z or dastgah has been developed, it has almost always been through borrowings from the extant dastgahs and gushehs, rather than through unqualified invention. From this remarkable stability one may infer that the system must have achieved “canonical” status in Iran.

The Twelve Dastgahs

  • Bayat-e Tork
  • Bayat-e Esfah?n
  • Abu’at?
  • Se’gah (“third place”)
  • Chah?r’gah (“fourth place”)
  • R?st-Panj’gah (“fifth place”)
  • Shur
  • Mahour
  • Homayoun
  • Dashti
  • Nava
  • Afshari

History of Iranian Music

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Designs, masonries and miniatures belonging to the pre-Islamic history of Iran all indicate Iranians’ interest and taste in music. In the post-islamic era, too, despite some opposition which made music lose its former success, this art survived. The survival of music the Safavid era (200 – 650 ad) can be found inChehel Sotun palac. and the music chamber ofAli Qapu Monumen in Isfahan.

Iran’s music is an amalgamation of tunes and melodies which have been created in the course of centuries Iran and have evolved along with other aspects of the Iranian life. They refelct the moral characteristics, as well as political, social events and geographical features of a countly with an ancient history. The subtlety and profundity of Iranian music leads man to reflection and deep thought and takes him to a celestial world, Iranian music includes the following branches:

1-The pre-Islamic music (the music of ancient Iranian tribes such as, Bakhtyari, Kordi, Lori, etc.)

2-The post-Islamic music:a)Maghaml (mystic) music; This music includes epic music, tyric music for marriage, birthday and other happy occasions, and elegiac music for mournful occasions.

b) Radif music which Includes the Dastgahs(modes) of Traditional music.

In the contemporary era, Iranian music includes three branches; the two above-mentioned groups in addition to a third one which is Iran’s national music. This branch covers the traditional melodies of the two above groups, but with a classic rendition.

According to the new classifIcation of Iranian Awaz (songs) and modes, which has been set since a century ago, Iran’s traditional singing and music has been divided Into 12 groups. The seven groups which are wider and more independent are called Dastgah (mode) and the other five groups which are not independent and have been derived from the Dastgahs or modes are called Awaz (a group of melodies with the same gamut.) So, Iran’s present traditional music is only a remainder of the former 12 Maghams (modes) and what we have today is a very small part of the Iranian traditional music. The seven main Dastgahs (modes) and the five Awaz groups have several pieces (gushe) which are now the models of the contemporary musicians and singers. The number of these pieces (gushes) is said to be 228. The varoius and well-known Radifi (Iranian classical music) of the masters of the 100-year old Iranian traditional music such as Agha Hosein GhoMirza Abdollali, Darvish Khan, and Saba follow the same order.

The Dastgahs (modes) and Awazes (melodies) in iran’s Traditional Music.

The seven main Dastgahs or modes are: Shoor, Mahoor, Homayoon, Segah, Chahargah, Nava, and Rast Panjgah. The five Awazes or melodies are: Isfahan, Abou Ate, Bayat-e-Tork, Afsharl and Dashti.

The Components of Dastgah and Awaz

In order to perform a Dastgah or Awaz, a pecial order must be followed and that is; prelude, Awaz, Tasnif (song) and Reng (dance tune). The late Oarvish Kban Innovated and added Plshdaramad (what comes before the prelude) and Chahar Mezrab to this order.

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Iran’s Folklore Melodies

The late Khaleghi said in this regard,” One of the valuable sources of music in every country is the music and melodies played and sung by the rural people who live in villages far from the cities. And since their music and songs have been less influenced by the urban people, they are

more ~iatural and original and are closer to the country’s ancient and authentic music. Collecting such music not only preserves It, but also gives us more lnformaUonaboutaco~ntry and theway Its people live.” As Iran has dlffrent trlbes wlth different cultures, Its folklore musk enjoys a vast variety, both In the songs and the music. For Instance, the music of Gilan, Azarbal Jan, Khorasan. Kordestan, Shlraz, and Baluchistan have different melodle~ and accents. Iran’s folklore music has two forms: 1)- Local melodies which are sung by one person or by a group. 2)~ Local dances which are accompanied by nativ. musical instruments.

Iran’s local melodies are one of the richest, most beautiful and most various among the folklore melodies in the world. These melodies reflect the thoughts, lives, and nature of the people who have created them. They are one of the rich cultural sources of Iran and can be the best inspiration for our musicians to compose scientific music.

Some Samples Iran’s folklore Melodies:<

Gilan and Talesh Music. Kurdistan Music. The music of the South Coast of Iran. Lorestan, Bakhtlari & Fars Music. Sistan va Balouchestan Music. Khorasan Music. Turkmen Music. Azarbaijan Music.

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Musical Instruments

Iran’s musical instruments have been of immense importance since ancient times.

Around a hundred years ago, Iran’s music was gradually separated from songs and followed its own way Iranian musicians and composers masterted the Iranian musk and made innovations in this regard but, on the whole, Iran’s Instrumental music, has two main parts: 1)- solo which is based on traditional music and improvisation.

2)- Group playing, either small or large groups with solo or chorus.


Solo Is highly significant in oriental music and this can be related to the eastern philosophy and mysticism and making a connection with the spiritual world. The eastern musician, in his own sense, is engaged in some sort of worship, especially in his soNtude.

Group Playing

Group playing became more common irlran since the time of Nasereddin Shah the Qajar king. Itwas both in the form of traditional music and

instruments and martial music and western instruments which were introduced in Iran by Monsieur Loumer (the French music teacher who had been invited to Iran to teach at Daroiphonoon school) later, group playing became more common and with western musical instruments joining the Iranian ones and the playing of Iranian pieceson western Instruments, It further prospered.

The oldest Iranian musical instruments are the ney (the Iranian flute) and the Dayereh (tambourine). The following are the different kinds of Iranian musica instruments generally classified:

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Wind Instruments

The ney is the oldest instrument in this group. it is a tube made of cane wIth seven joints and six knots. The ney Is among Iran’s rural instrumenti and is usually played in all parts ollran.

Another Iranian wind instrument is Sorna (an oboe-like Iranian instrument) which is common all ovElran and is of two types:Bakhtyari and Azarbaijani. In Iran, the Soma is usually accompanied by the Dohol or the naghareh (a drum-like Iranian Instrument). This instrument is played at different occasions according to the particular region of the country. In lran’Kordestan, the dohol and the soma are played at mourning ceremonies while in the north, the soma is played along with the performance of ropewalkers and West Azarbaijari, the villagers play the Sorna in their marriage ceremonies along with wood dancing.

The Korna is an ancient and historical instrument which is made and played differently In various provinces Iran. The main types of the Korna (an Iranian instrument of the sorna family) are those in the north ciran, Gilan and Mashhad. The Korna is mostly played in Kordestan and Azarbaijan.

The Bagpipe: It is mostly used in the south oiran. In some parts of Iran, it is called “Khiknai”. It is also played in some parts of Azarbaijan.

String Instruments

One of the oldest string Instruments is Kamancheh (an Iranian violin-like instrument resting on the ground during the performance). This instrument can be used well both in solo and in group performance. Kamancheh isa national musical instrument which is played in all the provinces of Iran, but Is mostly common among Turkmen and Turk tribes.

– The barbat (a harp-like Iranian instrument): this is an instrument from the family of limited string instruments. It is also called AI-e-Oud or Lout. Its body Is like a pear divided lengthwise into two parts. It has a big body and a short necI~ which, in earlier times, used to have three strings. The rabab: This instrument has four parts: a melon-shaped body, middle, neck, and head. The strings of the rabab used to be made of the she-bowel, but now they are made of nylon threads. Its plectrum is made of chicken feather. This instrument is mainly rural and is mostly played in Khorasan and also in some parts of Baluchistan and Sistan.

The tar: it is one of the original Iranian string instruments, It has a multi-part body and six strings. Other musical instruments of the tar family are the Doter and the Setar. The doter is usually played in Turkmen Sahra anKhorasan.

Musical Percussion Instruments

The famous Iranian percussion instruments are the dohol, the dayereh, the drum and the Tonbak.

Dohol: It is a musical percussion instrument consisting of a hollow cylindrical body with a diameter of around one meter and a height of 25 to 30 centimeters. Both ends of the cylinder are covered with a tightly stretched skin, the dohol is played with two sticks, one of which is like a walking stick and the other one isa thin twig. The dohol isa rural instrumentwhich usually accompanies the sorna and is mostly playedFars. Baluchistan andKordestan provinces.

Dayereh (Tambourine): This percussion instrument consists of a wooden circle on one side of which, there is a tightly strectched skin, it is struck with fingers of the two hands. The Dayereh Is commonly used in urban areas rather than rural and usually accompanies another musical instrument Presently, the Dayereh is mostly played in Azarbaijan.

Drum: It is another percussion instrument which is smaller than the dohol and is played with two sticks. Inmost parts Iran, it is usually used in mourning ceremonies.

Tonbak: The tonbak isa percussion instrument made of wood (usually wainutwood). It consists of two parts: the upper part is a cylinder covered by skin and the lower part is the neck of the tonbak which has a wide, open mouth. It is played by the fingers and the skillful player performs artistic subtleties on it.

String Percussion Instruments

The unique Iranian musical instrument in this group is the santir. It consists of a trapezoid wooden box over which 72 white (high) and yellow (bass) strings have been stretched. It has two wooden plectrums. The santir is an instrument which can be played both solo and in group and it ii played in all parts oflran.

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SOURCE :www.farhangsara.com