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 in the Safavid era can be
found in Chehel Sotun palace and
the music chamber of Ali Qapu Monument in Isfahan.
Iran's music is an amalgamation of tunes and melodies
which have been created in the course of centuries in
Iran and have evolved
along with other aspects of the Iranian life. They refelct the moral
well as political, social events and geographical
features of a country 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)Maghami (mystic) music;
This music includes epic music, lyric music for
marriage, birthday and other happy occasions, and
elegiac music for mournful occasions.
b) Radif music which includes the Dastgahs(modes) of
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 classiffication 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 Radifs (Iranian
classical music) of the masters of the 100-year old
Iranian traditional music such as Agha Hosein Gholi, Mirza
Abdollah, Darvish Khan,
and Saba follow the same order.
The Dastgahs (modes) and Awazes (melodies) in Iran's
The seven main Dastgahs or modes are: Shoor, Mahoor,
Homayoon, Segah, Chahargah, Nava, and Rast Panjgah. The five Awazes or melodies
are: Isfahan, Abou Ata, Bayat-e-Tork, Afshari and Dashti.
The Components of Dastgah and Awaz
In order to perform a Dastgah or Awaz, a special order
must be followed and that is; prelude, Awaz, Tasnif
(song) and Reng (dance tune). The late Darvish Khan
innovated and added Pishdaramad (what comes before
the prelude) and Chahar Mezrab to this order.
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 natural 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
information about a country and the way its people
live." As Iran has different tribes with different cultures, its
folklore music enjoys a vast variety, both in the songs
and the music. For instance, the music of Gilan,
Azarbaijan, Khorasan, Kordestan, Shiraz, and
Baluchistan have different melodies 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 native musical
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
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
music 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
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 solitude.
Group playing became more common in Iran since the time of
Nasereddin Shah the Qajar king. It was 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
Darolphonoon school) later, group playing became more
common and with western musical instruments
joining the Iranian ones and the playing of Iranian
pieces on western instruments, it further prospered.
The oldest Iranian musical instruments are the ney (the
Iranian flute) and the tambourine. The following are
the different kinds of Iranian musical 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 instruments and is usually
played in all parts of Iran.
Another Iranian wind instrument is Sorna (an oboe-like
Iranian instrument) which is common all over Iran andis of two types:Bakhtyari and
Azarbaijani. In Iran, the Sorna 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 Iran's Kordestan, the
dohol and the sorna are played at mourning
ceremonies while in the north, the sorna is played
along with the performance of ropewalkers and in West
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 of
Iran. The main types
of the Korna (an Iranian instrument of the sorna family) are those in the north
Gilan and Mashhad. The Korna is
mostly played in Kordestan and Azarbaijan.
The Bagpipe: It is mostly used in the south of Iran. In some parts
of Iran, it is called "Khiknai". It is also played
in some parts of Azarbaijan.
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 is a 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 Al-e-Oud or Lout. Its body is like a
pear divided lengthwise into two parts. It has a big body and
a short neck which, in earlier times, used to have
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 sheep 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 Dotar and
the Setar. The dotar is usually played in Turkmen
Sahra and Khorasan.
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 is a thin twig. The
dohol is a rural instrument which usually accompanies
the sorna and is mostly played in Fars, Baluchistan and
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. In
most parts of Iran, it is usually used in mourning ceremonies.
Tonbak: The tonbak is a percussion instrument made of
wood (usually walnut wood). 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 is played in all parts of Iran
" Rang-e Gilaki "
In this region, music depicts the life of a people who
live in the woods, love nature, and lead a simple and easy
life, Gilan music is mostly in the form of "shoor", and
its songs are mostly in the form of "sashti" and rarely
"chahargah" and "shooshtari"; they
abound in splendid and expressive scenes, picturing the green and fertile
land, woods, farms, and paddy fields of Gilan.
Vocal music is mainly rooted in the east of Gilan, that is, in the
mountainous area of this part of the country.
In Gilan, instrumental music is generally played on special
occasions and ceremonies, and the instruments
which are used are the "laleh" (the
shepherds' reed), "sorna", and "naghareh".
The Gilan "reezmaghan" includes the divans,
the ditties, and the tunes which ae mostly sung by the women;
these get their subjects from the real life of the
people living in this region, and they are sung by themselves
and handed down by word of mouth from generation to
This music belongs to the northwestern part of Gilan, especially
around the cities of Rezvanshahr, Masal,
Shanderman, Asalem, and Hashtpar. Talesh music takes its form from a popular song
which is instrumental as well. These songs are
extremely sad and melancholic, and they deeply affect the
In the eastern sections of Chabahar, a high dome building is
located which belongs to the Timurid era. The
Imamzadeh has been built in the western section of the
yard on a plate which is one meter above the ground.
The main entrance of the Imam zadeh is located in the
middle of the western section, the surface of its wall
appears extremely beautiful with the annexation of
vaults with stucco ornamentations in the form of juxtapose
circles above the vaults. This building was built
during the Seljuk era 1038 -1194, and its walls were painted
during the Safavid dynasty 1499 - 1723.
appears in three countries: Iran, Turkey, and Iraq. For this reason, and for several other
reasons, it has taken the particular traits and
attributes of each area where it appears. In spite of the
technological advances and the modern way of life, this
music has still preserved parts of its original and
ancient tunes and melodies.
falls into two major caterories: religious and nonreligious. The religious tunes
belong to Sufi
groups (groups of muslim mystics), and they are
performed as a part of special rituals in monasteries.
Another form of music which is very popular in most
parts of Kurdistan is Kurdish ditties and dance music
performed by intruments like " dozaleh",
"narmenay", "sorna", "shemshal", and "dohol".
Music and dance go
hand in hand with one another; as a matter of fact,
just like the melodies and tunes in this region, Kurdish
dances directly feflect the life of the people of
Kurdistan. At times a group of men, at times a group of women,
and at thimes both men and women gather in groups and
dance to these popular tunes.
" Havar havar"
For historical and geographical reasons, the music of
this region has been largely influenced by border
countries like India and the Persian Gulf countries as well
as the migration of the Africans to this area; as a
matter of fact, the greatest influence comes from
African music. A strong proof for this is the presence of
dramatic, ritualistic, and mythological elements in
this music. The music of the south coast of Iran is
absolutely rhythmic and mostly vocal.
Due to the vastness of land, diversity of ethnic groups,
and a tumultous past, Khorasan music appears in a
wide variety of forms. For this reason, we have divided
the music of this region into two major categories: the
music of the north of Khorasan (including the cities of Bojnurd, Quchan, Shirvan, and Dargaz), and the music
of the west and center of Khorasan (including the cities of Torbat-e-Jam, Taybad, Khaf, Neishabur, and
Sabzevar.) The music in
this region is undoubtedly the richest throughout the whole country.
" Daieh daieh"
Music is an indispenable part of life in Lorestan, too; as a
matter of fact, it is present in many ceremonies and
rituals such as wedding and " hennabandan"
ceremonies, revelries and festivities, periods of mourning and
burials, and even at the time of work. The music of
this region falls into two main categories: ritualistic and
Ritualistic and Mourning Music
In Lorestan region, especially in the country, the mourning rigual
has been performed with music, the " sorna",
and the "dohol" since many years ago; even
today, music is still an essential part of the ritual. Among the
songs which are sung in the mourning ritual one can
mention " sahari" and " pakotali".
Nonritualistic music (Songs and Dances)
Unlike other regions in Iran, this kind of music lacks the element of
love and devotion in Lorestan; it is mainly
epic and heroic in this region. Most of the Lorestani
ditties and songs express the bravery and gallantry of the
" Oshari "
Proceeding with a strong and galloping rhythm, Azarbaijan music has an
epic and heroic quality both in from
and in content. This music is quite stirring and lyrical, abounding in
elements of folklore; it is played
passionately and enthusiastically in many traditional ceremonies in this
region, such as wedding ceremonies,
" hennabandan," etc.
Azarbaijan Folk or Asheghi Music
This music is deeply rooted in the rural life and ancient cultural
traditions of Azarbaijan people, and it is
considered as folk music. " Asheghi" music has been popular in
this region since long ago, and the songs
have been transmitted by word of mouth from one " ashegh" to
another; thus, they have been preserved
through the years. This music is known as the chief root and source of
contemporary Azarbaijan music.
Azarbaijan Rural or Radifi Music
Although this music is deeply rooted in " asheghi" music, it
follows special principles, tone, structure, and
combination of instruments. I personally believe that Azarbaijan rural
music is in fact urban in nature, and it
has a great deal of teatures in common with the traditional " radifi"
Azarbaijan Orchestral Music
This kind of music is not so old, and it has been written and performed
in various forms during the recent
years. Among these forms are the opera, the symphony, the concerto, the
fantasy, and the ditties.
Ghazal-e Nader (Menar-e Kalleha)
Turkmen music is sad and melancholic and at the same
time so effective, appealing, and tempestuous. This
music is extremely primitive, and one may consider it
as a sort of simple and untainted music. The history of
Turkmen music dates back to the migration of the "Aghoozes",
the first Turkmen people, from China to
Transoxiana and the east coast of the Caspian Sea. Among these migrants there were wise men and masters
of music known as " ozans". Ozans were the
forefathers of the Turkmen " bakhshees" of today.
Music has played a major role in the lives of the
people in this region since long ago. It is present in all aspects
of their lives: in birth and death, in joy and sorrow,
and even in curing diseases. Balouchestan music is
certainly influenced by west Indian music, and it is
divided into the two groups, instrumental and vocal. There
are different kinds of this music:
Likoo and Zahirook, Mootak, Mir Ghanbar, Sepat, Laroo
and Sheshgani, Liioo and Gooat (Gooati).
Source: HASHT BEHESHT, Iranian folk music
Mahur Cultural- Artistic Institue- Hossein Hamidi 1996