The following are characteristics which distinguish Persian music from other Central Asian music:
- Melodies are concentrated on a relatively narrow register.
- Melodic movement occurs by conjunct steps.
- Emphasis is on cadence, symmetry, and motive repetition at different pitches.
- Rhythmic patterns are kept simple.
- The tempo is often rapid, and the ornamentation is dense.Vocal parts are often decorated with Tahrir, a vocal ornamentation similar to yodeling.
- Also, Iranian music is unique in the Middle Eastern tradition in that the different melodic phrases or gushes are supposed to model the rhythmic stamp and melodic pattern of poetry.
Daf is one of the most ancient frame drums in Asia and North Africa. As an Persian instrument, in 20th century, it is considered as a Sufi instrument to be played in Khanghah-s for Zikr music but now this percussion instrument has recently become very popular and it has been integrated into Persian art music successfully.
The dotar (literally in Persian meaning “two strings”), and it comes from a family of long-necked lutes and can be found throughout Central Asia, the Middle East and as far as the North East of China in Xinjiang too. In Iran, the dotar is played mainly in the north and the east of Khorasan as well as among the Turk men of Gorgan and Gonbad. The instrument remains the same but its dimensions and the number of its ligatures vary slightly from region to region. Two types of wood are used in the fabrication of the dotar. The pear-shaped body is carved out of a single block of mulberry wood. Its neck is made of either the wood of the apricot or the walnut tree. It has two steel strings, which in the past were made of silk or animal entrails. The dotar is tuned in fourth or fifth intervals.
The kamanche is a bowed spike fiddle. The instrument has four metal strings, and the body consists of a wooden hemisphere covered with thin sheepskin membrane. Oddly, the instrument’s bridge runs diagonally across this membrane. The instrument is highly ornate and is about the size of a viola. The tuning varies depending upon the region of the country where it is being played. In Tehran, the kamanche is tuned in the same manner as a violin: G,D,A,E.
The nay is one of my favorite instruments. It is a vertical reed flute with a long history in Persian classical music. The instrument has six finger holes in the front and one in the back. I understand the instrument can be made with some success from PVC pipe.
The santur is a struck zither in the form of a shallow, regular trapezoidal box. There are several sound posts inside the box, and two small rosettes on the top panel which help to amplify the sound. The santur has 72 strings, arranged in groups of four, i.e. each of four closely spaced strings is tuned to the same pitch. Each group of four strings is supported by a small,movable, wooden bridge; the bridges are positioned to give the instrument a range of three octaves.
The Setar is a four stringed lute. Two of the strings are made of steel, two are of brass, and they are tuned to c, c semi-sharp, g, and c semi-sharp, respectively. In the above painting, it is depicted with a Zarb. The average setar is 85 cm long, 20 cm wide, and has a 15 cm deep gourd, and is made entirely of wood. (Unlike the tar which has a membrane stretched across the body.) Also, unlike the tar, the player plucks the strings with the nail of the index finger, instead of using a plectrum.
The tar is the most widely used plucked instrument in Iran today. It is a fretted lute with six strings, five of steel and one of brass. It has a long neck and a double bellied sound box, over which is stretched a thin sheep skin membrane. The tuning of the strings are changed according to the Dastgah that is being played, and the twenty six frets are movable. Finally, the strings are plucked with a plectrum.
The Tombak is the chief percussion instrument of Persian classical music. It is a one-headed drum that is carved of a single piece of wood, and is open on the bottom. Across the larger, upper part of the body is stretched a sheepskin membrane, that is glued into place. Thus, the instrument cannot be tuned; the performer prepares it for a piece by warming the membrane over a heater.
About the music of the Elamites not much is known; however, we know of a ruler of Sousa who had musician at his temple gate about 2600 BC. There are also the bas-relief which shows musicians playing harps and tambourine. It is possible that there was not a lot of difference between Babylonian- Assyrian music and Iran at that time and the Persian names of tabire (drum) and karranay (trumpet) may be derived from names of the Akkadian tabbalu and qarnu. After the conquest of Alexander the Great when Hellenistic culture found expression in Persia, one might suppose that Greek derived the name of salpinx (trumpet) from Iranians. During Parthia period ( beginning 2nd century BC) when Aramaic became the official language, the word shaipur (trumpet) which is Semitic may be taken from Aramaic word.
Sassanian dynasty cherished music as shown on rock carvings of Taq-iBustan which are two types of harp, trumpet and drums. Also, lute (ud), guitar (rubab) and Pandora (tanbura) can be seen from other arts. We also know that specific modes of music were used at certain hours of the day, week, and month, each for a particular purpose as a part of governmental procedure. In Islamic Period, Arabic music became known in Iran. At the same time, Persian music influenced Arabic music. In the 10th century, Persian musicians became favorite at Arab court and the Persian lute was a favored instrument.
In the 9th century, the Khorasanian scale was introduced. The musicians played on Persian tanbur which became as popular as lute. The nay (flute), Chang (harp), rabab (viol), and the nay-i siyah (reedpipe) were also common instruments at the time.
Persian theorists were leaders in Arabian musical theory, for example, Al-Razi and Al-Sarakhsi. Ibn Sina mentions twelve principal modes of music:Rahawi, Husain, Rast, Busalik, Zangula, Ushshaq, Hijaz, Iraq, Ispahan, Nava, Buzurg, and Mukhalif (zirafgand). We know little about their formation. Four of modes mentioned above have Arabic names which may indicate Arabian origin. Ispahan was named as one of the ancient modes of Persia. There are also six secondary modes (avazat). During Ghuri rulers and Khwarizmi (12th -13 th century) music grew. Two notable theorists of this era were Fakhr al-Din al Razi and nasir al-Din al Tusi. Another Persian theorist was Qutb al Din al-Shirazi who was famous for Pearl of Crown (Durrat al-taj). In the Treasure-House of Gift (Kanz al -Tahaf) an important work in 1350, ud (lute), rubab (guitar), mughni ( archlute), chang (harp), nuzha, qanun (psaltery), ghishak (spiked viol), pisha (fife) and nay-i siyah (reedpipe) are completely described. In other places, dutar (two strings) and sitar (three strings) exquisite of poet Hafez are mentioned.