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Dastgāh (Persian: دستگاه) is a musical modal system in traditional Persian art music. Persian music consists of a number of principal musical modal systems or dastgāhs; in spite of 50 or more extant dastgāhs, theorists generally refer to a set of 12 principal ones. A dastgāh is a melody type that a performer uses as the basis of an improvised piece.


Each dastgāh consists of seven basic notes, plus several variable notes used for ornamentation and modulation. Each dastgāh 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 musicians come 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 dastgāhs is referred to as the radif. During the meeting of The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations, held between 28 September – 2 October 2009 in Abu Dhabi, radifs were officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.[1][2][3]

The system of twelve dastgāhs and gushehs has remained nearly the same as it was codified by the music masters of the nineteenth century, in particular Mîrzā Abdollāh Farāhāni (1843–1918). No new dastgāh or large gusheh has been devised since that codification. When in the modern times an āvāz or a dastgāh has been developed, it has almost always been through borrowings from the extant dastgāhs and gushehs, rather than through unqualified invention. From this remarkable stability one may infer that the system must have achieved "canonical" status in Iran.[citation needed]


The term dastgāh has often been compared to the musical mode in Western musicology, but this is inaccurate. A dastgāh is usually the name of the initial mode of a piece, which the music returns to—and moreover, a dastgāh identifies a group of modes grouped according to tradition. In short, a dastgāh is both the collective title of a grouping of modes and the initial mode of each group.[4]

According to musicians themselves, the etymology of the term dastgāh is associated with "the position (gāh) of the hand (dast) [on the neck of the instrument]". The Persian term dastgah can be translated as "system", and dastgāh is then "first and foremost a collection of discrete and heterogeneous elements organized into a hierarchy that is entirely coherent though nevertheless flexible."[5]

In conventional classifications of Persian music, Abū ʿAṭā, Daštī, Afšārī, and Bayāt-e Tork are considered sub-classes of Šur dastgāh. Likewise, Bayāt-e Esfahān is a sub-class of Homāyun, reducing the number of principal dastgāhs to a total of seven. A sub-class in the conventional system is referred to as āvāz.

Distinguished pitches[edit]

Koron (half flat) sign

A dastgāh is more than a set of notes, and one component of the additional structure making up each dastgāh is which pitches are singled out for various musical functions. Examples include:

  • Finalis, so named because it usually functions as the goal or destination tone that melodic cadences end on when they have a conclusory feel. This is also sometimes referred to as "tonic" but some authors avoid that usage because "tonic" is associated with Western tonality.[6]
  • Āghāz, meaning "beginning", the pitch on which an improvisation in a dastgāh usually begins. In some dastgāhs it is different from the finalis while in others it is the same pitch.
  • Ist ("stop"), a pitch other than the finalis which often serves as the ending note for phrases other than final cadences.
  • Šāhed ("witness"), a particularly prominent pitch.
  • Moteghayyer ("changeable"), a variable note – one that consistently appears as two distinct pitches, which can be used alternately in different contexts or at the performer's discretion.

The Seven Dastgahs[edit]

Bayat-e Tork (audio file played on Santur.
Segah (audio file played on Santur.
Nava (audio file played on Santur.
Homayun (audio file played on Santur.
Chahargah (audio file played on Santur.
Mahur (audio file played on Santur.
Rast-Panjgah (audio file played on Santur.

Most scholars divide the traditional Persian art music to seven dastgāhs, although some divide them into 12 dastgāhs (by counting Abu Ata, Dashti, Afshari, Bayat-e Kord and Bayat-e Esfahan as separate dastgāhs rather than subcategories of other dastgāhs).[6] Those who categorize the traditional Persian art music into seven dastgāhs often also list seven āvāzes (Persian: آواز, which means songs) in conjunction with these dastgāhs. The following is a list of the seven dastgāhs and seven āvāzs:

List of common Dastgah and Avaz[edit]

Listed in order as per the Radif_(music) of Mirza Abdollah. Flats are shown with a ׳b׳, and koron (half flats) are shown with a ׳p׳.

  • Shur شور (Ca Df Ep F G A/Apm Bb C)
    • Bayat-e-tork بیات ترک (Ca,i D Ep Ff,ŝ G A Bb C)
    • Dashti دشتی (C Df Eb Fa G A/Apm,ŝ Bb C)
    • Abu-ata ابوعطا (C Df Eba,i F Ga,ŝ Ap Bb/Bp C)
    • Afshari افشاری (Cf D Ebi F Ga,ŝ Ap/Am Bb C)
  • Segah سه‌گاه (C D/Dp Epa,f,ŝ F G Ap Bb C)
  • Nava نوا (C D Epi Fa Gf A Bb C)
  • Homayun همایون (C D Eba Fi Gf Apŝ B C)
    • Bayat-e-Esfahan (also called simply Esfahan) اصفهان (C D Epi F# Ga,f,ŝ A Bb C)
  • Chahargah چهارگاه (Cf Dp E F G Apa B C)
  • Mahur ماهور (Ca,f Dŝ E F G A B C)
  • Rast-Panjgah راست‌ پنجگاه (C D E Fa,f G A Bb C)

Less common:

  • Bayat-e-kord (C D Eb F G Ap Bb C) (Sometimes included as an Avaz under Shur)
  • Shushtar (Sometimes included as an Avaz under Homayun, but usually just as a gushe)

Note that in some cases the sub-classes (āvāzs) are counted as individual dastgāhs, yet this contradicts technicalities in Iranian music.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Radif of Iranian music: Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, UNESCO.
  2. ^ Noruz and Iranian radifs registered on UNESCO list, Tehran Times, 1 October 2009, [1].
  3. ^ Nowruz became international, in Persian, BBC Persian, Wednesday, 30 September 2009, [2].
  4. ^ Farhat (2004), p. 19
  5. ^ During (1994)
  6. ^ a b Farhat, Hormoz (1990). The Dastgah concept in Persian music. Cambridge: Cambridge University press. ISBN 9780521542067.


  • Caton, Margaret (1988). "Bayāt-e Tork". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Caton, Margaret (1990). "Bayāt-e Eṣfahān". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Caton, Margaret (2004). "Bayāt-e Kord". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • During, Jean (1994). "Dastgāh". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • During, Jean (1996). "Daštī". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • During, Jean (2004). "Homāyun". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Farhat, Hormoz (1984). "Afšārī". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Farhat, Hormoz (2004). The Dastgah Concept in Persian Music. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-54206-5.
  • Nettl, Bruno (1990). "Čahārgāh". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Safvat, Daryush; Caron, Nelly (1966). Iran: les Traditions Musicales. Paris: Editions Buchet/chastel.
  • Tsuge, Gen'ichi (1983). "Abū ʿAṭā". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Archived from the original on 2015-06-27. Retrieved 2015-01-16.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hormoz Farhat, The Dastgāh Concept in Persian Music (Cambridge University Press, 1990). ISBN 0-521-30542-X, ISBN 0-521-54206-5 (first paperback edition, 2004). For a review of this book see: Stephen Blum, Ethnomusicology, Vol. 36, No. 3, Special Issue: Music and the Public Interest, pp. 422–425 (1992): JSTOR.
  • Ella Zonis, Classical Persian Music: An Introduction (Harvard University Press, 1973)
  • Lloyd Clifton Miller. 1995. Persian Music: A Study of Form and Content of Persian Avaz, Dastgah & Radif Dissertation. University of Utah.
  • Bruno Nettl, The Radif of Persian Music: Studies of Structure and Cultural Context (Elephant & Cat, Champaign, 1987)
  • Ella Zonis, Contemporary Art Music in Persia, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 4, pp. 636–648 (1965). JSTOR
  • During, Jean. "Dastgāh". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2012-08-21.

External links[edit]