Persian Music

Written by Serena Berger
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Traditional Persian music, i.e., the "classical" music of Iran, is based on the Radif, a collection of old melodies that have been shared for generations. When masters perform or record their own interpretation or the portion of the Radif they select, they occasionally add melodies which become part of the canon for others to incorporate.

Mastery is a long process, as many years of study and repetition are required to learn the Radif so completely as to be able to recognize or perform any piece of it immediately. Masters of the Radif are likely to select among the traditional instruments of Persian music upon which to perform. Vocalists, like instrumentalists, perform from the Radif, using the same melodies but different rhythmic structures. Instrumentalists are likely to play stringed instruments, wind/pipe instruments, and percussive instruments.

The Unique Instruments of Persian Music

The Ney might well be the oldest pitched instrument known to man. It is a reed flute with five finger holes in front and one thumb hole in the back, and a range of two and a half octaves. It is one of the essential pieces in any Persian music ensemble.

The traditional music of Iran also includes percussive instruments such as the tombak and the daf, and stringed instruments such as the tanbur (considered the ancestor to most stringed instruments used in the world today) and the tar. Sufi mystics favor the setar with its delicate, haunting sonority. While Persian music will sound very unfamiliar to Western ears, it has a beauty and intricacy well worth the effort it will take to adjust to its different melodies and rhythms.

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