Iranian Music

Persian Music

The traditional and indigenous music of Iran is called Persian traditional music or Persian classical music. It is an ancient traditional art which is appreciated by all Iranian different ethnic groups all around the country. Iran music history dates back to the prehistoric era. It was considered as a means of communication. It later became part of peoples beliefs and culture playing in happy occasions and even funerals. An ancient seal found in Choghamish, Khuzestan Province, Iran (back to 3400 B.C) show that there was the most ancient music orchestra of the world in Khuzestan province.

Jamshid, the Achaemenians king of Persia, is considered to be the inventor of Persian Music. During this era, there were three kinds of music in Iran consisting religious (called Gatheha sung by priests; it was merely vocal, not instrumental) military and local. The Fragmentary documents also has shown that the ancient Iranians possessed an elaborate musical instruments and culture during Elamit era (around 800 BC). Their music was under Assyrians influence. Hellenistic art had put an impact on Iranian music under Seleucids and Parthians. In Sassanid era, music had played an important role in the courts. Barbad, Ramtin, Sarkis, Bamshad, Nakisa were among the most famous musicians of this era composing unforgettable pieces. They founded the basis of some schools of music still being played in Iran. Harps, lutes, flutes, bagpipes, etc. were among the most used instruments. During Sassanid era, Persian music was brought to a higher status. During post-Islam, it was also entered into the Arabs world. Indeed, today, among 52 various tones of Arabic music of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, there are about 30 Iranian organizations, which had entered their music.

However, today’s traditional Iranian music began to develop after the advent of Muslim conquest of Persia in the Medieval era. After Islam, Iranian music has gone through many ups and downs. Some caliphs forbade Persian music; some others introduced music as part of their life, and music was improved by their supports. As a result, music began to flourish.

Iranian Traditional Music Instruments

Among different Persian music instruments some are prominent. Below are some:


Nay prominently figuring in Middle East music is an end-blown flute which has been used over 5000 years. The Persian nay has five finger holes in front and one thumbhole in the back. It has a hollow cylinder with five or six finger-holes and one thumb hole. When a stream of air is directed toward the opening of the instrument, the Sound is produced. This air stream is produced behind the upper teeth.


The daf is a large frame drum used in popular and classical music. It is mostly has been used in Asia and North Africa. In Iran, it was used first as a Sufi instrument played in in Khanghahs. However, this instrument has recently become very popular around Iran. Frame of daf is usually made of hardwood with many metal ringlets attached. The membrane is usually made by fish skin, cow, goat, horse, etc.


Invented in the 18th century, Tar is a long-necked lute (a plucked stringed instrument) playing in Iran, Caucasian countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georjia, and central Asia. Tar consists of two forms: the Persian one called Tar-e-Shiraz or Irani; and Caucasian one also called Tar-e-Ghafghaaz. It is made of block of mulberry wood. It has a deep, curved body with two bulges. The upper surface, the sound box, is shaped like two hearts of different sizes, joined at the points. They are called Naghaareh (the smaller part), and Kaasseh (the larger part). The sound box is covered with lambskin. A horn bridge supports six metal strings in three courses on the lower skin. The fingerboard has twenty-two to twenty-eight movable gut frets.


The dotar is literary translated as two strings usually made of silk or animal entrails. Founded in Iran and Central Asia, it is a traditional long-necked two-stringed lute. In Iran, this instrument is mostly used in north and the east of Khorasan, Gorgan and Gonbad. It should be noted that dotars dimensions and the number of its ligatures vary slightly from region to region. Its fabrication is made of two types of wood. The pear-shaped body is made of a single block of mulberry wood and the neck is made of either the wood of the apricot or the walnut tree.


Another Iranian musical instrument is setar. It is literally translated as three strings; however, in its present form, it has four strings. Two of the strings are made of steel, and two other are of brass. Its ancestry can be considered as ancient tanbur. It is made from thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or twenty-six adjustable gut frets usually made of silk or animal intestines. This instrument is the preferred one for Sufi mystics.


The kamancheh, a bowed spike fiddle, is an Iranian bowed instrument with four metal strings. The body is made of a sheepskin membrane. It is used widely in the Iranian classical music. The art of playing with this instrument was included into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2017. Its tuning varies region by region.


It is a shallow, regular trapezoidal box with several sound posts inside it. There are two small rosettes on the top panel helping to amplify the sound. It has 72 strings arranged in groups of four. Each of these four groups, supported by a small, movable, wooden bridge, are tuned to the same pitch. It is usually made of various kinds of wood such as walnut, rosewood, betel palm, etc.



The tompak is a goblet drum, percussion instrument in Persian music. It is a large wooden instrument with a goatskin head. This instrument is also called Tombak, Tompak, Donbak, Dombak, and Zarb.

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