The Comparison of Turkish and Iranian Music: Intervals and Tetrachords

Sanaz Nakhjavani

Istanbul Technical University, MIAM


The main purpose of this paper is the comparison of Turkish and Iranian music. The focus is on Iranian music and its classifications and theoretical views by mentioning what they have in common and what cause the differences and changes especially in Iranian music. Iran and Turkey are two neighbor countries with almost common cultures. According to historical researches except the geographical boarder, they have so much in common in the aspect of language, culture, historical events, etc. They influenced in each other very much. 

There existed always changes in different aspect such as social, political etc according to developments and progressions. Also the same change can be seen in music too.

Each country faced some transformation in each period of time.  This process in music, same as different things started by the tendency toward to innovation and modernization, the idea of which was taken from western societies. 


Besides the social and political changes music also changed. The replacement of religion from Zoroastrianism to Islam affected music very much. After appearance of Islam music was classified into different types such as religious, folk music, military music and classical music that used in different situations .The focus of this paper would be on classical music. This paper tried to explain the characteristics of Iranian music and its similarities and differences with Turkish music. The  focus is the use of intervals and tetrachords in the music of both countries. The two musics share the same theory of music based on Makam, which developed from the systematic school in the thirteenth century.The main point of this paper is the theory and how similar these two musics are .

The purpose of this paper is to compare music Turkish makam music with Iranian Dastgah music. My focus is the use of intervals and tetrachords in the music of both countries. The two musics share the same theory of music based on Makam, which developed from the systematic school in the thirteenth century. The main point of this paper is the theory and how similar these two musics are.


The 20th century Iranian scholars struggled when writing about theory. There are two points of view in the theoretical approach of Iranian music. One is very innovative and tries to imitate western music theory in its adaptation equal temperaments and the other is traditional and is based on traditional schools.


The first one uses western music as a model. The main proponent of this approach was Ali-naghi Vaziri. He is also the first person to transcribed Radif of Iranian classical music


The second view tries to revive the old music tradition in order to trace the idedntity of this music. This cultural/historical approach was by pioneered by Mehdi Barkeshli and Majid Kiani. The second view is more successful than the first in the aspect of establishing a theory.because by looking backward in history and the old treatises, they tried to analyze and explain the theory of Iranian music with preserving its characteristics.the other prominent scholars of this approach are Hormoz Farhat, Mohammadtaghi Maoudiye, Hossein Alizade, Dariush Safvat, Taghi Binesh and Dariush Talaii and Hooman Asadi.


There are some foreign scholars who wrote about Iranian classical music during the period before Iran’s revolution. These are Bruno Nettl, Ella Zonis, Margart Caton and Jean During. These scholars tried to define the system of Iranian music according to their own perception. The emic view is very different from etic view in Iranian music.


The modal system of Iranian music is called Dastgah. The repertory of Iranian music is called Radiff. This term in appeared recently. Radiff is a collection of all dastgahs. It has two versions; instrumental and vocal. These two terms is defined in various ways. Farhat defined dastgah as a system of grouping, which is divided into two groups of primary and auxiliary. According to Alizade  Dastgah is a collection of small pieces of different modes. In Kiani’s view Dastgah is the collection of gushes that their order and organization forms the structure of Dastgah. Asadi believes that the two important factors in Dastgah are its cyclic modes and peripatetic melodies. All these definitions agreed that Dastgah is the collection and they are divided into two groups of primary and secondary. About the radif also exist different definition. According to Nettl the collection of dastgah into single system is called radiff and it is the result of western music influences. He considered Radif as repertory of Iranian music that used as a model for improvisation. Alizade   believes that radif is the organization of gushes in one dastgah. Safavat define Radif the same as Alizade, in his view radif is the collection of gushes that their organization formed the structure of Dastgah.


This repertory is the basis of education and performance. It is a model for improvisation .in the beginning it was just for Tar and Setar but it used for all the instruments.

The two main instrumental versions are attributed to:

1-Mirza abdollah

2-Agha hosseingholi


The structure of dastgah is formed by some melodic pieces with different length called gusheh.dastgah is divided into two groups according to their modes:

1-primary which are shour, mahour, homayoun, nava, segah, chahargah and rast-panjgah

2-secondory, which is called avaz and they, derived from two primary groups shour and homayoun, these are: bayat-e-tork, afshari, abuata, dashti and Isfahan.

This repertory is learnt through oral transmission. Therefore there are different types of interpretation in respect to the school and instruments because each school is different from the other.


Turkish music is based on makam which has its origin rooted in the thirteenth century theories of the systematic school. The intervals in Turkish music haven’t changed very much from the original treatises. One interval is the whole step and is the same as western music. This interval is divided into nine equal parts, each part called a comma. There are three other intervals. Two are close to the half step being four comma and five commas respectively. The third is slightly smaller than the whole step at eight commas.


The half step has 4 commas. The other two intervals have five commas and eight commas. The arrangement of these intervals forms the different tetrachords. In Turkish music each tetrachords have a name. The whole step is called Tanini. As mentioned before it has nine commas. The four-comma half step’s name is Bakkiye. The other two intervals are referred to as Mücenneb. They are divided into two types. The one slightly smaller than whole step is called Büyük mücenneb and has eight commas while the other has five comma is called Küçük Mücenneb .

Compared to Turkish music the system of dividing intervals in Iranian music  is not that complex. In Iranian music whole steps and half steps are notated  the same as in western music, and there are additional intervals which are peculiar to Iranian music. 


Intervals in Iranian music are divided into cents. The whole step is not divided into nine parts as Turkish music. The names of the intervals are the same as in Turkish music. The whole step is called Tanini and the half step is called Bakiyye. The other intervals between the whole step and half step that exist in Turkish music also exist in Iranian music but they arent named but are notated. The figure no.1 shows the intervals in both music in commas and cents.