Persian Music – research for hookah-smoking caterpillars

It’s a strange old world composing.  Never did I think I would need to write music to ‘set the scene’ and tell the story of a caterpillar with an addiction to hashish.

As my other post has started to outline, the motivation and inspiration for this next part of my piece hinges solely on the Hookah.  And as such, I want to look at typical Iranian / Persian music to gain some insight into how I could make my Alice theme sound more authentically ‘middle eastern’.

A starting point for me is the use of modal scales.  Widely used in the Middle East, there are many different types used.  I have found these as a starting point, which I will put into Sibelius so that I can really ‘hear’ them.  I have also experimented with notating a quarter-tone scale in Sibelius applying the quarter-tone scale plug-in for playback so that I can hear those minute but definable half semi-tone intervals.

Here are the modal scales that are played in Iranian music:

My interests lie purely in the ‘Persian’ scale here, and I have notated this into Sibelius, and this is what it sounds like:

These following modal scales were taken from the Foundation of Iranian Studies website:


I. Shur: G Ap Bb C Dp Eb F G and its four derivatives.
II. Avaz-e Abu Ata: G Ap Bb C D Eb F G
III. Avaz-e Bayat-e Tork: F G Ap Bb C D Eb F
IV. Avaz-e Afshari: F G Ap Bb C D (p) Eb F
V. Avaz-e Dashti: G Ap Bb C D (p) Eb F G
VI. Homayun: G Ap B C D Eb F G
VII. Avaz-e Bayat-e Isfahan: G Ap B D Eb F G
VIII. Segah: F G Ap Bp C Dp Eb F
IX. Chahargah: Dp E F G Ap B C
X. Mahur: C D E F G A B C
XI. Rast Panjgah: F G A Bb C D E F
XII. Nava: D Ep F A Bb C D

Note: The underlined letters have approximately the function of a tonic. Small ‘b’ means “flat”; small ‘p’ indicates pitch approximately a quarter-tone lower than the indicated note or, in other words, a half flat.

I have now put each of these into Sibelius so that I can hear what each sound like:
1) Shur:
2) Avaz-e Abu Ata:
3) Avaz-e Bayat-e Tork:
4) Avaz-e Afshari:
5)  Avaz-e Dashti:
6) Homayun:
7) Avaz-e Bayat-e Isfahan:
8) Segah:
9) Chahargah:
10) Mahur:
11) Rast Panjgah:
12) Nava:

I have lots of ideas here and will start to think about my next section – the opening section to the second movement of my composition – in the coming days when I hope to start composing again.


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