Arabic and Persian Music – Arabic Maqam and Persian Dastgah Equivalents

I thought it would be interesting and essential to write a post for those who want to get their bearings on Arabic and Persian scale systems. This post compares the Arabic Maqam to Persian Dastgah to show where and how they overlap. I have never seen a comparison of this kind before. It is relatively a superficial comparison in that it is meant for cultural exchange and not meant to be used as a complete explanation or analysis of each Maqam or Dastgah. But I feel it is a beginning that is necessary to build some bridges between the two musical cultures. Below each explanation are included short improvised examples of each Maqam and then the Dastgah referred to.

S1986_38I don’t like to write out the notes of Maqam and Dastgah because it makes them appear like Western scales do, because Maqam and Dastgah should be viewed differently. I have included them only to point out which notes are being shared by each, and so that you have some idea of what is being played in the recordings.

qb = quarter flat as in Aqb = A quarter flat

Maqam Ajam = Dastgah Mahur and Rast-Panjgah

Ajam: C D E F G A B C

Mahur: C D E F G A B C

Rast-Panjgah: C D E F G A B C

Maqam Ajam is very close to the Western Major scale. It is known for its happy tone and jovial quality. Dastgah Mahur and Rast-Panjgah is equivalent to Ajam. Interestingly enough, the word Ajam in Arabic was used to refer to non-Arabs, particularly Persians. So it may also refer to an origin of this Maqam.

Maqam Bayati = Dastgah Shur and Abu-Atta

Bayati: D Eqb F G A Bb C D

Shur: D Eqb F G (Aqb) (Ab) Bb C D

Abu-Atta: D Eqb F G A Bb C D (Seldom use of Aqb)

Bayati, Shur, and Abu-Atta share a common opening tetrachord being: D, Eqb(quarter flat), F, G. The feeling of the two is very similar. In fact, Abu-Atta is also referred to as “Dastan-e Arab” in Farsi, which means Arabic song, or Arabic melody. Bayati and Abu-Atta are more similar than Bayati and Shur. Shur alternates between A natural and A quarter flat after the opening tetrachord. So this is where it differs from Bayati since Bayati uses A natural unless it modulates.

Maqam Sikah, Iraq = Dastgah Segah

Sikah: Eqb F G A Bqb (Bb) C D Eqb (Use of Bb when descending)

Iraq: Eqb F G Aqb Bb C D Eqb

Segah: Eqb F G Aqb Bb C D Eqb

Sikah and Segah share a very similar scale. Where they are the same is that the opening trichord is the same starting on E quarter flat. Segah differs after in the upper range. If Segah is played in the opening trichord Eqb F G, it sounds exactly like Sikah. In fact, it is the same word spelled differently in English. Strictly speaking, Maqam Iraq is absolutely identical with Dastgah Segah.

Maqam Huzzam = Mokhallef-e Segah

Huzzam: Eqb F G Ab B C D Eqb

Mokhallef: Eqb F G Aqb Bqb C D Eqb

A modulation from Segah is called Mokhallef. It is actually referred to as a “gushe” in Farsi, which means, “niche”, or “corner”. Gushes are melodic developments as explained in my other blog here. In Persian music, a modulation can refer to changing from one Dastgah to another, or it can refer to playing a gushe from the same Dastgah which changes the scale being played. Mokhallef is an Arabic word that means, “contrary”, or “opposite”, or even “alien”. I can only speculate as to what this refers to. Huzzam is also a common modulation of Maqam Sikah! Can you see the pattern here? Huzzam and Mokhallef are virtually identical, except for the use of A quarter flat and B quarter flat in Mokhallef, whereas Huzzam uses A flat and B natural according to maqamworld The feeling they give are very similar. Have a listen:

Maqam Husayni = Avaz-e Dashti, Bayat-e Kord

Husayni: D Eqb F G      A Bqb C D

Dashti: D Eqb F G (Aqb)   A Bb (Bqb) C D

Kord: D Eqb F G   A Bb (Bqb) C D

Husayni, Dashti, and Bayat-e Kord are all related to Bayati and Shur. They share the same lower tetrachord D Eqb F G. The upper range differs in nuances and modulation. Husayni, Dashti, and Bayat-e Kord make use of B quarter flat when moving up the scale to the tonic D in the upper range. Do not confuse Bayat-e Kord with Maqam Kurd, they are close but Bayat-e Kord uses a quarter 2nd note whereas Maqam Kurd uses a flat 2nd note.

 Maqam Nikriz = Dastgah Homayoun

Nikriz: F G Ab B C D Eb F

Homayoun: (Eqb) F G Aqb B C D Eb (Eqb) F

Nikriz and Homayoun have a very similar feeling to them. They both make use of  F in a way that melodies can pause, or end, or begin with F while making reference to the Hijaz tetrachord above F. The main difference in notes is only that Homayoun uses a A quarter flat, whereas Nikriz uses A flat in the Hijaz tetrachord. When Homayoun uses F as an ending note or resolution note, it may make reference to E natural or E quarter flat as well before resolving on F. Homayoun is a relatively complex and complete Dastgah with many modulations that encompass aspects of Maqam Nikriz, and Maqam Hijaz as well. But the quality is most similar to Nikriz.

Maqam Hijaz = Avaz-e Esfahan

Hijaz: D Eqb Fq# G A Bb Bqb C D

Esfahan: D Eqb F# G A Bb (Bqb) C D

Hijaz has many affinities with Homayoun AND Esfahan. Hijaz usually starts on D, which is another modulation of Homayoun. Esfahan usually starts and ends on G, but uses the same notes as Hijaz. The main difference in notes is that Esfahan uses really emphasizes the use of E quarter flat and F sharp, whereas Hijaz uses E quarter flat and F quarter sharp. An older version of Esfahan was also played with F quarter sharp as well. But in the modern period we usually use F sharp. Esfahan and Hijaz both use B quarter flat occasionally in the upper range as well.

Maqam Rast = Bayat-e Tork

Rast and Bayat-e Tork are both very different but have a very similar feel and quality. The similarity is the Rast tetrachord, but the note that they focus on is very different. Where they really overlap is when the melody moves toward C. A visual is very important for this:

Rast: C D Eqb F G A Bqb C

Tork: C D E F G A Bqb C

Bayat-e Tork is almost the C Major scale but with a quarter flat 7th note. Where Rast is also very close to a Major scale but with a quarter flat 3rd and 7th note.

Maqam Hijaz Kar – Dastgah Chahargah

Hijaz Kar: C Db E F G Ab B C

Chahargah: C Dqb E F G Aqb B C

Hijaz Kar and Chahargah are more or less identical. They use two Hijaz tetrachords back to back similar to how Rast uses two Rast tetrachords back to back as well. The main difference in notes is that Chahargah uses D quarter flat, and A quarter flat, whereas Hijaz Kar uses D flat and A flat.

If hope this article was interesting and I hope it has made you more interested in Persian music as well. It is very clear there are some similarities. If you have any questions about this article please feel free to comment below and I will get back to you. For more about Arabic maqam, check out maqamlessons and maqamworld. For more about Persian Dastgah musical system check out my duo’s blog at Majnuun Music and Dance.




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2 thoughts on “Arabic and Persian Music – Arabic Maqam and Persian Dastgah Comparison

  1. Osama

    Great article Navid. I’ve been listening recently to a lot of traditional Persian music, particularly those composed by Mohammad Reza Lotfi and sung by Shajarian. I try to play their songs with my Arabic-tuned oud. I try to get as close as I can but sometimes I can’t really know which note or which scale they’re playing at. Currently I was struggling to play the intro of a famous concert by both Shajarian and Lotfi (Name of the video on Youtube is: جشن هنر شیراز، ۱۳۵۶، شجریان و گروه شیدا؛ چهره به چهره در دستگاه نوا). Now it does say Nawa dastgah, but I think they mean Persian Nawa not the Arabic Nawa, because I tried to play the Arabic Nawa on my oud, I was not able to match the scale they’re actually playing. I was hoping that I could find Nawa and its Arabic equivalent maqam in your article. Can you please help me? I’d really appreciate it! And keep up the great work!

    1. Navid

      Thanks Osama. Yes it is the Persian Nawa, (Nava). Nava on Oud is played D E-half-flat F G A Bb C D, Re Mi(half-flat) Fa Sol La Si(bemol) Do Re. The tonal center is G sol. Now this video is in a different key. On Oud they are playing Sol La(half-flat) Si(bemol) Do Re Mi(bemol) Fa Sol. Tonal center is C. But because they are tuned higher, everything is one note sharper. Let me know if that helps. You can see all the dastgah here on David Parfit’s website. -Navid

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