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 Persian Modes: Reading Between the Lines of Western MusicPersian Modes: Reading Between the Lines of Western Music
Practical correspondence of microtonal Persian modes to western modes

by Salim Ghazi Saeedi, Jun 2012

Persian modes (Mayeh in Persian music[1]) contain quarter tones that are not used in western modes. Persian music uses two accidentals for demonstrating these quarter tones: Koron (one quarter tone lower) and Sori (one quarter tone higher).

Persian Intervals

Speaking of intervals, I use the terms "half" and "over" as prefixes for correspondingly decreasing and increasing an interval one quarter tone. I have borrowed the English names from nim and bish as used in Pourtorab et al[2] (See Table 1).

Western interval (Abr.) Persian interval (translated)
U Union
1/4 tone half aug 1st
m2 minor 2nd
øM2 = 3/4 tone half Major 2nd
M2 Major 2nd
5/4 tone over Major 2nd
m3 minor 3rd
øM3 = 7/4 tone half minor 3rd
M3 Major 3rd
9/4 tone over Major 3rd
P4 Perfect 4th
11/4 tone half aug 4th or over dim 5th
4+ or 5- aug 4th or dim 5th
13/4 tone over aug 4th or half dim 5th
P5 Perfect 5th
15/4 tone half aug 5th
m6 minor 6th
øM6 = 17/4 tone half Major 6th
M6 Major 6th
19/4 tone over Major 6th
m7 minor 7th
øM7 = 21/4 tone half Major 7th
M7 Major 7th
23/4 tone half dim octave
O Octave

Table 1: Persian intervals vs. western intervals

Persian Tetrachords

Like western music, the modal system in Persian music is also built upon tetrachords (Dāng). But there is an important difference. In order to build up scales in western music, tetrachords juxtapose by having one whole tone interval in between. In Persian music scales, tetrachords juxtapose immediately beside each other. for example:

in western music, two Dorian tetrachords (tone-halftone-tone) build up this scale having C as the key: C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C


in Persian music, two tanini-baghiye-tanini tetrachords (which is similar to western Dorian tetrachord) build up this scale with having C as the key: C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C (Octave C does not belong to none of tetrachords. It is added for sake of tonic note).

So in Persian music two tetrachords do not automatically repeat the tonic note (in 1st degree) in 8th degree.

Persian Modes

At the following the intervals for all Persian modes are provided. As you see in diagrams, in each Persian mode by moving one quarter tone high or low for certain degrees we arrive at western modes[3].

It should be noted that the presence of quarter tones in Persian modal system is only in form of 3/4 tone intervals. A single 1/4 (actual quarter tone) is used nowhere within one mode.

At the following charts, solid lines denote western tempered intervals and dashed lines denote Persian intervals. The ø symbol represents the term "half" mentioned above. e.g. øM2 = 3/4 tone interval = one quarter tone lower than Major 2nd interval or 4ø+ = 11/4 tone interval = one quarter tone lower that 4+

Modulation between Persian and western modes

I think the importance of these diagrams is if you are familiar with western modal systems and are skillful in performing them on the instrument, you can easily modulate to a neighbor Persian mode. And more excitingly you can even re-modulate to another related western mode from there. As an example consider you are playing E Phrygian. Now you can modulate to E Nava by making II degree one quarter tone higher. From there you can re-modulate to E Natural Minor by making II degree in quarter tone higher.

Also notice that by changing the tonic degree, you can find numerous other Persian modes that however that have no associated name in Persian modal system, but they relate to other Western modes. e.g. while you don't see Dorian in the following charts related to any Persian modes, you can use the chart for Abu-Ata if you associate the tonic to degree VII . So you can use G Abu-Ata with its tonic on A (Shāhed on A) as a mode closely related to A Dorian - with only quarter note difference in A Dorian's third degree.

It should be noted that using non-equal temperament systems are also prevalent in Persian music that is not subject of this article.

Shur (Shūr) comes between Phrygian b5 & Natural Minor


Abu-Ata (Abu-Atā) comes between Phrygian & Natural Minor


Bayat-e-Turk (Bayāt-e-Turk) comes between Natural Minor & Mixolydian

Dashti-variation#1 comes between Phrygian & Natural Minor


Dashti-variation#2 comes between Phrygian b5 & Natural Minor

Nava (Navā) comes between Phrygian & Natural Minor

Segah (Segāh) comes between Phrygian b5 & Mixolydian

Chahargah (Chahārgāh) comes between Mixolydian b2 b9 & Mixolydian

Homayun (Homāyun) comes between Dorian b2 b5 & Dorian

Bayat-e-Esfahan (Bayāt-e-Esfahān) comes between Phrygian Major & Mixolydian b6

Mahur (Mahūr) and Mixolydian are the same

The following two modes span above one octave. They contain 3 tetrachordes.

Rast Panjgah (Rāst Panjgāh) and Mixolydian b6b9 are the same

Afshari (Afshāri) comes between Natural Minor b5 b9 & Mixolydian b9


In an equal temperament system of tuning.
Dashti is associated to two different interval sets.


[1] Talai, Dariush, A New Approach to the Theory of Persian Art Music: the Radif and the Modal System, Mahur, 1993, Iran, Tehran

[2] Pourtorab, M.K. et al, Theoretical fundamentals of Persian Music, Mahur, 1388 (2009-2010), Iran, Tehran

[3] Persian modes are based on Pourtorab, M.K. et al, Theoretical fundamentals of Persian Music, Mahur, 1388 (2009-2010), Iran, Tehran, page 77.

Right Notices

(C) Jun 2011, Salim Ghazi Saeedi

Creative Commons License
Persian Mode vs. Western Mode Diagrams by Salim Ghazi Saeedi are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.salimworld.com.

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