Classical Persian music is an improvisatory music occurring within a systematic framework. This framework is called Radif and includes the Dastgâh, Âvâz, and Gusheh.

The word Radif in Persian refers to an organized set of things, for example, a row of trees in a garden, or a set of chairs carefully aligned. Musical Radif is no exception and refers to a collection of songs and melodies that have traveled through ages, from one generation of Persians to another. What we know today as classical Persian music has in fact been compiled and organized during the Ghajar period. Classical Persian Radif is a collection of musical patterns in close connection with one another, made up of five Âvâzes and seven Dastgâhs (a total of twelve).

Persian music is often referred to as a “system” of musical patterns and Dastgâhs, while a definition of this “system” has seldom been offered.

The term Dastgâh designates a complex of specific musical atmospheres evoked by using a particular set of intervals, transposable into any key. Among seven Dastgâhs of classical Persian music, two Dastgâhs have related derivative systems called Âvâz. Each Dastgâh or Âvâz system comprises between two and nine open sub-systems, or open Gushehs, which utilize portions of the Dastgâh‘s interval set. Each open Gusheh has associated with it prescribed central notes (the note around which improvisations revolve) as well as a fixed final note (the note on which the improvisations must end). We term these two notes, respectively, Not-e Shâhed (Witness/central note) and Not-e Ist (Ending note).

The Gushehs referred to here function as open systems for, within the given framework of interval sets, Nowt-e Shâhed and Nowt-e Ist, with which musicians may improvise based on traditional melodic patterns. However, some traditional melodic patterns mostly based on poetic rhythms have become fixed, meaning the musician must retain those signature patterns in performance. These fixed patterns traditionally are also called Gusheh, but they are considered closed; though they may be played within one or more Dastgâhs, they considerably narrow the parameters in which improvisation may occur. In the vocal Radif tradition, there are approximately 150 Gushehs, while the instrumental Radif tradition utilizes about 250. To become familiar with these Gushehs, the student must work at least 8 to 10 years.

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