Many musicians and scholars have analyzed Radif using various terminologies most of which become problematic because of historical and cultural weights that these terms carry. Tonal vs. modal Gushehs, primary vs. secondary Gushehs, or melodic vs. rhythmic Gushehs are among the terms that have been used to explain the relationship between the components of Radif. During the late 19th and early 20th century, the gravitation of moving towards Western culture, and the idea of academization of different musical cultures, as well as creating a universal musical language to explain music from different cultures, made the Western music terminology the primary language for musical conversations. This approach on one hand results in avoiding or demolishing some qualities that already exist in one musical culture and on another hand it decreases the quality of the educational process. Moreover, since there is ambiguity between the primary meaning of a term and its application in another culture, several questions will remain unanswered. This is why a comprehensive analysis of Radif should be done using transformative terminology. In this process even umbrella terms such as “improvisation” or “micro tonal” that are used to describe a massive range of music from different parts of the world should be defined within each culture, or we should come up with original terminology.

In order to give a comprehensive analysis of Radif, Hossein Omoumi has used the General Systems Theory (GST) that he was introduced to while working on his doctorate degree in architecture in Italy. General Systems Theory was initially founded by an Austrian biologist, Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy to explain the structure of a system and the relationship of its components. This theory has been applied to various fields of studies and it can help one to organize components of a system based on their relationships.

Based on the General Systems Theory, classical Persian music is an improvisatory music occurring within a systematic framework. This structure is called Radif and contains twelve modal systems—seven Dastgâhs and five Âvâzes—which include a large number of Gushehs. In order to expand this brief definition and explain the relation between each component of Radif, first we need to define systems.

A system is a set or group of connected components which follow a specific goal. This means any system is made up of smaller systems which can be called subsystems. For example, the human body is a system and contains several subsystems such as the circulatory system, digestive system, nervous systems, skeletal system to name a few. As stated each subsystem is a system itself and may have several subsystems as well. In our bodies, the circulatory system includes heart, arteries, veins, etc. All of these subsystems are also a system themselves and include other components that can be seen as subsystems of that system. In another example we can look into the world and from a reversed perspective, we can start with the smallest subsystem of human society, which is one person. Although that person is a complex system itself, it is also a subsystem of a larger system which is family. The family is a subsystem of a community, and that community is a subsystem of a larger community such as a city and the people of several cities create a nation in a country. We can expand this until we get to the whole world and that would be our largest system.

Not all of the subsystems have the same functions and capabilities within a system. For example in a driving vehicle the engine is way more complex than the tires as in the human body the brain is more complex than the bones. In other words, one can look into the function of subsystems within a system in relation to their outputs compared to their inputs. This is why in a comparative analysis of systems one can refer to various subsystems as open systems in relation to another subsystem. For example we can state that in a car the engine is a more open subsystem in relation to the tires or one can claim that the engine is an open system, while the tires are closed systems. Open and closed systems are important terms that can define the functions of subsystems of a system in relation to its components.

Considering the definition of systems, the repertoire of classical Persian music, Radif contains several numbers of Gushehs, which are the subsystems of seven Dastgâhs and five Âvâzes. On the other hand, not all of the Gushehs have the same function and not all of the twelve Dastgâhs and Âvâzes are equally complex. This is not only evident in their musical structures but it is a fact that is embedded in their terminologies. In Persian, the system is also called Dastgâh, which means when one refers to a system in Persian they can either use the term system or Dastgâh. Considering the importance of poetry in Persian culture and its influence on music, Âvâz or singing is a crucial element in the music. So one can claim that organizing classical Persian music began with grouping Gushehs to form several Âvâzes. In this setting Âvâz gains a new meaning and stands for a collection or we can say a system that includes a number of subsystems (Gusheh). However, gradually the increase in the number of Âvâzes encouraged the musicians to combine these Âvâzes and resulted in forming Dastgâhs. As Ruhollah Khaleqi (1906-1965) says, “Today, the style of categorizing Âvâzes is very different from the past and the large Âvâzes are now called Dastgâh” (A Look at Music, Ruhollah Khaleqi). Therefore, Dastgâhs are more complex systems than Âvâzes and this is why the term Dastgâh is applied to these modal systems.

It is also important to mention that the numbers 5 and 7, and their sum 12 are among mythical numbers in Persian culture, mainly inspired by religious beliefs. For examples the five books of Nezami Ganjavi (12th century poet) is known as Khamsa (Quintet or Quinary), the seven books of Rumi (13th century poet) called Masnavi, or the metaphoric use of seven seas, and the seven firmaments in poetry, as well as the 12 Shiite Imams, the five holy figures of Islam, and even the 12 months of the year, the seven continents of the world and the five oceans, 12 hours of the day and night. In other words, Radif could possibly include more than 7 Dastgâhs, and 5 Âvâzes, or it could only include several Âvâzes or Dastgâhs, but its current organization is based on both musical and extramusical, that was discussed here.

While Âvâzes function as independent modal systems, they are known as derived systems meaning that they are musically connected to certain Dastgâhs. In fact four of the Âvâzes are derived from Dastgâh of Shur, and one of them is derived from Dastgâh of Homâyun. The musical connection between these Âvâzes and Dastgâhs are the shared intervals and common tones, which will be discussed in the next paragraphs.


In order to understand the organization behind the Radif, it is necessary to start with analyzing its constituent components, Gushehs, which are melodic ideas or short songs. These melodies were created from a combination of what Hossein Omoumi calls “traditional melodic patterns.” Melodic motives that are created and passed through several generations and have been preserved and performed for hundreds of years as they are rooted in the Persian culture. There is no specific person or time that one can assign to these melodies but their connection to the Persian poetry and aesthetics shows their genuine provenance. By learning the Radif, one studies all these traditional melodic patterns and learns how to combine them in order to create new melodies. These traditional melodic patterns are created within a tetrachord1 (Dâng) or a pentachord2 (Pâng). Intervals3 are the main components of these tetrachords and pentachords. In fact intervals between notes are what human’s ears listen for in order to make a realization of a melody in the brain. This is why based on the GST, intervals are considered to be the smallest subsystems of the Radif. Moreover, intervals are the subsystems of tetrachords and pentachords, which themselves are subsystems of the traditional melodic patterns. The combination of these melodic patterns creates a Gusheh, which becomes a subsystem of a Dastgâh or Âvâz.

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As it is shown in the above figure, Radif is a large system that includes several subsystems with various functions and capabilities. Although we have been mainly focused on analyzing and comparing different components of Radif, the GST will become handy in analyzing each component in comparison to themselves. As mentioned previously, a vocal Radif may include up to around 150 Gushehs. Yet, not all these Gushehs have the same function and weight. The GST explains how systems are relatively open or closed, and the same concept can be applied to Gushehs in Radif. Although several renowned musicians and scholars used existing terminologies to distinguish various Gushehs from one another, none of them fully clarify these differences and the reasons behind it. By applying GST terminology, Gushehs can be divided into two main categories: Open Gushehs and Closed Gushehs.

Each Dastgâh and Âvâz has between 2 to 9 open Gushehs, which are based on a unique tetrachord or pentachord. As these open Gushehs share common tones and intervals, they are stacked on top of each other and create a modal system that normally includes between 6 to 10 notes. In some literatures the term scale has been used to describe the combination of these stacked tetrachords and pentachords, while the term carries a very specific meaning, which has no relation to the modal systems of Dastgâh and Âvâz. While open Gushehs are organized in order to create different Dastgâhs and Âvâzes, they also function as independent musical atmospheres. As each open Gusheh is based on a tetrachord or pentachord, each has a Central Note (Not-e Shâhed), and a Final Note (Not-e Ist), while some of them also include a Temporary Final Note (Not-e Ist-e Movaghat), and Variable Note (Not-e Moteghayer). Based on the above description of open Gushehs, one can say that open Gushehs are the main atmosphere of each Dastgâh and Âvâz, and they are based on different tetrachords and pentachords in which there are different notes with various functions. On the other hand, the traditional melodic patterns which are motivic ideas give a special accent or color to these open Gushehs. Otherwise, one could take a tetrachord and assign functions to different notes and generate melodies, and it doesn’t sound similar to classical Persian music. Moreover, the open Gushehs are the spaces for improvisation and composition, because as soon as a musician understands how these traditional melodic patterns are and how these open Gushehs are developed, they can use the same notes and intervals to create a new and fresh musical work.

Like all the other Gushehs, open Gushehs have specific names, however the first open Gusheh in each Dastgâh and Âvâz is called Darâmad (literary for entrance). As shown in the below example, all of the Dastgâhs and Âvâzes are started with the Darâmad, which is the first and the lowest musical atmosphere of each modal system and the next open Gushehs move to higher notes. In fact and because of how each Dastgâh and Âvâz is organized, even in performance of classical Persian music, one experiences an ascend and then a descent to where the music was started from. Moreover, while the tetrachord or the pentachord of the Darâmad includes the lowest notes of the modal system, the rest of the open Gushehs are created based on notes above the Darâmad. This is why each Dastgâh and Âvâz has a Darâmad as well as a Odj (literary for climax), or the open Gusheh that is created on the highest notes of each modal system. Yet, unlike Darâmad, Odj in different Dastgâhs and Âvâzes has different names. In the case of Âvâz of Dashti, the Odj is called Oshâgh or Odj itself, while in Âvâz of Afshâri the highest open Gusheh is called Erâgh. The modal system won’t be completed without a descent to its Darâmad, so normally one of the open Gushehs function as Forud (literary for landing, or a descent), which connects the higher part of the system to its lower part.

Analysis of Dashti
In the above figure, there are the only two open Gushehs of Âvâz of Dashti, as this Âvâz is the least complex system in terms of the numbers of open Gushehs. This is also why there is no open Gusheh for Forud, and since Darâmad and Odj share common tones, they are connected and the descent can happen through both of these two open Gushehs. On the other hand, Dashti includes about 7 other Gushehs, that can be categorized as closed Gushehs.

Basically, closed Gushehs are the open Gushehs, which had been closed by a kind of a pattern. For example a specific melody, or a specific poetic rhythm, or a specific rhythmic pattern, used for performing an open Gusheh creates a closed Gusheh. This means closed Gushehs are very similar to a fixed composition that cannot be changed, or if it changes, the name of it will be changed as well. Also it means anyone can create a closed Gusheh, which is a true statement; however, one should remember that Radif is a traditional source and is used as an educational material. This is why any composition or improvisation behind what is included in Radif should be kept as a personal creativity rather than being added to Radif. Because Radif itself is a complex source that must be analysed and taught in the most comprehensible way instead of becoming more unattainable. Traditionally open Gushehs become a closed one when a specific poetic rhythm is used, which brings a specific melodic contour as well. Closed Gusheh of Masnavi is a great example, which in fact is a form of poem itself, but in music Masnavi refers to the poetic rhythm that Rumi (1207-1273) used to write over 26000 lines of poem. On the other hand, some closed Gushehs had been created based on a specific melody, and traditionally has a name. Finally, some of them are closed by both a specific poetic rhythm and a melodic idea and Deylamân is a great example of this kind.

It must be noted that the goal here is to analyze what we have and call Radif in order to preserve and pass on this tradition as comprehensible as possible, using the tools we have in hand. This is why based on the GST one can divide the closed Gushehs into two different categories: Vertical and Horizontal. Vertical closed Gushehs are relatively more open systems than the Horizontal ones, as the vertical closed Gushehs are the ones that are used in different open Gushehs. On the other hand, the horizontal closed Gushehs only appears in an specific open Gusheh. These assumptions are also applicable in practice, because when improvising or composing one has more room to work with a vertical closed Gusheh like Masnavi rather than a horizontal closed Gusheh like Deylamân.

In conclusion, open Gushehs are the atmospheres in which the majority of improvisations and compositions are formed in classical Persian music. These Gushehs are based on a specific tetrachord or pentachord, but formed by combination of traditional melodic patterns, which are traditionally developed motivic ideas. The creativity in this music can be traced in how one develops a new melody using these traditional melodic patterns along with repetition, silence, pauses, and more importantly the overall development of the melody and its arch. Although, when a poem is added to the mix, delivering the meaning of the poem and dealing with the poetic rhythm become a crucial part of the creative process. On the other hand, closed Gushehs are traditionally formed inside the open Gushehs and can be perceived as unique melodic sources that expands the horizons of musicians’ creative minds. Closed Gushehs are also rich examples of how one can improvise or compose within open Gushehs.

Sar Dastgâh

The organization of each Dastgâh and Âvâz is based on the intervallic relation of their open Gushehs. In other words, the configuration of Radif is based on the commonalities between various tetrachords and pentachords of each open Gusheh. This is why one can go beyond the organization of Gushehs within Dastgâhs and Âvâzes and compare these modal systems in relation to one another using the same strategy. Meaning that the study of tetrachords and pentachords of open Gushehs can be expanded to analyze the similarities and differences between open Gushehs of various Dastgâhs and Âvâzes. While such analysis takes us further into having a much more organized educational source, it also helps with enriching the experience of modulation within different Dastgâhs and Âvâzes. Moving from a Gusheh of one Dastgâh to a Gusheh of another Dastgâh, is not far from the tradition at all. In fact Dastgâh of Râst va Panjgâh is known as a modal system created for practicing modulation. This is why traditionally this Dastgâh is taught after all the other 11 systems are perceived fully. The uniqueness of Râst va Panjgâh is embedded in the open Gushehs it carries, which can be also found in other Dastgâhs and Âvâzes.

Beside learning about modulation, comparing open Gushehs of different Dastgâhs and Âvâzes, allows us to categorize the function of each modal system while providing a detailed analysis of why Âvâzes are considered as derived systems. Based on the GST the openness and functions of various systems with a large system can be relatively different. Within RadifDastgâhs are considered as more complex systems compared to Âvâzes, yet not all the Dastgâhs are as complex as one another. Traditionally Dastgâh of Shur is known as the “mother of Dastgâhs” (Mâdar-e Dastgâh-ha). This is not only because of the 4 Âvâzes that are derived from Shur, but also when one looks into the tetrachords and pentachords of open Gushehs in other modal systems, it appears that the pentachord of Darâmad of Shur is used for creating other open Gushehs. The below figure includes the pentachord of Darâmad of Shur as well as the pentachord of Shekasteh, which is an open Gusheh in Mâhur. Although the same intervals create these two pentachords, the traditional melodic patterns used in performance of these two open Gushehs distinguish them from one another, along with the different Central Notes (Not-e Shâhed) and Final Notes (Not-e Ist).

Shur and Mahur

The 4 Âvâzes that are derived from Dastgâh of Shur, share several notes and intervals with the tetrachords and pentachords of open Gushehs in Dastgâh of Shur. In the below figure which consists of the pentachords of Darâmad and Hosseini, the Odj in Shur, the Central Notes (Not-e Shâhed) of the 4 derived Âvâzes are marked.

Daramad and Hosseini Shur
Now compare the above with the below figure which includes Darâmads of the 4 Âvâzes, and see the common tones shared between all of them. Although each of these 4 Âvâzes and Dastgâh of Shur are performed using different traditional melodic patterns since there are similarities in their intervals, many common traditional melodic patterns can be also found between them.

Four Avazes of Shur

Similar analytical approach can be taken for analyzing the relationship between other Dastgâhs and Âvâzes. The result encouraged Hossein Omoumi to divide these 12 modal systems into 3 groups. Inspired by a term used by Hassan Kassaie for emphasizing the important role of Dastgâh of Shur, Hossein Omoumi names each group after three important and larger Dastgâhs and called them Sar Dastgâh (Sar is literary for Head: The head of Dastgâhs):

1. Shur
2. Homâyun
3. Mâhur

Based on the same analytic system, the group of Shur includes 3 Dastgâhs: Shur, Navâ, and Segâh, as well as 4 Âvâzes: Bayât-e Tork, Abu-Atâ, Afshâri, and Dashti. Group of Homâyun includes 2 Dastgâhs: Homâyun and Châhârgâh, as well as Âvâzes of Isfahân which is derived from Homâyun. Finally, the group of Mâhur includes 2 Dastgâhs: Mâhur and Râst va Panjgâh. In the chart below this organization is shown and it is important to remember that this specific listing of Dastgâhs and Âvâzes is based on the above analyses, and is not found in any of the Radifs. Traditionally musicians and educators start teaching the Radif from Dastgâh of Shur and finish with the Dastgâh of Râst va Panjgâh and there is no specific order in between. But here the relation between all these 12 modal systems are specified based on their intervallic differences and similarities.

SYSTEMS-210719As mentioned previously the order of Âvâzes that are derived from Dastgâh of Shur, is based on the relationship between the Central Notes (Not-e Shâhed) of their Darâmads and the Central Notes (Not-e Shâhed) of Darâmad of Shur. Now here is an interesting fact that can be a helpful tool for memorizing the order of these 5 Âvâzes. By putting together the first letter of the name of each Âvâz, one can create the Persian term “Bâ Adâb”, which means polite and completes the above chart as it is in the below figure.

SYSTEMS-2107192In conclusion, Radif is a repertory that must be learned and understood by anyone who is interested in classical Persian music. Radif includes the majority of information needed for performers, composers, and audiences of this musical tradition. However, learning the Radif through only playing and memorizing various Gushehs won’t be as useful. This is why a systematic approach is needed in order to analyse and teach the relationship between and within each Gusheh, Âvâz, and Dastgâh. In this path a successful researcher is the one who understands the weight of each Gusheh within an Âvâz or a Dastgâh and more importantly becomes able to recognize the traditional melodic patterns which are the basis of melodic development in classical Persian music. As a result at the time of creation an improviser or a composer takes the structures of open Gushehs to work with while referring/remembering the traditional melodic patterns found in both open and closed Gushehs, which they have learned from Radif.

  1. Four consecutive pitches (e.g. C-D-E-F or E-F-G-A)
  2. Five consecutive pitches (e.g. C-D-E-F-G or E-F-G-A-B)
  3. An interval measures the distance between two notes