DASTGĀH (دستگاه), modal system in Persian music, representing a level of organization at which a certain number of melodic types (gūšas) are regrouped and ordered in relation to a dominant mode (māya). Each dastgāh takes its name from this dominant mode, which is always played in the introductory parts. For example, dastgāh-eČahārgāh comprises not only several gūšas belonging to the mode Čahārgāh but also gūšas in modes that are both closely (Zābol, Ḥeṣār) and distantly (Moḵālef) related, which are played before the conclusion (forūd) in the initial mode. The term dastgāh is thus somewhat ambiguous: “The expression dastgâh-e chahârgâh . . . means either the major unitary modal complex chahârgâh or a whole set of gushes traditionally performed with chahârgâh at their head as the principal modal nucleus” (Powers, p. 426). Theoretically Čahārgāh can be correctly labeled a dastgāh only to the extent that it is composite, that is, comprises a minimal number of varying modal elements; without these elements it must be considered either a maqām (as Ḵāleqī suggested, pp. 127-28) or a simple mode (māya).

According to some practicing musicians (personal communication), the etymology of the term dastgāh can be associated with the idea of “the position (gāh) of the hand (dast) [on the neck of the instrument],” that is, the scale, for a similar idea of position appears in the names of modes like Dogāh and Segāh. It is more appropriate to translate it as “system,” however, for the dastgāh is first and foremost a collection of discrete and heterogeneous elements organized into a hierarchy that is entirely coherent though nevertheless flexible

The defining features of the dastgāh are thus a certain modal variety subjected to a course of development (sayr) that is determined by the preestablished order of sequences, or gūšas. This order can, however, vary within certain limits, depending on the repertoire or the taste of the interpreter. This definition is equally applicable to the āvāz (q.v.), which is, however, less developed and can itself be included in a dastgāh (e.g., Bayāt-e Kord, which can be played separately or as part of dastgāh-e Šūr). The extended version of a dastgāh like Šūr may encompass as many as fifty gūšas (During, 1991), a dozen of which are the most important; an āvāz like Bayāt-e Kord, on the other hand, may include only about seven gūšas, of which three are essential. Other āvāzes, like Bayāt-e Eṣfahān in its extended versions (Maʿrūfī, s.v.), could theoretically also be labeled dastgāh.

The overall structure of a dastgāh consists of three main parts corresponding to blocs of gūšas: the introductory sequence (darāmad, q.v.) or sequences, which are developed in the fundamental mode (māya, maqām); the sections comprising modulations or transpositions; and the rapid return (forūd) to the initial mode. In general there is a gradual progression up the scale, while the return is more rapid, and the ambitus of the melodies is progressively expanded within each section (Nettl, pp. 21-22). In principle the interpreter is always free to determine the content of each dastgāh and to modify, up to a point, the order of the gūšas, but in practice certain dastgāhs (or āvāzes), like Šūr and Homāyūn, seem to permit greater liberty than do others, like Čahārgāh and Rāst-Panjgāh, which are more standardized (Nettl, pp. 105-06).

Although there are twelve dastgāhs and āvāzes, they represent only six or seven scales (During, 1984, p. 105; idem, 1991, passim), in Rūḥ-Allāh Ḵāleqī’s view only five (p. 127). In certain instances the features distinguishing dastgāhs are purely structural (pauses, īst; variable notes; concluding notes; etc.) and connected with motifs (conclusion, or forūd; introduction; etc.). Dastgāhs can also be distinguished by such other characteristics as the sequence of modulations, the diapason, or the dominant chord (e.g., in the lower register for the dastgāhs, in the upper register for the āvāzes). All these elements are involved in the definition of “mode” in the broad sense, particularly in eastern music (Powers, pp. 434, 437). Despite their differentiating features, the dastgāhs are by no means closed systems but share certain gūšas among them: For example, the gūša Jāmadarān is played with different adaptations in Bayāt-e Eṣfahān, Afšārī, Homāyūn, and Bayāt-e Tork (During, 1984, p. 142). In principle each dastgāh has an expressive coloration, an individual ethos (Joneydī, pp. 218-22), but it cannot always be characterized in a consistent manner. The definition thus remains more fluid and general because the ethos depends in large part on the interpretation. It is nevertheless agreed that Navā is rather serene and meditative, Čahārgāh martial, Māhūr cheerful or majestic, Šūr melancholy, and Homāyūn pathetic; the characters of the other dastgāhs are less settled.

Both the term dastgāh and the musical form itself are indigenous to Persian (and Azerī) music and were no doubt elaborated during the revival of traditional music in the 19th century. The term is found in an Azerī work of 1301/1884 (Safarova) and, in about 1287/1870, in an unpublished list of terms compiled by Malek-Manṣūrzāda in Baku. The older term that comes closest to it is āvāz (Ṣafī-al-Dīn Ormavī, 13th century), and, according to Ḵāleqī (p. 125), when these āvāzes were expanded they were called dastgāhs. The twelve were thus assembled: seven dastgāhs (Šūr, Segāh, Čahārgāh, Māhūr, Homāyūn, Navā, and Rāst-Panjgāh) and five āvāzes (Abū ʿAṭā, Bayāt-e Tork, Afšārī, Daštī, Bayāt-e Eṣfahān). The first four of these āvāzes (to which Bayāt-e Kord is sometimes added) are considered to have been derived from Šūrand the last from Homāyūn. Among all the dastgāhs and āvāzes Šūr is the most significant, both because of its scope and because it is the most familiar (Ḵāleqī, p. 129).

In the Azerbaijan tradition, which is very close to the Persian tradition in this respect, twelve dastgāhs (or principal maqāms) were recognized, seven of them essential (Rāst, Šūr, Segāh, Čahārgāh, Māhūr, Bayāt-e Šīrāz, Homāyūn), the rest less important (Šūštar, Bayāt-e Kord, Bayāt-e Qājār, Navā-Nīšāpūr, Rahāb). To these should be added about ten modes (moqāms) and fifteen subsidiary modes (šoʿbas; During, 1988, pp. 38-39; cf. pp. 193-98 for information from earlier periods).

Despite all the changes that Persian music has undergone (and despite internal modifications in the dastgāhs), the system of twelve dastgāhs and āvāzes has remained generally the same as when it was codified by the masters of the last century, in particular Mīrzā ʿAbd-Allāh (d. 1337/1918, q.v.). No new dastgāh or large gūša has been devised since that codification. When an āvāz or dastgāh has been further developed, it has almost always been through borrowing materials from other dastgāhs, rather than through invention, and the rare gūšas that have since been added to the traditional corpus (radīf) are only melodies or variations that present no novelty from a modal point of view. From this remarkable stability it can be deduced that the system has achieved “canonical” status in Persia (though perhaps less so in Azerbaijan), comparable to that of the twelve maqāms and twenty-four šoʿbas that prevailed between the 14th and 17th centuries; the breaking down and reassembling of that material produced the present system of dastgāhs.


For a music sample, see Borumand - Daramads of šur

For a music sample, see Hosaynqoli - Shur.


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(Jean During)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 1, pp. 104-105