Joint Post with Mohammad: Persian & Chinese Classical Music

In this joint post series, Mohammad, my penfriend from Iran whom we knew for nearly four years, is glad to introduce some background information about the music of his country.  As a cultural exchange, I also feel pleased to share some interesting parts of Chinese classical music in this post as well.


Introduction to the Persian Classical Music

Persian music is the story of what has happened to Persian people in the time.  If we could think of music and tunes as a symbol to our feeling and our endeavor to express the, we would be able to say that, music is a history told in uncommon language.  I’ve heard lots of times that Persian music is a sad and unhappy music.  I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but I can say Persia – or mostly Iran nowadays – has had many sad days in history along with good ones.  Persian music is mostly about traditional or classic Persian music has tunes for all feeling that man can feel.

The drawing, carvings and designs left in historical sites, all are a symbol of Iranians’ interest to music.  Despite after the born of Islam and  its declaration as the official religion back in 7th century, due to all the objections that Islamic rules made, the music evolution changed its way. The national music of Iran is all the tunes and melodies created in centuries in Iran which has evolved just like other arts weaving carpet, painting and even making tools! It presents a history of all that has happened to Iran and the Iranians.  The National music consists of folklore music, traditional and classic music.  Nowadays it’s been a huge interest to western music including, pope, rock, rap and … but I’ll narrow down to classic Persian music. The Radifs plays the main role in Classic Persian music. Radifs are melodies brought from musical history of our Nation. It consists of 12 groups. Each group expresses a special feeling and genre using the right notes for the mood. There are more than 220 melodies in total. Seven groups of these melodies are totally different where the other five are a bit closer.

There are many instruments used in classic Persian music. Some of them are born here and some originate from other countries. But as I’ve seen, these are the mostly used instruments:

1)      Tombak ( Something like African drums)


2)      Tar (An Instrument like Guitar)


3)      Santour


4)      Setar (An Instrument like Guitar smaller than Tar)


5)      Barbat/Oud (An Instrument like Guitar)


6)      Kamanche (An Instrument like Violin)

Kamanche .jpg

7)      Ney (An Instrument like Flute)


Setar and Tombak performing together – Hatam Layeq & Mohammad Sakkak

Tar and Tombak performing together – Jali Shahnaz (Tar) & Tombak by Amir Naser Eftetah

Setar by Jalal Zolfonoun:

Santour by Parviz Meshkatian

Santour by Siamak Aqaei – in memory of Parviz Meshkatian:

Kamanche by Keyhan Kalhor:

The sound track of the Italian movie Medea (directed by Pasolini) has used some fine Persian music

Barbat/Oud – performed by Hamid Khansari

Ney performed by Hassan Kadaei

Of course there are many more instruments used and played, but these are the most common ones which I’m sure they have a long history of use in Iran.

Classic Persian music is not a favorite one in world scale and I doubt that someone outside Iran, not having a connection in Iran has heard any famous classic music player or singer. I think I can say the most famous singer in the history of Persian music is Mohammad Reza Shajarian. There are of course many more bright artists like Shahram Nazeri, Homayoun Shajarian, Hossein Khaje Amiri, Akbar Golpayegani…. Many whom we have lost like Banan, Khaleghi, Aref.

Mohammad Rena Shajarian was performing the well-known and widely performed track called Morq-e Sahar.  He used to perform this track after every concert he had, but he is currently diagnosed with kidney cancer in final stage.  His son Homayoun also cooperates with him.  Hamayoun has nothing less than his dad and they are both like the emperors of classic Persian music.

Homayoun Shajarian was singing some words in reply to the crowds’ request:

Alireza Ghorbani was performing the old song called “To ey pari kojayi” along with an ensemble:

“Gerye Kon” by Gholam Hossein Banan:



Chinese Classical Music in a Nutshell

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”
― Confucius, The Book of Rites

Birds were chirping on lush shades of hill chains, waves were rushing in and filling holds in beach sand – such harmonic symphony of nature has been a boon for appreciation, but also offering us an inspiration for music creation since the ancient time in China.  Music fills the air with no effort, no matter elevating one’s spirit or relaxing one’s mood, and transcends everyday monotony into a refreshing one.

The audio enticement of Chinese classical music first dates back to the dawn of the Chinese civilisation, when  Ling-lun, a legendary founder during the regime of Yellow Emperor, blew 12 different pitches through making the bamboo pipes, just to create the sounds of birds and imitate them from Kwen-lun mountains.  As early as the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC – 256 BC), classical music was gradually evolved through the establishment of Great Musical Division, the formal system of musical canon.  Later, during the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 907 AD), the popularity of poetry, complementing rich fusion of verses in music melodies, reached in great heights that prompted people to enrapture into a broad array of fine notes.

Centuries after the introduction of music to the Middle Kingdom, Chinese music eventually thrived with fine accompany  of several indigenous or Sinicized instruments influenced from Central Asia.  For instance, pipa 琵琶, originated in Central Asia, is a four-stringed plucked music instrument in which its function is somewhat similar to the guitar in the West.  Well-known by its distinctively high-pitched sound, suona嗩吶 is a double-reed instrument that evolved from the Middle Eastern zurna.  Today, Chinese instruments on the grand stage usually falls into one of the four categories, with bowed, plucked strings, wind and percussion being the manifest  ones.


Bowed: Erhu 二胡 (an instrument like a violin)


Plucked Strings: Guzheng 古箏, Pipa 琵琶 (an instrument like a guitar)

Wind: Dizi 笛子 (flute), Sheng笙, Suona 嗩吶 (trumpet)

Percussion: Tanggu 堂鼓 (medium drum), Bangzi 梆子, Yunluo 雲鑼 (small bronze gongs)

Among all compositions,  a popular one is the Ambush from All Sides (十面埋伏), which was based on a fierce battle between two armies of Han and Chu for the leadership of the country from 206 to 202 B.C.  The whole music, with an explosive atmosphere, provides an incisive and lively illustration of desolate and solemn scenes of the battle.

Alongside historical events, by-word-of-mouth tales and folklores were also transformed into different timbres, tonalities, and melodic sources that can infuse our musical enjoyment with varieties.  The below is an orchestral adaptation of the Butterfly Lovers (梁祝), a well-known romantic tragedy.  There are subtle chords bountiful in the music that are laced with melancholy and intoxicating beauty that tugged our soul, smoothing the audience tenderly and reducing them into tears.

Not only is Chinese music a life pleasure to people from all walks of life, but also a therapeutic panacea as documented in the Yellow Emperor’ Classic of Medicine, China’s first medical text 2300 years ago.  With the prevalence of five pentatonic scales including Gong(宫), Shang(商), Jue(角), Zhi(徽), Yu(羽) that correspond 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 degrees of the scale, any of these five tones are believed to bind to the functions of human’s internal organs. According to Five-Element theory, to achieve different healing purposes, these notes are  affiliated to the interaction of five elements, including metal 金, wood 木, water 水, fire 火 and earth 土.  For instance, from the table below, the note Gong 宮, associated with earth element and mediating in nature, best treats someone who  falls victim to a fright.  Meanwhile, the note Shang 商 mainly reflects the metal element and the lungs, giving a sense of calmness for those who suffered from irritability.

Elements Metal 金 Wood 木 Water 水 Fire 火 Earth 土
Tones Shang 商(solfege: D) Jue 角 (E) Yu 羽 (A) Zhi 徽 (G) Gong 宫 (C)
Related organs Lungs Liver Kidneys Heart Spleen
Emotions treated Grief Anger Fear Over-excitement Anxiety

Just put our earphones on and pull the loudspeakers to the fullest, when we are bathing in bliss or when loneliness looms, music flows and swirls through our veins, and rises beyond geographical boundaries.  Let’s appreciate and immerse ourselves into the vibrancy of Chinese classical music.  May this centuries of Chinese treasure smooth one’s mind and capture everyone’s ear with infectious delight. ♦

Here, I would like to express my gratitude to Mohammad for his writing that provides us a fascinating glimpse towards Persian music, and also his search for all the lovely melodies.  Hope to have other writing collaborations with him again in the nearer future. 


3 thoughts on “Joint Post with Mohammad: Persian & Chinese Classical Music

    1. Thank you Cactus. I also find this joint post insightful by sharing different music cultures in an interesting way. Right now, listening to the above Persian and Chinese melodies becomes a pleasure for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s actually a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.|

    Liked by 1 person

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