Igha', Iqa, the Theory of Old Middle Eastern Rhythms

An Article by Dr. Peyman Nasehpour

Igha' (Theory of Old Rhythms) 

The Middle Eastern Rhythms of the Past 

An Article by Dr. Peyman Nasehpour  


In this article, I will give the Middle Eastern rhythms of the past according to the book on theoretical Persian music, written by Mohammad Banai. I believe that all these rhythms can be applied by all musicians of the world for all genres of the world music. 

For symbolization of the old rhythm cycles, I use the following modern notation: 

X (accented beat)

x (normal or non-accented beat)

o (silence) 

For symbolization, Iranians use their own method with Persian alphabet, but this doesn't work for the most of the people of the world, since they do not know Persian alphabet. Now it depends on the artists how to interpret the beats (bass and treble strokes, accented and normal beats) and silences. 

Seghal: The family of 2 beats rhythm cycles (4, 8, 16 and so on) 

Khafif-e-saghil (4 beats, division: 2+2) X o X x 

Another version (16 beats, division: 2+4+4+4+2) X o X x x o X x x o X x x o X x 

Saghil-e-Sani (8 beats, division: 3+3+2) X x o X x o X o 

Ghuriyaneh (8 beats, division: 2+4+2) X o X x x o X o 

Mokhammas-e-Osat (16 beats, division: 3+3+2+2+4+2) X x o X x o X o X o X x x o X o 

Varashan or Saghil-e-Avval (16 beats, division: 3+3+4+2+4) X x o X x o X x x o X o X x x o 

Ramal: The family of 3 beats rhythm cycles (6, 12, 24 and so on) 

Torki-ye-Zarb-e-Far: (6 beats, division: 3+3) X x o X x o 

Khafif-e-Ramal (6 beats, division: 2+4) X o X x x o 

Hazaj-e-Saghir (6 beats, division: 4+2) X x x o X o 

Hajaz-e-Kabir (12 beats, division: 4+3+3+2) X x x o X x o X x o X o 

Another version (12 beats, division: 2+4+3+3) X x X x x o X x o X x o 

Ramal (12 beats, division: 2+2+2+2+4) X o X o X o X o X x x o 

Doyek (12 beats, division: 2+2+4+4) X o X o X x x o X x x o

Shadiyaneh or Saghil-e-Ramal (24 beats, division: 4+4+2+2+2+2+2+2+4) X x x o X x x o X o X o X o X o X o X o X x x o 

Chahar-Zarb-e-Saghir (24 beats, division: 4+2+6+2+2+2+2+4) X x x o X o X x x x x o X o X o X o X o X x x o 

Osat-o-Nim-Saghil (24 beats, division: 4+4+2+6+8) X x x o X x x o X o X x x x x o X x x x x x x o 

Favakht: The family of 5 beats rhythm cycles (5, 10, 20 and so on) 

Fakhti-ye-Saghir (5 beats, division: 3+2) X x o X o 

Fakhti-ye-Osat (10 beats, division: 2+4+4) X o X x x o X x x o 

Torki-ye-Sari (10 beats, division: 2+3+2+3) X o X x o X o X x o 

Torki-ye-Zarb-e-Asl (20 beats, division: 5+2+3+10) X x x x o X o X x o X x x x x x x x x o 

Another version (20 beats, division: 5+5+10) X x x x o X x x x o X x x x x x x x x o 

Fakhti-ye-Kabir (20 beats, division: 2+8+10) X o X x x x x x x o X x x x x x x x x o

Appendix: Tonbak Notation

So far as I know there is no documents mentioning to the notation of rhythms in the pre-Islamic era of the ancient Persia. But after Islam many Persian musicians and scientists started to use a kind of syllabic notation for notating Persian rhythms. This system of notation was called "atanin" method but nobody uses it today. Of course some musicians who are interested in recreation of the ancient music of Persia, try to discover how to play those rhythms on today drums. The first notation for the tonbak was suggested by Ostad Saba, a very famous and great multi-instrumentalist of Iran who passed away some decades ago.

Anyway, the first book who was published in Iran for the tonbak is the rudiments of tombak co-authored with some Iranian musicians including the late maestro Hosain Tehrani, the very great master of tonbak and father of modern tonbak. Ostad Saba's method was one-lined system and it was developed by some other tonbak players like Ostad Eftetah and the others, but Ostad Tehrani's book's method was three-lined method. Today both the methods are used but the problem is that in every method there is no standard for notating the finger patterns. Anyway, since the key is always mentioned in those books, people don't have any problem in reading such books.

 Date of publication: May 17th, 2003.

The Arabic plural of Iqa (also spelled as Igha') is Iqa'at.