Gheychak Persian Bowed Instrument

Gheychak the Persian Bowed Musical Instrument

by Peyman Nasehpour

Abstract. The "gheychak قیچک" is a Persian bowed instrument popular in Baluchi folk music. In recent decades, it has been also applied in Persian classical music. This is a brief introduction to the gheychak.

Introduction. The main bowed instrument performed in Persian classical music is the "kamancheh کمانچه". Western bowed instruments such as the violin have been also applied in Persian classical music. However, in recent decades, there have been some efforts to use a modern version of the gheychak (also spelled as ghaychak) in Persian classical music. Note that the gheychak with the local name "soruz سروز" is one of the main instruments of folk music in Baluchistan and in ancient Persia, a kind of bowed instrument known as gheychak has been popular.

A lexical discussion of the word "gheychak". In recent decades, in the classical music of Persia, a modern version of the gheychak (in Persian "قیچک", and also, spelled as "ghaychak" in English) has been used. Note that the same name but with a different spelling, i.e. "gheychak غیچک", has been applied in Persian literature. The poet Toqra from Mashhad mentions the name "gheychak" in his poems:

تا جان فدا نمایم، بر زخمه‌های مطرب     سر می‌نهم چو غیچک، در پیش پای مطرب

Toqra in another verse mentions the same name as follows:

بود از غیچک خوش صوت گردون     دیار چرخ را «استاد زیتون»

It has been reported that Toqra was much interested in music and wrote on music in some of his treatises.

The "gheychak" has been called "ghezhak غژک" (also spelled in English as "ghejak") in some references. For example, the following poem by "Nazari Quhistani نزاری قهستانی" includes the musical instrument "ghezhak":

بس کند زهره سازها بر کار     از پی عیش این مبارک سور

دف و چنگ و رباب و زنبوره     غژک و نای و بربط و طنبور

The poet Adib al-Mamalek has an important verse including the names kamancheh and ghezhak:

چو بربت بود بربط و چنگ صنج     کمانچه غژک دان و عود است رود

This can be translated as follows:

Since "barbat بربت" equals "barbat بربط" and "chang چنگ" equals "sanj صنج"

Observe "kamancheh کمانچه" the same as the "ghezhak غژک" and "oud عود" the "roud رود"

In the first Hemistichh of the above verse, Adib explains that the Arabicized name of barbat, i.e. "بربط", indicates the same instrument "barbat" with Persian spelling "بربت" and also the instrument "sanj سنج" is the Arabicized name of the name "chang چنگ" which stands for Persian harp.

More importantly, in the second Hemistichh of the above verse, Adib explains that kamancheh is the same as ghezhak and oud is the same as roud. Note that in the past what is called today kamancheh was called ghezhak and the bow of the ghezhak was called kamancheh. For more, refer to my note on kamancheh. Also, note that though some believe that oud is an Arabic term for a special kind of wood, I agree with Adib that oud originates from the Persian word "roud" which stands for "gut". For more, see my note on barbat.

In some Persian dictionaries, they explain that the names "ghechak غچک", "ghejak غجک", "ghezha غژه" and "ghizhak غیژک" have been used to indicate the same instrument.

For example, Mirza Ghalib used "ghechak غچک" in one of his works:

خون جگر به جای می، مستی ما قدح نداشت     ناله‌ی دل، نوای نی، رامش ما غچک نخواست 

The confusion of the kamancheh and the gheychak

In some references, the names "ghezhak غژک" or "gheshak غشک" or other similar names have been used to indicate a bowed instrument similar to what we call today the "kamancheh". For example, "Hassan Kashani حسن کاشانی", in his book  "Kanz-al-Tohaf کنزالتحف" calls a two-stringed bowed instrument with a rather spherical soundbox "gheshak غشک" and its bow "kamancheh کمانچه". Note that the Persian word "kamancheh" is a combination of the word "kaman کمان" meaning bow and the suffix "cheh چه". In Persian, if the suffix "cheh" is added to a word, its diminutive form is constructed. As a result, "kamancheh" literally means "small bow". 

On the other hand, in some references, the name "ghezhak" has been used to indicate a bowed instrument different from the "kamancheh". For example, the Persian musician/theorist/poet, "Abdolqadir Maraghi عبدالقادر مراغی", describes the instrument "kamancheh" in his famous book, "Jame'-al-Alhan جامع الالحان" and believes that the sound of the kamancheh is more beautiful than "ghezhak غژک". This shows that Maraghi considered two different musical instruments with the names "kamancheh" and "ghezhak". Maraghi in another book called Maqasid al-Alhan explains that "ghezhak" has ten strings and two of them are the main strings that the bow moves across them.

Today, Maraghi's tradition is followed in Iran, in the sense that "kamancheh" and "ghezhak" are two different musical instruments, and the bow of any bowed musical instrument is called "arsheh آرشه" (borrowed from the French word "archet"). 

The structure of the "gheychak". There are two large holes on the upper side near the fingerboard and one on the lower tip, which is covered with a skin membrane. There are four main strings and eight to sixteen sympathetic strings, which have been eliminated in the context of Persian classical music. The soundbox resembles an upside-down anchor, which is carved from a tree trunk and placed vertically on the player's lap. The upper and lower sections are separated by two oval indentations on the right and left sides which give the gheychak a distinct nasal sound. The gheychak is somehow related to the musical instruments of the Indian subcontinent such as the "sarangi سارنگی", the "saringda سرندو", the "esraj اسراج", and the "dilruba دلربا".


[S]: Mehdi Setayeshgar, Vazhe-Name-ye-Musighi-ye-Iran Zamin, Tehran, Vol. I (1995) & Vol. II (1996).

[T]: Gen'ichi Tsuge. Musical Instruments Described in a Fourteenth-Century Persian Treatise "Kanz al-Tuḥaf". The Galpin Society Journal (2013): 165-259.

Keywords. gheychak, ghaychak, gheychak bass, kamancheh, kamancha, bowed instrument.

Baluchi gheychak

Persian gheychak

Baluchi gheychak

Indian Sarangi

The gheychak and its bow