Performing Persian Music Microtones On Electric Guitar

Persian Music incorporates quarter tone type of microtones. Here we discuss a technique to play them on electric guitar providing sample sheet music and video.

Performing Persian Music Microtones On Electric Guitar
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Persian music scales incorporate quarter tone type of microtones (See "Persian Modes: Reading Between The Lines Of Western Music" from the same author here). Performing such intervals on electric guitar could be tricky; but in course of composition and recording my 2012 album, "namoWoman", due considerable use of such quarter tones, I devised practical methods for performing them on electric guitar that I have put forward in this article. Performing quarter tones on an electric guitar could be done in two general ways: 1. Pre-bending notes into quarter tones (not recommended) Pros:
  • Practical on all types of guitar Cons:
  • Preventing unwanted sounds in between played notes is almost impractical. When you want to play a note in consequence of a bended note, the bended note may make sounds in its way of bend release.
  • Not doable on open strings 2. Raising the pitch by pressing the right hand on the bridge (recommended) Pros:
  • More controllable than pre-bending technique.
  • Makes the performer able to vibrate or bend from a quarter tone to another tone. Cons:
  • Only doable on Floyd Rose tremolo system. In both methods it is possible that between shifting notes, some unwanted sounds are produced; but such chances would considerably diminish if note shifting is done at the right moment. Here I have described the recommended method of "raising the pitch by pressing the right hand on the bridge": Suppose we want to play (G-Ap)[*] on D string. G is on 5th fret and Ap will be resulted by raising the 6th fret's pitch but 50% of semitone or 50 cents (note that the interval between G and Ap is tone). Normally play the 5th fret and then immediately before playing the 6th fret gently put your right hand on the bridge so that you raise the pitch by 50%. Please note that at the moment of playing a quarter tone by this method, the player is performing 3 actions approximately at the same time: 1) Putting the left hand finger on the fret 2) striking the string by right hand's pick or finger 3) pressing the right hand on the bridge. Two important considerations: 1. Note that pressing the right hand should be done immediately before other actions, so that at the moment of striking the note the pitch should have been raised to the desired quarter tone. 2. Due difference in string tensions, the required amount of pressure on the bridge to raise a note's pitch by 50% of semitone differs among strings. E.g. high E string requires more pressure in comparison to G string. You may do the following to help your ears and technique to improve regarding playing Persian microtones on electric guitar: 1. Listen to quarter tone music will help you build the skill of finding the right quarter tone pitch. (Check out Persian Traditional Music on YouTube here and here) 2. Practice with a tuner will help a lot in finding the right amount of pressure required to make a pitch 50% of semitone (AP Guitar Tuner is highly recommended. It is the only precise and fast responsive tuner I have found on internet). As an example, I wrote and performed the following piece. The motives are related to one of the songs in my 2012 album, "namoWoman":
    Download sheet music here. Download midi here. Watch me playing above piece below:
    __________________________ Footnotes: [*] Ap reads "A Koron". A symbol in Persian music, denoting decreasing the pitch by 50% of semitone (like a half-flat). For more info read this.
  • 52 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      N-D
      Very good lesson! By the way, just found previews of your "namoWoman" album - it sound really unique and interesting!
      ThatZachGuy
      I've been really interested in Eastern theory lately, and this is just what I needed! Thank you!
      salims
      There is one important thing: Performing eastern quarter tones on electric guitar is one thing and understanding the musicality behind such intervals another. I guess the latter would be achieved more effectively if one practices these eastern intervals at their "exact" ratios on an eastern instrument. Then you will be able to apply or mimic them on western instruments better. For Iranian music theory, instruments like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setar or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setar would be quite helpful!
      Abacus11
      Great article! I was actually just researching music written with quarter tones the other day again to see if it's something practical enough on a guitar to dive into.
      salims
      I am happy if it helped. And please let me know if I can help you in your research more. I should say quarter tone based intervals are fundamental in Persian music theory but there are plenty of quarter tone related books and articles available in Farsi that have never translated into English! But be sure to check this important article on Persian quarter tones: http://lit.gfax.ch/Persian Music--A New Approach to the Theory of Persian Art Music.pdf It is an exceprt from the book: Talai, Dariush, A New Approach to the Theory of Persian Art Music: the Radif and the Modal System, Mahur, 1993, Iran, Tehran
      salimworld
      I am so happy that this article has been useful for many! PS: I replied above posts by the user "salims". That is also me. But I will engage in upcoming discussions by "salimworld".
      eddiehimself
      This is one of those things that 14-year-olds will try once, just so they can say "lol i ply soo much stff on me gitarre lolololololforlmalmao!"
      henrihell
      Why not just tune the guitar differently? like 3 strings normal tuning, 3 strings something in between.
      Panasonic3
      because then the whole point of playing a guitar as a guitar would be out the window.
      salims
      If you want to play Persian music intervals, tuning some strings differently would be useless; cause Persian music incorporates special quarter tones and not all of the possibilities. But some guitarists have used microtonal fretting systems like this:
      . Of course I do not find this example always aesthetically impressive... And of course if I find Persian music microtones more aesthetically impressive, it is because its musical tradition has been around for hundreds of years and more musicians have experimented on it...
      TimLarkin
      Shit someone should call the hospital! This guy is having a stroke with a guitar in his hands!!! Oh, never mind, that's just his piss-poor playing abilities. That riff was something I would teach a five year old with a palsy, so as not to confuse it. Honestly, that kind of shit music belongs on Sesame Street. You should be ashamed.
      svelle
      Wow, you're probably the biggest dbag I have ever seen on this site.
      Kylianvb
      I say about 2 days until he gets banned again? Also, protip: You're not getting banned for saying people are bad at guitar. You're getting banned for simply not being a contribution to anything on this website, and just plain trying to offend people. Not really a worthwhile thing to be doing, I'd say. Maybe try to be less of a douche, only good can come of that. Apart from that; Very informative lesson, wish I had a floyd right about now.
      Carl Hungus
      Tim Larkin is a professional troll on this website. Dont fall for his antics. His opinions are designed purely to irritate.
      <<I>>
      Dude he was just showing an example of the technique, the video was not showing of his skills.
      briangibbs2k
      Hey Tim, why not post a video of your amazing playing so we can critique it. The way you talk shit about other people putting their stuff out, you must be a guitar god. Or just a piece of shit troll, living at home, playing the only 3 chords you know over and over and over...Come on bust out a video of your awesome chops!!!
      TimLarkin
      Hey Brian, why not cut your penis off with a pair of rusty nail clippers? Also, when you say "living at home" as an insult it really doesn't make a ton of sense. If I was living in a place that wasn't a home, where would I be living? A nest? A den? Those could still be called homes, so I'm a tad confused. Did you mean to say "living at your parent's house"? That would make more sense. I'll assume that's what you meant; my response to which would be "No, I moved out when I was sixteen to pursue a lucrative career in the field of PR for a private company." I hope this answers all your questions, if not I will gladly help you find out more about me. Also, I won't post a video of my guitar playing because I have never owned nor played a guitar in my lifetime.
      link no1
      Never played or owned a guitar, comes to a guitar website. Great use of your time. Your attempts at being funny with your insults are pretty awful by the way. Necrophilia and gang rape are more amusing than your 'witty retorts'.
      Aays
      Shit, ballbag's back already? And I thought this was going to be a good year.
      TimLarkin
      Oh it will be a good year indeed. I promise you that.
      wafflesyrup
      I ****ed Tim's ass hole and it bled profusely. Much to my surprise to be honest, I figured he knew not to clench.
      DoubleBassCrash
      Or just go fretless, problem solved.
      shreddymcshred
      Fretless guitars cannot play certain chord shapes with correct intonation.
      salimworld
      I've found playing right hand palm mute hard on them too. They lack percussive sounds of fretted guitars. So playing metal riffs would be hard on fretless guitars.