Each of Turkish, Arabic and Persian music carry the influences of the cultures they have encountered and the long history of the lands they were born. It is evident that these three genres of music interacted. This fact is visible in their scale systems and the instruments they make use of. On the other hand, each of these musics have not fully adopted each other’s features since the regions where Turks, Persians and Arabs lived are quite diverse in culture, religion and language.
In principle all of these musics are monophonic; there is only one melody, not several melodies proceeding together, and no system of harmony to guide or accompany the melody. But it should be noted that members of an ensemble can relate and produce textural variety in great many ways; in ensembles the instruments are in general played heterophonically meaning they play the same melodic line at different volumes or pitch levels, maybe with some ornamentations or time differences. Besides ornamentations giving regional character to the music, the specific vocal techniques while singing, improvisation and solo performance plays a major role in these three kinds or music.
Instruments are certainly important in Turkish, Persian and Arab music. Like musical styles, these music types share some dominant instrument types but each country or culture has its own version or variant. The best example for such situation is oud. Oud is a plucked, fretless lute and it appears in varying sizes in several lands of the Middle East. Arabic oud, Turkish oud and Persian oud differ in size and timbre. Trapezoid shaped zithers which are also very much used in these music types constitute antoher example for instrumental differences; the zither played in Turkish and Arab music is kanun or qanun, whereas santour (or santoor) which is a hammer dulcimer is used in Persian music.
As for the harmonic system, each of Arab, Turkish and Persian music are based on modal system. These modes may be defined as patterns or set of rules for composing melody. It is thought that in the Middle East music, the mode is called makam/maqam and Persian, Turkish and Arab music are composed and played with respect to makams/maqams. However, each of these musics’ structure is deeper than this. Iran traditional music is based on dastgahs which is wider than the makam and maqam in Turkish and Arab music respectively. Dastgah signifies the set of system comprising makam and other melodic materials. A dastgah includes gushehs, which are anonymous melodies performed one after the other in a Persian piece of music and each gusheh has also a makam which should be compatible with the tone of the dastgah in which it is played. Radif, which is the group of pieces forming twelve dastgahs is not used in Turkish or Arab music. On the other hand, the fact that Arab and Turkish maqam/makam are based on tetrachords and pentachords is a common feature between them.
The interval relations of the pitches in these three kinds of music are also similar but they are not notated in the same way since they went through different processes notation. In Persian music, in addition to major and minor seconds in consecutive intervals, there are three-quarter notes, slightly larger than the western half-note and five-quarter tones, slightly larger than the western whole-tone. Whereas in Arab music, the intervals are divided with quarter-tones. Turkish music also includes microtones, but its notation has been changed during its modernization and the intervals in Turkish art music contain commas which result in an octave of 24 unequal intervals.
Despite their small differences, the expressional characteristic of Persian, Turkish and Arab music are quite the same. They create an ecstatic state and they are emotional. They establish a bond between the musician and the audience; the performer expresses his/her emotions such that the audience gets the performer and joins his/her mood.