Welcome to the Guide

The information listed here highlights ONLY the constituent notes of particular modes, and are designed to provide you with a basic introduction to the world of maqams. The concept of maqam is on the sophisticated side and involves understanding microtonal sensibilities, mastering melodic development, and building directional improvisational skills (referred to as “taqsim”, which we will cover later as well, and this is where modulating correctly between and among related modes becomes the main headline).  To put it more simply, we tend to think of this phenomenon as more than a scale, but less than a song.

Also consider that various cultures and regions interpret and perform pitch differently. For example, it may be helpful to consider a spectrum of pitch possibilities. Taking a generic “minor” scale, one may observe that in Armenian folk music, the second degree is played ever so slightly flatter than it would otherwise be played in either just intonation or the equal temperament system (this may vary, but generally speaking). Then moving in the direction of further flattening the second degree, in Turkish/Kurdish folk music it will be even more flat (this may vary, but generally speaking), followed by Turkish/Ottoman Classical music where it is at times interpreted as nearly a full quarter tone, or even the actual quarter tone itself (this may vary, but generally speaking). Moreover, the Arab music system of maqam does have the second degree as literally split exactly down the middle as a literal quarter tone. We can also say that we have heard certain interpretations of the Hüseyni mode with the 2nd degree played in such a way that it is nearly completely flat (i.e. Phrygian-like), although this is not common. As such, do not forget that different players may interpret notes differently in their own unique and subjective ways that do not always strictly adhere to any previous systems or philosophies. And to add more layers, many players incorporate techniques such as vibrato on / around microtones to further flavor the pitch.  As you may be able to tell already, there are some guidelines and a framework of sorts, but no hard and fast universally defined and unassailable system here. Keep that in mind as we move forward.

Disclaimer, this is a guide. Many players interpret these pitches in a multitude of ways depending on their cultural background and artistic subjectivity. The amount of cent deviation you hear or desire is open to interpretation. Pay close attention to different artists and recordings for how these notes are sounded. Also recall that cents are an equal temperament system tool of measurement. A fretless instrument like the oud can sometimes be pulled in different directions for what “feels” right (playing a fretless instrument, a musician will find that slightly flatter major thirds and slightly sharper minor thirds sound and feel correct, while in the equal temperament system they would supposedly be “off” – something to keep in mind as your tuner, and also any keyboard of fretted instrument you perform with may clash a bit with some pitches ever so slightly – there are abundant on line resources about the differences between just intonation and equal temperament which we won’t dive into much here, except when required to explain a modal concept).

For Reference:

  • Generally speaking, one half step is equal to 100 “cents”
  • In the world of what is known today as Turkish maqam music, one half step is equal to 4 commas (or 5 commas – this depends on the concept of “floating” or “indefinite” notes which are based on whether there is ascending or descending inertia involved – this refers to the idea that when ascending through notes to go higher in pitch from note to note, certain notes may be played sharper, and the opposite holds for descending movements)
  • Generally speaking, one whole step is equal to 9 commas
  • We will provide further comments and clarifications as needed in future postings and content
  • These are simplified explanations and visual diagrams to aid in learning about these modes – however makams are meant to be explored in a modal sense with movement and melodic development and most importantly, modulation to other modes. This will be explored in future posts and videos.

An Overview of Beyati (Bayati)

E is traditionally the home tone for the Beyati Mode, which is a very common mode in Arabic music. Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and needs of different instruments/tunings. Below, we will show the Beyati mode starting from the E. Note that this mode contains a straight “quarter tone for the second degree, and the rest of the notes are typically the same as a standard western minor scale.

Beyati

Beyati

*The second degree here is literally the exact half way point between an F natural and an F#. This type of literal quarter tone may sound quite blunt to the ear.


An Overview of Çargâh

F is traditionally the home tone for the Çargâh Mode. Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and needs of different instruments/tunings. Below, we will show the Çargâh mode starting from the F. Note that this mode contains a Hijaz style pentachord extension, which suggests that final cadences will not play the “major sounding” final cadence, and will instead do a Hijaz flavored final cadence.

Çargâh

Çargâh


An Overview of Hijaz

Hijaz is one of the most common middle eastern maqams. To Western ears, it is the quintessential “middle-eastern sounding” scale due to its inclusion of a larger than normal (1.5 tone) interval from the second to the third degree (at least, when played in the equal temperament system). In the Turkish style, this maqam does have a bit of microtonal sensibility (much less so in the Arab style), particularly on the second and sixth degrees, in line with ascending and descending attractions (way up a bit sharper, way down a bit flatter).

E is traditionally the home tone for Hijaz. The 4th degree serves a dominant-type role of importance for this maqam – which has some relation to how Western musicians may refer to “E Hijaz” as an inverted A Minor Harmonic (meaning the notes of the A minor scale, harmonic so G has become G#, and inverted because the tone of the mode is the 5th degree, which is the E note – of course not factoring in mictronality). Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and the different needs of instruments/tunings.

Hijaz (Modern / Arabic)

In our experience, a large number of Arab compositions tend to be notated in equal temperament styled notation (of course, featuring quarter tones where applicable – note that traditionally this may not always be the case in various regions where there is particular microtonality).

Hijaz (Modern Arabic)

Hijaz Ascending (Turkish)

In the Turkish musical context, Hijaz is generally played in the following scale when ascending (left to right on the piano keyboard).

Hijaz Ascending (Turkish)

Hijaz Descending (Turkish)

In the Turkish musical context, Hijaz is generally played in the following scale when descending (right to left on the piano keyboard).

Hijaz Descending (Turkish)

*The 3rd degree can either be played natural or slightly flat while descending (say around -25). This is entirely dependent upon the melodic development of a particular composition or improvisation, the interpretation of the player and/or the pitch selection amongst instruments playing together. Melodies that begin or end with the 6th degree of the mode should be played as a C natural note. In contrast, when this degree of the mode is used as a passing note it should be played in the neighborhood of -50 cents. We will explore more advanced maqam concepts in the future.



An Overview of Hüseyni

Hüseyni is a popular middle eastern maqam. Although played in different ways by different cultures this mode preserves a similar sound to a Western minor scale, however, featuring microtonality on the second and sixth degrees.

E is traditionally the home tone for the Hüseyni Mode. Note that the 5th degree plays an enormous role in the identity of this maqam. Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and the different needs of instruments/tunings.

Hüseyni (Modern / Arabic)

Hüseyni (Modern / Arabic)

*The 6th degree can be played as a C sharp ascending and C natural descending

Hüseyni Ascending (Turkish)

In the Turkish musical context, Hüseyni is played in the following scale when ascending the scale (left to right on the piano keyboard).

Hüseyni Ascending (Turkish)

Hüseyni Descending (Turkish)

In the Turkish musical context, Hüseyni is played in the following scale when descending the scale (right to left on the piano keyboard).

Hüseyni Descending (Turkish)

*Some players will sound the 2nd degree note in the neighborhood of as flat as around -75 cents, but will not will actually go as flat as an F natural. For the 6th degree, this can also be played natural. This is entirely dependent upon the melodic development of a particular composition or improvisation. Melodies that begin or end with the 6th degree of the mode should be played as a C natural note. In contrast, when this degree of the mode is used as a passing note it should be played in the neighborhood of -50 cents. We will explore more advanced maqam concepts in the future.


An Overview of Kurdi

Kurdi is a popular middle eastern maqam. It closely resembles a minor scale in western music, but with a flat second (e.g. Phrygian) in terms of its note composition. See the diagrams below for more details.

E is traditionally the home tone for the Kurdi Mode. Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and needs of different instruments/tunings. Below, we will show the Kurdi mode starting from the A. Note that because of the flat second of this mode, the fourth degree serves an important dominant-like role.

Kurdi (Arabic and Turkish)

Kurd (Arabic & Turkish)


An Overview of Nihavend

Nihavend (or Nihavent) is a popular middle eastern maqam. It closely resembles the natural and harmonic minor scales of western music in terms of its note composition. See the diagrams below for more details.

D is traditionally the home tone for this maqam. Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and the practical needs of instruments/different tunings.

Nihavend (Arabic and Turkish)

NIhavend (Arabic and Turkish)

*The C is played as a C sharp in resolving melodic cadence from time to time, and can be considered a leading tone for the intensity which can be desired for a concluding cadence.


An Overview of Rast

Rast is a popular middle eastern maqam. Although played in slightly different ways by different cultures this mode preserves a similar sound to a western major scale, however, featuring microtonality which varies by degree depending which region’s version or scale you are playing. See the diagrams below for more details.

D is traditionally the home tone for the Rast Mode. Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and the different needs of instruments/tunings.

Rast (Arabic)

Rast (Arabic)

Rast Ascending (Turkish)

In the Turkish musical context, Rast is played in the following scale when ascending the scale (left to right on the piano keyboard).

Rast Ascending (Turkish)

*The 6th degree can be played as a C sharp ascending and C natural descending

Rast Descending (Turkish)

In the Turkish musical context, Rast is played in the following scale when descending the scale (right to left on the piano keyboard).

Rast Descending (Turkish)


An Overview of Sabâ

Sabâ is a common middle eastern maqam, and is a bit more complex. For starters, this mode features microtonality and exhibits certain characteristics that differentiate it substantially from what one hears in Western music. For example, there is no real resolving octave dynamic here which one may expect generally from a given scale/mode. See the diagrams below for more details.

E is traditionally the home tone for the Sabâ Mode. Although, of course, with the needs of modern music transposing to other notes to start the mode is common. Especially due to the vocal ranges of singers and the needs of different instruments/tunings.

Sabâ (Arabic and Turkish)

Sabâ (Arabic and Turkish)