From Academic Kids

In music, a maqam [sic] (plural maqamat) is "a technique of improvisation" that defines the pitches, patterns, and development of a piece of music. Maqamat are "unique to Arabian art music." The Western term that comes closest to describing the maqam is the mode, and mode is often used to describe the over seventy heptatonic tone rows or scales of maqamat. These are constructed from major, medium, and minor seconds (see Arab tone system). (Touma 1996, p.38, 203). The equivalent of maqam in the theory of byzantine music is echos.

In Arabic, maqam (مقام) literally means 'place'. An "essential, decisive factor in maqam performance is that each describes the "tonal-spatial factor" or set of musical notes and the relationships between them, including traditional patterns and development of melody while leaving the "rhythmic-temporal component" is "subjected to no definite organization." A maqam does not have an "established, regularly recurring bar scheme nor an unchanging meter. A certain rhythm does sometimes identify the style of a performer, but this is dependent upon his [sic] performance technique and is never characteristic of the maqam as such." The compositional or rather precompositional aspect of the maqam is the tonal-spatial organization including the number of tone levels and the improvisational aspect is the construction of the rhythmic-temporal scheme. (ibid)

The notes of a maqam are not of equal temperament (meaning that the difference in pitch between each note is not identical, unlike in the chromatic scale used in modern Western music). A maqam also determines other things, such the tonic (starting note), the ending note, and the dominant note. It also determines which notes should be emphasised and which should not. (ibid, p.38-9)

Because the names of notes are often constant across different maqamat, it is possible to play music under a maqam different from the one it was written for. By employing different maqamat, one can produce different moods for the same piece of music.

The Iraqi genre of maqam al-iraqi is often considered the most perfect form of the maqam. (Touma 1996, p.55)



Maqam performance features a series characteristic pauses which separate and distinguish melodic passages within which, "the tonal-spatial aspect is more fully developed. In each new melodic passage, something musically new happens."

Phases and central tones

Each passage consists of one or more phases which are sections "played on one tone or within one tonal area," and may take from seven to forty seconds to articulate. For example, a tone level centered on g:

Missing image
Maqam tone level example

(ibid, p.40)

The tonal levels, or axial pitches, begin in the lower register and gradually rise to the highest at the climax before descending again, for example (in European-influenced notation):

Missing image
Maqam phase sequence example

(ibid, p.41)

"When all possibilities of the musical structuring of such a tone level have been fully explored, the phase is complete." (ibid, p.41)


The central tones of a maqam are created from two different intervals. The eleven central tones of the maqam used in the phase sequence example above may be reduced to three which make up the "nucleus" of the maqam:

Missing image
Example maqam nucleus

(ibid, p.42)

The tone rows of maqamat may be identical, such as maqam bayati and maqam 'ushshaq turki:

Maqam bayati and 'ushshaq turki tone row, the backwards flat sign indicating quarter tone flat

but be distinguished by different nuclei. Bayati is shown in the example above, while 'ushshaq turki is:

Missing image
Maqam 'ushshaq turki nucleus

Emotional content

Each maqam evokes a specific emotion or set of emotions determined by the tone row and the nucleus, with different maqams sharing the same tone row but differing in nucleus and thus emotion. Maqam rast evokes pride. Maqam bayatī: vitality, joy, and femininity. Sīkah: love. Saba: sadness and pain. Hijaz: distant desert.

Emotion is evoked in part through change in the size of an interval during a maqam presentation. Maqam saba, for example, contains in its first four notes, D, E-quarter-flat, F, and Gb, two medium seconds one larger (160 cents) and one smaller (140 cents) than a three quarter tone, and a minor second (95 cents). Further, E-quarter-flat and G-flat may vary slightly causing a "sad" or "sensitive" mood. (ibid, p.45)


Maqamat are constructed of ajnas (singular jins), or sequences of intervals. They will either be tricords (three notes), tetracords (four notes), or pentacords (five notes). Every maqam has an upper and lower jins. The first note of the upper jins is the dominant note in the maqam. Maqamat are classified by the name of their lower jins.

  • Tricords: Ajam, Jiharkah, Sikah, Mustaar
  • Tetrachords: Bayati, Busalik, Hijaz, Kurd, Nahawand, Rast, Saba, Zamzama
  • Pentachords: Athar Kurd, Nawa Athar

Principal 9 maqamat by lower jins

  • Ajam: Ajam, Jiharkah, Shawq Afza
  • Sikah: Bastanikar, Huzam, Iraq, Mustaar, Rahat El Arwah, Sikah, Sikah Baladi
  • Bayati: Bayatayn, Bayati, Bayati Shuri, Husseini, Nahfat
  • Nihawand: Farahfaza, Nahawand, Nahawand Murassah, Ushaq Masri
  • Rast: Mahur, Nairuz, Rast, Suznak, Yakah
  • Hijaz: Hijaz, Hijaz Kar, Shadd Araban, Shahnaz, Suzidil, Zanjaran
  • Saba: Saba, Saba Zamzam
  • Kurd: Kurd, Hijaz Kar Kurd
  • Nawa Ather: Athar Kurd, Nawa Athar, Nikriz


  • Touma, Habib Hassan (1996). The Music of the Arab's, trans. Laurie Schwartz. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0931340888.

Makams in Turkish music

The Turkish word for the Arabic maqam is makam (pl. makamlar). The concept of makam in Turkish music is fundamentally similar to the concept of maqam in the Arab world; however, the makams are organized in a somewhat different way. Although makams do provide a framework for improvisations—known as taksim in Turkish—they are primarily a means of melodic composition. In this regard, it should be kept in mind that Turkish music, and particularly Turkish classical music, is heterophonic; i.e., traditionally all of the voices play the same melody, with small flourishes and ornaments occasionally being introduced.

In terms of notes, one whole tone is divided into nine commas in Turkish music, which are given symbols in accordance with the following table:

Missing image
Image:Commas and Symbols.gif

(N.B. Aralığın Adı means "Name of Interval"; these should be learned in Turkish as this system is unlikely to be encountered outside of Turkish music. Koma olarak değeri means "value in terms of commas". Diyez means "sharp" and bemol means "flat"; in the sharp column, the lower tone should be imagined at the top and the higher tone at the bottom (vice versa for the flat column), and then the table becomes a map of the intervals occurring as one moves between, for example, the notes C and D. Accordingly, the table can be depicted horizontally as follows, with the basic notes named according to the solfege system and thus, for example, "Do" is C and "Re" is D:

Missing image
Image:Comma Line.gif

As noted above in the context of the Arab maqam, this system is not of equal temperament. In fact, in the Western system of temperament, C-sharp and D-flat—which are functionally the same tone—are equivalent to 4.5 commas in the Turkish system; thus, they fall directly in the center of the line depicted above. As for the last column in the table, simge means "symbol", and is used—as will be seen below—for a shorthand system of writing the different intervals used in the different tetrachords and pentachords that go into making up a makam.)

Unlike as in Western music, where the note C, for example, is called C regardless of what octave it might be in, in the Turkish system the notes are—for the most part—individually named (although many are variations on a basic name); this can be seen in the following table, which covers the notes from middle C ("Kaba rgh") to the same note two octaves above ("Tz rgh"):

Missing image
Image:Turkish Note Names (small).jpg

Similar to the construction of maqamat noted above, a makam in Turkish music is built of a tetrachord built atop a pentachord, or vice versa (trichords exist but are little used). Additionally, most makams have what is known as a "development" (genişleme in Turkish) either above or below, or both, the tonic and/or the highest note.

  • There are 6 basic tetrachords, named sometimes according to their tonic note and sometimes according to the tetrachord's most distinctive note: rgh; Bselik; Krd; Rast; Uşşk; and Hicaz.
  • There are also 6 basic pentachords, named after the same pattern: rgh; Bselik; Krd; Rast; Hseyn; and Hicaz.

In the following image, tetrachords (drtl) are on the left, pentachords (beşli) on the right. The symbols (simge) from the table above are here used to signal the intervals used in these patterns; it is worth keeping in mind that these patterns can be transposed to any note in the scale, so that the tonic A (Dgh) of the Hicaz tetrachord, for example, can be moved up a major second/9 commas to B (Bselik), or in fact to any other note. The other notes of the tetrachord, of course, are also transposed along with the tonic, allowing the pattern to preserve its character.

Missing image
Image:Tetras and Pentas.jpg

Basic Makam Theory

A makam, more than simply a selection of notes and intervals, is essentially a guide to compositional structure: any composition in a given makam will move through the notes of that makam in a more or less ordered way (in this, it resembles a tone row la Schoenberg or von Webern). This pattern is known in Turkish as seyir (meaning basically, "route"), and there are three types of seyir:

  • rising (ıkıcı);
  • falling (inici);
  • falling-rising (inici-ıkıcı)

As stated above, makams are built of a tetrachord plus a pentachord (or vice versa), and in terms of this construction, there are three important notes in the makam:

  • the tonic (durak), which is the initial note of the first tetrachord or pentachord and which always concludes any piece written in the makam;
  • the dominant (gl), which is the last note of the first tetrachord or pentachord and the first note of the second and which is used as a temporary tonic in the middle of a piece (in this sense, it is somewhat similar to the axial pitches mentioned above in the context of Arab music); in practice, the gl is sometimes a proper dominant and sometimes a subdominant;
  • the leading tone (yeden), which is most often the penultimate note of any piece and which resolves into the tonic; in practice this is sometimes a proper leading tone and sometimes a subtonic

Additionally, there are three types of makam as a whole:

  • simple makams (basit makamlar), almost all of which have a rising seyir;
  • transposed makams (grlmş makamlar), which as the name implies are the simple makams transposed to a different tonic;
  • compound makams (bileşik/mrekkep makamlar), which are a joining of differing makams and number in the hundreds

Simple Makams

rgh Makam

This makam is identical to the Western C-major scale, and consists of a rgh pentachord and a rgh tetrachord starting on the note Gerdaniye (G). Thus, the tonic is C (rgh), the dominant G (Gerdaniye), and the leading tone B (Bselik). (N.B. In this and all subsequent staves, the tonic is indicated by a whole note and the dominant by a half note.)

Missing image

Interestingly, insofar as C-major is considered the most basic scale of Western music and accordingly used very often, the rgh makam is very little used in Turkish music, and in fact has at certain points of history been attacked for being a clumsy and unpleasant makam that can inspire those hearing it to engage in delinquency of various kinds.

Bselik Makam

This makam has two basic forms: in the first basic form (1), it consists of a Bselik pentachord plus a Krd tetrachord on the note Hseyn (E) and is essentially the same as the Western A-minor; in the second (2), it consists of a Bselik pentachord plus a Hicaz tetrachord on Hseyn and is identical to A-harmonic minor. The tonic is A (Dgh), the dominant Hseyn (E), and the leading tone G-sharp (Nim Zirgle). Additionally, when descending from the octave towards the tonic, the sixth (F, Acem) is sometimes sharpened to become F-sharp (Dik Acem), and the dominant (E, Hseyn) flattened four commas to the note Hisar (1A). All these alternatives are shown below:

1) Missing image

2) Missing image

1A) Missing image

Rast Makam

This much-used makam—which is said to bring happiness and tranquility to the hearer—consists of a Rast pentachord plus a Rast tetrachord on the note Neva (D); this is labeled (1) below. The tonic is G (Rast), the dominant D (Neva), and the leading tone F-sharp (Irak). However, when descending from the octave towards the tonic, the leading tone is always flattened 4 commas to the note Acem (F), and thus a Bselik tetrachord replaces the Rast tetrachord; this is labeled (2) below. Additionally, there is a development (genişleme) in the makam's lower register, below the tonic, which consists of a Rast tetrachord on the note D (Yegh); this is labeled (1A) below.

1) Missing image

1A) Missing image
Image: Rastmakam-2.jpg

2) Missing image
Image: Rastmakam-3.jpg

In Turkey, the particular Muslim call to prayer (or ezan in Turkish) which occurs generally in early afternoon and is called ikindi, as well as the day's final call to prayer called yatsı, is often recited using the Rast makam.

Uşşk Makam

This makam consists of an Uşşk tetrachord plus a Bselik pentachord on the note Neva (D); this is labelled (1) below. The tonic is A (Dgh), the dominant—here actually a subdominant—is D (Neva), and the leading tone—here actually a subtonic—is G (Rast). Additionally, there is a development in the makam's lower register, which consists of a Rast pentachord on the note D (Yegh); this is labeled (1A) below.

1) Missing image

1A) Missing image

In Turkey, the particular call to prayer which generally occurs around noon and is called ğle is most often recited using the Uşşak makam.


See also

In Uyghur, muqams, in Uzbek, Shashmakom, in byzantine music, echos.

External links

  • Maqam World (
  • Maqam World: What is a Maqam? (
  • Nota Arşivi ( – a very good and quite comprehensive online sheet music archive of Turkish classical music organized by makam

ja:マカーム he:מקאם


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