Ahmed Mukhtar

Oud Master, Composer and Teacher


What is a Maqam?

Maqam In Arabic music, a Maqam (plural Maqamat) is a set of notes with traditions that define relationships between them, habitual patterns, and their melodic development. Maqamat are best defined and understood in the context of the rich Arabic music repertoire. The nearest equivalent in Western classical music would be a mode (e.g. Major, Minor, etc.)

The Arabic scales which Maqamat are built from are not even-tempered, unlike the chromatic scale used in Western classical music. Instead, 5th notes are tuned based on the 3rd harmonic. The tuning of the remaining notes entirely depends on the Maqam. The reasons for this tuning are probably historically based on string instruments like the oud. A side effect of not having even-tempered tuning is that the same note (by name) may have a slightly different pitch depending on which Maqam it is played in.

What are Quarter Tones ?

Many maqamat include notes that can be approximated with quarter tones (depicted using the half-flat sign or the half-sharp sign), although they rarely are precise quarters falling exactly halfway between two semitones. Even notes depicted as semitones sometimes include microtonal subtleties depending on the maqam in which they are used. For this reason, when writing Arabic music using the Western notation system, there is an understanding that the exact tuning of each note might vary with each maqam and must be learned by ear.

Another peculiarity of maqamat is that the same note is not always played with the same exact pitch, the pitch may slightly vary depending on the melodic flow and what other notes are played before and after that note. The idea behind this effect is to round sharp corners in the melody by drawing the furthest notes nearer. This effect is sometimes called the law of attraction or gravity, and is common in other musical traditions (e.g. in Byzantine music).

Are maqamat transposable ?

When Arabic maqamat are taught and documented, each maqam is usually associated with the same starting note (tonic). For example, maqam Bayati is almost always shown as starting on D in reference textbooks.

In general maqamat are transposable, but only to a handful of other tonics. For example, maqam Bayati can also start on G and A. When transposing Arabic maqamat, musicians mention the tonic name after the maqam name for clarity (e.g. "Bayati on G" or "Bayati on A"). For this reason also, only a few quarter tones are exploited (with the understanding that the term quarter tone is approximate, and that many semitones include microtonal variations). The most frequently used quarter tones are: E, A and B.

How many maqamat are there ?

There are dozens of Arabic maqamat, too many to list, including many Persian and Turkish hybrids. It's difficult to find a definitive list of Arabic maqamat that all textbooks agree on, or a definitive reference on which maqamat are strictly Arabic and which are Turkish or Persian. There are also many local maqamat used only in some regions of the Arab world (e.g. Iraq and North Africa), and unknown in others. But the most widely used and known maqamat are about 30 to 40, and these are the ones covered in this web site

The Samai (plural Sama'iyyat)

The Samai is a composed genre comprised of four sections (khana, plural khanat), each followed by the refrain (taslim).

The samai composition demonstrates the 10/8 rhythmic mode (called samai thaqil) followed throughout the taslim and the first 3 khanat. The 4th khana, which precedes the last statement of the refrain, is typically composed in a 3/4 or 6/4 rhythm, called Samai Darij. Some contemporary composers display a 5/8, 7/8 or 9/8 rhythm in the 4th khana.

The first three khanat of the Samai consist of 4 to 6 measures. The last (4th) khana varies from 6 to 24 measures.

Generally the first khana in the Samai displays the selected maqam in a stepwise motion. It is usually played in the lower tetrachord (jins) of the maqam. The second khana shows a modulation to a related maqam. In the third khana the melodic range expands and reaches the higher tetrachord of the maqam.


The Taqsim (plural Taqasim)

The Taqsim is an instrumental improvisation, which could be metric or non-metric. The taqsim is usually performed solo, but could also be accompanied by a percussionist or an instrumentalist playing only a drone. the taqsim is an impromptu musical composition where the soloist extemporized a piece using the maqam as a vehicle while abiding by a certain set of rules particular to that maqam. A taqsim usually includes a number of modulations to other related maqamat.


What is Iraqi maqam

What is Iraqi maqam? The word maqam grossly means place or situation. In the context of music the word maqam may refer to two different aspects of musical form. One definition is common everywhere in the Arab world, the other is specifically in Iraq. Everywhere in the Arab world the word maqam refers to the specific Oriental tone scales, of which there is an enormous variety in Arabic music due to the vast range of different `microtones'.

At the same time in the classical musique savante of Iraq the word maqam refers to a special kind of `suite', consisting of improvisations based on certain standard rules or performance and aesthetics.

*As the leading recitalist of the Iraqi Maqam, Ahmed mukhtar perpetuates the centuries old traditional singing and playing.

The Iraqi Maqam follows a pattern of three main parts; the introduction and finale being interspersed with set musical and melodic passages performed alternatively by the vocalist and musicians.

The art of Iraqi maqam reached its ultimate refinement during the golden age of the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad, a key city on the borders of the Arab, Turkish arid Persian worlds. Used by classical and popular musicians, it was not only favoured by the local aristocracy in their music rooms but also used at religious celebrations and Sufi ceremonies. All the composition and the contemporary compositions By Ahmed Mukhtar are based on the Iraqi Maqam, accompanied by the Iraqi Ensemble Qanaon , Joza Nay and many kind of percussion .

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