Rhythmic material



This chapter deals with a couple of standard rhythmic structures or Iqa’at within the Arabic music tradition. It is very easy to get lost within the tonal material of Arabic music, because that has already so many new elements. Nevertheless is still a very important element of Arabic music, especially since there is virtually no harmony. There are many different rhythms and corresponding time-signatures, and because rhythm is such an important (and fun) element to a jazz bass player, I could not leave this stone unturned. The Arabic word for rhythm is iqa’, and specific rhythms have specific names. Usually a distinction is made between a low note (dum), and a high note (tak). This is very useful information for a bass player, for we can mimic the same movement between a note and its octave, or a root of a jins and its ghammaz. See also the chapter on bass notes.


Samaii (thaqil)[1]

A Samaii is a song form, but is characterized by its time signature. Most of the song is written in a slow 10/8 time signature, in which the subdivision in 3-2-2-3. A very nice thing about these rhythms in Arabic music is that even though the main grid is eighth notes, they will not hesitate to use triplets if necessary. This can really help to break out of the pitfall to just repeat the same rhythm the whole time. Phrasing will generally stay within the limits of a bar. The phrase will often start on the first eighth note (sometimes with a pick-up beat), and finish on the 8th eighth note. Some composers show their skills by changing this up, or by not emphasizing on the subdivision at all times. A nice example of this is in Samaii Rast by Tatyos effendi. In the 3rd Hane (verse) he uses some nice cross-rhythms in bars 16 and 17, with a rhythmical motive consisting of an 8th note and two 16th notes, to displace the accent of the melody.



The jurjina rhythm is a very fun and challenging rhythm. It is again in 10/8, but fast, so even though the subdivision is the same as in the Samaii (3-2-2-3), it has a very different feel to it. A nice song that uses the jurjina rhythm is Baghdad by Munir Bashir. I like how the melody is almost exclusively rhythmically built from the subdivision, except for some jumps in the B part (bar 13). The phrasing of the song took some getting used to me. It felt as if the phrases don’t all land on the first beat of the bar, but they do. 



A very characteristic 2/4 time signature, that is very danceable. It is very common in folk music. It can be very well interchanged with the maqsum rhythm (see below).



The maqsum is another common time signature, and one that can be often modulated to other rhythms.

The name maqsum translates to “divided” and refers to the dotted line in the middle. The rhythm can be easily divided into two, and played the other way around.[5]