Maqam Hijaz: One of the most famous Maqamat in Arabic music is Maqam Hijaz- (Hijaz in Arabic means much love.) Hijaz is one of the maqamat which doesn’t contain micro tones, so not only is it easy to play on western instruments, but it can also be analyzed using the western world scale and jazz harmony. 


Maqam Nakriz is an interesting maqam, it uses the same notes as the maqam Hijaz from D, (Re) but the C (Do) is the tonic, so the phrasing needs to emphasize the C as the tonic. If this is not the case, it can easily sound like maqam Hijaz. When improvising on maqam it is important to know the tonic and the intervals, because you can easily change and improvise on different maqamat. There is nothing wrong with changing the maqam when improvising and sometimes it is preferable, as long as this is done consciously. 

Maqam Kurd is the same as the Phrygian scale in western music. This scale  is very common within Arabic music, it has an eastern flavor  and can be easily harmonized.


Maqam Rast is similar to maqam Ajam (major scale) but the 3rd and the 7th are quarter tones. (in the recording you can hear first the major scale and then the Rast.)

Maqam Saba scale is played differently in different regions. Some play it with quarter/micro tones and some without. When the arrangement involves the Piano it will usually be played without the micro tones.              Maqam Saba from D  is somewhat similar to the maqam Hijaz from D, but there is also a D minor and D major option. The fourth is lowered to  Gb and the 3rd is lowered to F. This can be termed either D, F, A= D minor or D Gb (F#) A- D major. According to the melody line the harmony can change from tonic minor to tonic major and visa versa and still function as the same maqam and mood.  Another point of interest with the maqam Saba which is very unique is that there are 8 notes. from D ascending to Db . (some saba even have the upper E natural. ) Saba doesn't have any maqam related family. the fist root jin is unique only to Saba, but i found It  interesting to note that the first Jin of the maqam Saba is the same as the Alter scale:



 Maqam Bayat is the same as C Rast but the D functions as the tonic. So it sounds like D Dorian but with the 2nd and the 6th quarter tunes. 


There are some maqamat where a jump/move to the 5th changes the mood and motif of the maqam. Some maqamat have different notes when the melody descends. When the 7th note is a quarter tone, this will  become 7b when the melody descends.. 

 In this example we can see how a song that starts from C Rast can be modulated through changing the tonic and keeping the intervals. From C it is Maqam Rast, from D we have Maqam Bayat, E Maqam Siga, F Maqam Gahareka  , G Maqam Nawah, A Maqam Husenni, B Maqam  Iraq.

7.1 Examples of maqams and scales:

Most of the maqamat have a parallel maqam: if you go to the 4th note of the scale and make it the tonic you will discover a new scale. When you use the Hijaz  D (Re)  if the 4th note (Gor Sol) is seen as the tonic it will result in a G minor major harmonic scale where the D functions as the fifth dominant  chord within a minor harmony scale. (this is also a way to find more options for chords and harmony from parallel maqamat.) 

7.1.7 Alter scale, from the jazz harmony world 5th dominant chord. In addition, the b9 and the 3rd can function as 9# =b3 or 3. B13= b6. However, the difference is in the second jin, with whole steps (full tones). that form  #11=5b .  and a whole Octave circle D.




7.2 Application


I experimented using the western scale approach taking the main scale and from this understanding the parallel scales that stems from it. I discovered that this approach  doesn’t work in every maqam, but the experiment helped me understand the system and the parallel maqamat for compositions and modulation.


There are 3 common ways for modulation in maqam -


1-    To keep the intervals but to change the tonic.

2-     To stay on the tonic but to change the intervals.

3-    To change the intervals and the tonic.


In this next example I repeated the same structure, but this time taking the D Maqam Hijaz as the tonic. The result produced was different maqamat and interesting scales.

From D tonic we have Maqam Hijaz, from E Maqam Mdami, from the tonic F an interesting but unfamiliar maqam or scale emerged. From G is minor harmony #7 scale, from A Lami(= Lokri in western scale) with 6#. From B similar to Maqam Huzam without micro tones. (it’s Bb instead of B micro note.) and from C it is maqam Nakriz. 


The common and familiar modulation in maqam Hijaz is to go to Nakriz by using C as the tonic, the second option is to keep the D as the tonic and to change the intervals. The third alternative is to change the intervals and the tonic and move to a new maqam. An additional option is to keep the Hijaz jin and to change the second jin, this allows for a smoother modulation. (similar to Hijaz Kar or Nahawand and more) 




In order to improvise over the maqamat, the musician needs to be an informed listener who understands the maqam moods and motifs and not only theory. When I first learned the Arabic maqamat, my teacher - the well-known maestro for Arabic music, Yair Dalal- set me the task of listening to numerous songs in the same maqam until I could recognize the maqam just by listening to short melody lines of a song. There is something magical about the maqamat with its many dialects and moods which can be better understood through listening than through written notation. Could this be the reason why there is little written literature about Arab music?  



7.     Implementing basic Arabic Music, Maqamat and improvisation.


What is maqam? It has been defined in various ways. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition, Maqam is defined as follows:

Maqām, plural maqāmāt, in music of the Middle East and parts of North Africa, a set of pitches and of characteristic melodic elements, or motifs, and a traditional pattern of their use. Maqām is the principal melodic concept in Middle Eastern musical thought and practice (parallel to Iqaat in rhythm). Each performance of Arabic classical music is said to be cast in a maqām, whose attributes are a scale consisting of a collection of tones, characteristic motifs to which an improviser or composer consistently returns, and a distinct character perceived by the informed listener.”


 The researcher Cohen (1996) explains the differences between maqam.

“The maqam is not just a scale. Each maqam has its own typical melodic features, to the extent that two maqamat can exist with the same scale intervals, but they will each have a different name due to a difference in melodic features that is typical to each one. Often, the same maqam has a different name when it is played following a different note, as the limitations of the instrument or other extra-musical factors will then cause different melodic features.” (Blitsky quoting Cohen, 1996).

Marcus’s definition introduces us to the concept of tetrachordal structures. 

“Melodies are built from melodic modes called Maqamat, and any given Maqam dictates a wealth of melodic features. These include the notes used ideas about the intonation of the notes and which notes should be emphasized; a specific tetrachordal structure with possibility of alternative tetrachords.” (Marcus 2015, p. 281)


The final definition is from Farraj, who explains that:

 “the Arabic Maqam (plural Maqamat) is a system of scales, habitual melodic phrases, modulation possibilities, ornamentation techniques and aesthetic conventions that together form a rich melodic framework and artistic tradition. The maqam's melodic course (in both composed or improvised music) within that framework is called sayr in Arabic.(Farraj, n.d) 


In the four definitions above we see four different ways to answer the question what is maqam. All the definitions are correct, however, they approach the maqam from different perspectives for different audiences:, for the laymen, someone with some background in the area, musicologists and musicians. 


To summarize, Maqamat is the Arabic music system scale and framework. consisting usually of  7 notes (although a few macam have more) that repeat at the octave. Each maqam is formed by chaining  a few tetrachords (a series of three to five notes separated by at least three intervals) which are referred to as ajnas or jins in the singular. The low tetrachord is called the root jins, and this often defines the family of the maqam. The higher tetrachord is called the “branch” or the second jins and so on, and together they form the name of the maqam. Every maqam family shares the same root  jins  and  can be related to other maqamat with the same jins  branches.


 Some maqamat contain two octaves and the intervals between the notes can differ. The system is defined by the melodious elements , motifs, intonations and emphasizes. Maqam is different from a western scale,  there is a gap between the maqam theory and practice. This is why we identify the maqam through listening.    



In western music an Octave is divided into 12 semitones. This forms two seconds (terza interval)- Major and Minor. However, when the octave is divided into 24 quarter tones as in Arabic music theory five different kinds of seconds are formed. (Cohen, 2007). There is much literature explaining the Arabic intonation and the exact place of the micro tones,

“The tiny differences in interval sizes are perceptible to the ear, enough so that they can be used to identify the region and time period of the practitioner, in the same way that an accent in spoken language can identify the geographic origin of a speaker. And just like accents and dialects, such differences in musical intonation can be learned perfectly by anyone through oral transmission” (Farraj & Shumays 2019, p.164.)  


Suffice to say that microtones can be understood through listening and exploring Arabic music intonations. As a music teacher,  I wouldn't expect students outside of the realm of Arab music to be able to play micro tones, they first need to be informed listeners. Examples of teaching and playing with musicians who are not familiar with the microtones intonation will be presented in the forthcoming chapters. 


The list of the maqams is immense However I will restrict my approach and explanations to the maqams relevant to this research.