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.