Arabic Maqamat - An introduction to the system of musical scales

Arabic Maqamat - An introduction to the system of musical scales

Posted on: 8/21/2022 3:24:00 PM
The Arabic Maqam (plural Maqamat) is a system of scales, habitual melodic phrases, modulation possibilities, ornamentation techniques and aesthetic conventions that form a rich melodic framework and artistic rhythm. The maqam's melodic course (in both composed or improvised music) within that framework is called sayr in Arabic.

Each maqam scale can be built by chaining together two (or in some cases, three) scale fragments or building blocks called a jins (pl.ajnas) The maqam gets its intervals, melodic characteristics and overall mood from these constituent Ajnas. The first jins always starts the maqam scale with its tonic at the 1st degree, and the second jins start at the ghammaz (modulation point) of the first jins (usually its last note).

If a third jins is used, its tonic coincides with the second jins' ghammaz, and so on. The note immediately below the tonic is called the leading tone.

Traditionally, each maqam is based on a scale. The first note in the scale is called the tonic. Maqam scales usually have 7 notes that repeat at the octave, although a few maqam scales may extend beyond eight notes. In addition, a few maqam scales do not achieve octave equivalence at the eighth note.

According to tradition, maqamat are classified into families based on sharing the same first (root) jins. The root jins plays the most extensive role in defining the maqam's character. The most common maqam in the branch usually shares its name with the root jins. The remaining maqamat in the same family are called branch maqamat and are based on using different second (upper) jins.

Here are the eight main maqams, and be sure to read about them all by clicking on each link.

  • Maqam Ajam Family
  • Maqam Bayati Family
  • Maqam Hijaz Family
  • Maqam Kurd Family
  • Maqam Nahawand Family
  • Maqam Nikriz Family
  • Maqam Rast Family
  • Maqam Sikah Family
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