Maqam Class Series: First Class – October 29th, 2013

From Michael Harari:

Dear Class,

I am truly speechless. I’ve always heard of the amazing congregants of Kol Israel, but did not imagine that I would be teaching a group of such smart, talented, and musical people, nor did I think I would be able to cover so much ground in a single class. You kept me on my toes and it seemed as though you all really grasped the important concepts.  And most enjoyable for me was to hear you all right on key when we sang Maqam Bayat together.

I am committed to sticking with you all while we all learn about these amazing Maqamat together. I hope you will continue coming every two weeks consistently and get the most you can out of this. I will work with all of you and go as slowly as needed to make sure we all recognize the elements of Maqam Bayat and begin to sing it properly, before we move on to the next Maqam. But I need an investment on your end. The time you put in in between classes will pay enormous dividends.

Goal for next class: try to listen to, identify, and possibly sing the lower jins (4 notes) of Maqam Bayat. The tools below will help you get there. Please email me anytime for questions at See you on November 9th!

Sources and Tools:

  • Apps
    • Rhapsody ($10/mo – well worth the price) – can get any Arabic (or other) song on demand by searching tracks for Bayat. Highly recommended. Available on the itunes store.
    • “UD” by Volkeman. Once in the app, click on top left button “Makam” and select “Ussak” – a Turkish maqam within which we can play bayat as follows: Start playing from the second string from the bottom. That is note 1 of 8 of Bayat. Keep going up until you get the highest string which is the 8th note. If you get stuck email me and I will explain.
    • “QANUN” by Volkeman. Same instructions as Ud (ussak etc)
  • Singing
    • Sing along to my first recording of the Bayat Lower Jins Notes to really nail them down. The second note from the bottom is the most important one, it is the quarter tone (we will discuss next class). Once you get that note the rest will fall into place much more easily
    • Try and find one pizmon that you know in the Bayat section of the red pizmon book and sing it. While you sing try and identify which parts of the song are from the lower Jins of Bayat.

To recap some of the key points of today’s class:

  • You do not need to grasp all of the terms and the definitions presented thus far to be successful in this class. They are merely additional tools to help visualize and understand what takes place in the Maqam.
  • This is not a pizmonim class or hazanut class per se, but rather a rare opportunity to go behind the scenes into the inner workings of these scales and to see what makes them tick, how they apply, and how they relate to the other Maqamat.
  • The primary goals of this class are to 1) understand and be able to identify specific Maqamat 2) be able to sing it.
  • Tools for success: practice and repetition, asking a lot of questions, listening to Arabic music (instrumentals/taqsims, vocal improvisation/mawal), learning pizmonim in that Maqam, playing musical instruments, reading and learning.
  • Many of the classifications and definitions of Maqamat are debated and geographically specific, but this class represents our traditions.
  • Maqamat have been around for millenniums and were surely used in the generations of the Bet Hamikdash (Read through all the instrumental/musical descriptions in Tehillim). Almost all the current day Maqamat can be traced back to Persia, but are also classified as Arabic and Turkish, each with its own style, and nuances. We, of course, follow the Arabic Maqamat system.
  • A Maqam (scale of 8 notes) has many elements that make it unique and memorable. These include tones (sounds), notes (specific tones), pitch (high or low), melodies (tune), rhythm (pattern), tempo (speed), dynamics (volume), cadence/phrasing (signature to close the Maqam), and position (starting and ending notes). We will go over this in more detail next class.
  • Each Maqam evokes a different emotion and is used differently within our Sephardic and religious contexts. (ex: Saba for a Brit Milah, Bayat for a baby girl, Hijaz for Shelah Lecha). For the short term we will be honing in on Maqam Bayat. Bayat has been known to be a softer Maqam, evoking feelings of beauty and vitality. (Husseini, a secondary Maqam in the Bayat Fasila comes from the Arabic word hosn, meaning beauty).
  • A Maqam (scale of 8 notes) is generally comprised of two parts. Each part is known as a Jins (pl. Ajnas) or a tetrachord (4 consecutive notes) – Think of it as the pants and shirt that make up an outfit. In this case the pant (lower jins) is the dominant jins based on which we classify the Maqam. In our case, Bayat is comprised of an upper jins of Nahawand (shirt) and a lower jins of Bayat (pants). Changing any one of the two ajnas would change the classification of the Maqam (ex: an upper jins Hijaz and lower jins Bayat makes Maqam Bayat Shuri).
  • Western music has historically flowed out of 3 Maqamat: Ajam (major, think: “summer of 69”), Nahawand (minor, think “Stairway to Heaven”), and Hijaz (harmonic minor, think “Gypsy Kings” and Alabina). This is because its instruments can generally only play half tones, while eastern instruments are able to play shorter interval notes called quarter tones. (Jazz and other improvisational music can touch on other Maqamat, but this is a general observation)
  • There are 8 primary Maqamat: Rast, Bayat, Sigah, Nahawand, Ajam, Kurd, Hijaz, Saba. Some of these are called a Fasila or Family out of which sub-Maqamat were created (ex: Bayat is a Maqam, but also a Fasila, and sub-Maqamat in that Fasila are Husseini and Muhayar). All the primary Maqamat are also jins (4 note tetrachords).
  • There are a plethora of secondary Maqamat created out of combinations of the primary Maqamat, and practically an infinite amount of possibilities (see Maqam elements above). Examples of secondary Maqamat are: Bayat Shuri, Hijaz Kar, Sigah Baladi, etc.

3 thoughts on “Maqam Class Series: First Class – October 29th, 2013

  1. Hi everyone, I look forward to everyone’s comments/feedback/questions. I understand there were many questions going around about quarter tones and their role in the maqamat. Let me know if I can help clarify.

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