Posted in For Project 7 Examples

Example 2 Research: Octatonic scale and Orientalism

After writing my first example using the whole-tone scale, I decided to employ octatonic scale for my second example, which results from the alternation of whole and semitone steps. There are two versions, depending on whether the order begins with a whole tone or a semitone. (Fig. 1) Note that there are several other manners to notate the scale, depending on whether sharps or flats are utilized for specific notes. (Fig. 2) With no standardization, all of these notational variants are used, varying from composer to composer, depending on the musical ideas.

octatonic modes

Fig. 1. Two versions of the octatonic scale

octatonic modes 2

Fig. 2. Some notational variations of the octatonic scale

But before I focus on the properties of the octatonic scale, I have to address how puzzled I was as to why it was associated with Middle East in the West. I’ve already started my research on the Middle Eastern modes, which you can read in my three-part research here. As I wrote there, the modern practice of Arabic maqam, Turkish makam and Persian dastgah, and the related Afghanistan, Central Asian and Caucasus systems, actually use heptatonic modes. It is in the older traditions that we see the octatonic modes. Continue reading “Example 2 Research: Octatonic scale and Orientalism”

Posted in For Project 7 Examples

Example 3 Research, Part 3: Modulations of the Arabic maqamat

In the last blog post I wrote about the basic Arabic modes and their basic units – jins. In this part of the research, I will focus on modulation.


Fig. 1. Arab party dancer by Guilio Rosati

Modulation is the practice of moving from one maqam to another within a musical piece. As I briefly mentioned in the last part, it plays a major role in the Arab music, especially in terms of the sayr -melodic development. As Marcus (172) points out, modulation was probably present from the medieval period.

For example, Wright (1974, cited in Marcus, 1992: 498) mentions in his discussion about the practice described in the thirteenth-century music treatises:

“Although a composition would generally be based on just one mode, extraneous units could also be judiciously introduced, especially in improvisatory passages displaying to the full the performer’s technical prowess.”

Shiloah (1981:37) also states that a group of subsidiary modes in the medieval and pre-modern practice were used, although not yet as “… complete or independent modes, but rather serve[d] towards the elaboration of the principal modes”

In fourteenth-century, modulation played an important role in the genres called kolliyat and kull al-nagham, latter of which was the progression that included all melodic modes. (Wellesz, 1957: 452) Although these were the genres of the Persian musical tradition (Simms and Koushkani, 2012: 208), the system certainly influenced and was close with the Arabic at the time. Continue reading “Example 3 Research, Part 3: Modulations of the Arabic maqamat”

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Example 3 Research, Part 2: Arabic Maqamat

The previous post introduced the Middle Eastern traditions and their modes with some basic notion. Here I will concentrate on and write specifically about the Arabic system.

I will first start with the building blocks of the modes – jins or ajnas in plural, which I also mentioned in the previous part of my research. The Arabic modes, which are heptatonic, are made of two sets – upper and lower. These can be joined on the same note – conjunct, be separated – disjunct, or overlap. It is based on the lower jins that maqamat are classified into families or branches. (Gu, 2014: 105) While jins are usually defined by tetrachords, there are some reasons to use trichords.

In case of Ajam and Jiharkah, this is because the three of their notes may be enough to convey the mood of maqam. Both of these are similar to the first three notes of the Western major scale. (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1. Ajam and Jiharkah trichords Continue reading “Example 3 Research, Part 2: Arabic Maqamat”