Middle Eastern Maqams: Scales Lesson

author: SamiGuitarist date: 10/19/2012 category: guitar scales and modes

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Middle Eastern Maqams: Scales Lesson
It is very difficult to find resources for learning Arabic Maqams in English. That's why, I decided to make a simple lesson of the scales from where I came from. First, Maqams in the Arab Region are mainly used for 2 things: 1. Religious Islamic hymns 2. Old Arabic songs from the 60s until 90s, and also used until now. Arabic Maqams are usually played with middle eastern / Turkish instruments such as: oud, buzuk etc... Those instruments have quarter-tone fret system. Of course additionally to the known half-tone and full-tone system. Fortunately, a not bad number of Maqams don't use quarter-tones. Even though you can establish a quarter-tone sound on guitar by bending the string up, It still doesn't sound good as it sounds on typical Middle Eastern instruments. In this lesson, I am gonna put only Maqams that don't have a quarter-tone. It worth mentioning that a good number of free quarter-tone Maqams can be equivalent to known scales/modes. Maqams:

1. Hijaz Kar Maqam

Hijaz Kar Maqam has these intervals from the major scale: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7.
  • It is usually played in C: C Db E F G Ab B C.
  • When the Maqam is played in G, it is called Shadd Araban. Shadd Araban Maqam: G Ab B C D Eb F# G. In other words, Shadd Araban is a transposed version of Hijaz Kar, starting on G.
  • When the Maqam is played in D, it is called Shahnaz. Shahnaz Maqam: D Eb F# G A Bb C# D.
  • When it is played in A, it is called Suzidil. Suzidil Maqam: A Bb C# D E F G# A.

    2. Ajam Maqam (Major Scale)

    The Ajam Maqam has the same intervals of the major scale (Ionian Mode).
  • Bb is the most common Ajam Maqam in the Middle Eastern music. Bb Ajam Maqam: Bb C D Eb F G A Bb. The Ajam Maqam sounds western to the ear. That's why, it is called Ajam, which means someone who can't understand Arabic (foreigner).
  • Shawq Faza is a Maqam from the Ajam Maqam family. Shawq Faza has these intervals: 1 2 3 4 5 b6 7. It is usually played in Bb: Bb C D Eb F Gb A Bb.

    3. Nahawand Maqam

    One of the main middle eastern Maqams that is usually played in C. Nahawand Maqam has two types:
  • The first one is called Nahawand Hijaz which is equivalent to the harmonic minor scale. Nahawand Hijaz has these intervals from the major scale: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7. Nahawand Hijaz in C: C D Eb F G Ab B C.
  • The second one is called Nahawand Kurd Which is equivalent to the natural minor scale. Nahwand Kurd has these intervals: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. Nahwand Kurd in C: C D Eb F G Ab Bb C. When the Nahawand Hijaz is played in G, it is called Sultani Yakah.
  • Sultani Yakah Maqam: G A Bb C D Eb F# G. When Nahwand Kurd is played in G, it is called Farah Faza. Farah Faza Maqam: G A Bb C D Eb F G.
  • Another Maqam from the Nahawand family is the Nahawand Murassah Maqam or Sunbulah. Nahawand Murassah Maqam has these intervals: 1 2 b3 4 b5 6 b7. Standard Nahwand Murassah in C: C D Eb F Gb A Bb C.

    4. Nawa Athar Maqam

    This Maqam has the intervals of: 1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 7.
  • Usually played in C: C D Eb F# G Ab B C.
  • This Maqam is called Hisar when played in D. Hisar Maqam: D E F G# A Bb C# D .
  • Another Maqam from Nawa Athar Maqam family is Nakriz Maqam. Intervals of Nakriz Maqam are: 1 2 b3 #4 5 6 b7. Nakriz Maqam in C: C D Eb F# G A Bb C.
  • Another Maqam is Athar Kurd Which has the intervals of: 1 b2 b3 #4 5 b6 7. Athar Kurd Maqam in C: C Db Eb F# G Ab B C.

    5. Kurd Maqam (Phrygian Mode)

    Kurd Maqam has the intervals of: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7.
  • C Kurd: C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C.
  • D Kurd: D Eb F G A Bb C D.
  • G Kurd: G Ab Bb C D Eb F G.

    6. Hijaz Maqam (Phrygian Dominant)

    Hijaz Maqam has these intervals: 1 2b 3 4 5 b6 b7.
  • Standard Hijaz is in D: D Eb F# G A Bb C D.
  • When the b6 is played quarter-tone, it is considered Hijaz Rast.
  • When the b6 is played natural halftone, it is considered Hijaz Nahwand.
  • Zanjaran Maqam is a very popular modulation from Hijaz Maqam. Zanjaran Maqam has these intervals: 1 b2 3 4 5 6 b7.
  • Zanjaran in C: C Db E F G A Bb C.
  • Zanjaran in D: D Eb F# G A B C D. I hope this humble lesson was helpful for those who are interested in Arabic scales.
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