Turkish makamlar

The Turkish makam is a compositional device which forms the basis for the melodic development of a piece of music and also provides some guidelines for its performance. The importance of the makam is evident from the fact that classical Turkish compositions are named and classified according to their makam, e.g. Rast peşrevi, Hicaz saz semaisi. The traditional Turkish performance program, known as the fasıl, would normally consist of a number of different pieces from the classical repertoire based on the same makam. However, the ideal showcase for the structure of a makam is the instrumental taksim that often precedes a peşrev, for example. The taksim is a semi-improvised form in which the performer introduces the makam of the subsequent composition, and may also modulate to several related makamlar before returning to the original one. This is a highly skilled art and relies on an intimate knowledge of the structure of the different makamlar and the relationships between them, something which can only be learned after many years of study and experience.

A makam scale can be thought of as being constructed from simple building blocks, each consisting of four or five notes, i.e. a tetrachord (dörtlü) or pentachord (beşli). Each tetrachord or pentachord has a characteristic pattern of intervals and is usually based on a particular note. When two or more tetrachords/pentachords are combined to form the scale of a makam, the makam is often named after the lowest (or most important) of these. Clicking on the link below will reveal a list of the main tetrachords and pentachords used to construct the Turkish makamlar, which may also be transposed to start on a different base note. Note that adding a whole tone to the top of a particular tetrachords produces a pentachord of the same name.

There are obviously thousands of ways to combine different tetrachords and pentachords, but only a small proportion of these combinations are used in actual makamlar. Around a hundred makamlar are currently in use, although some are much more common than others. More information on some of the most popular makamlar, including details of their construction, can be found by clicking on the link below:

Each makam has its own particular progression or seyir which governs its performance. The seyir has a beginning, middle and end, as well as points of rest centred around particular notes along the way. These important notes include the karar or durak (tonic/final), the tiz durak (an octave above the tonic), the güçlü (dominant) and the giriş (entry note). A number of other tones are also important in shaping the particular flavour of the makam and function as additional 'stopping points': the yeden (leading tone) and the asma karar (suspended cadence). These are very important tones and convey a feeling of expectation. Another key feature of a particular makam is the melodic direction of its seyir, which is determined by the relative position of the giris and the qarar. The three different types of melodic direction are ascending (çıkıcı), descending (inici) and ascending-descending (inici-çıkıcı). In an ascending seyir the melody starts around the karar, moves up to the güçlü and then returns to the karar again. In a descending seyir the melody starts around the tiz durak, and then descends via the güçlü to the karar. Finally, in an ascending-descending seyir the melody starts around the güçlü, moves above and below this note before returning to it, and then descends to the karar.

[Note: In the pages linked to above, names of makamlar and tetrachords/pentachords are capitalised (e.g. Makam Rast), whereas names of notes in the Arab scale are in lower case (e.g. rast).]



Feldman, W. (1996) Music of the Ottoman Court, Berlin: VWB.

Signell, K. (1977) Makam: Modal Practice in Turkish Art Music, Seattle: Asian Music Publications.

Torun, M. (1996) Ud Metodu (Gelenekle Geleceğe), Istanbul: Çağlar Yayınları.

Yılmaz, Z. (1994) Türk Musıkîsi Dersleri, Istanbul: Çağlar Yayınları.


TOP       BACK       HOME
Copyright © 2001-2015 David Parfitt. All rights reserved.