Music theory for the oud

The key components of Middle Eastern music are melody and harmony. Harmony in the Western sense does not exist, and so the development of melodic and rhythmic structure has been highly refined. The basis of melodic structure is called the maqam (plural: maqamat) in Arabic and makam (plural: makamlar) in Turkish, and a particular rhythmic pattern is known as the iqa' (plural: iqa'at) in Arabic and usûl (plural: usûller) in Turkish. The maqam (makam) is not just a scale - it consists of structural elements such as key phrases and important tone centres, and has a distinct 'path'. In this respect it is quite similar to the Indian raga, to which it is distantly related.

Although much emphasis is placed on the differences between Arab and Turkish music, the two are in fact very similar and derive from the same Ottoman roots (with certain local characteristics). They share a common repertoire, and the maqams, rhythms and musical forms used are very similar. The main difference lies in the notation used to write the music down on paper, but as the tradition is an oral one this is of superficial importance. I have decided, however, to keep the distinction between Arab and Turkish music on this page and subsequent ones as this corresponds to current practice in relation to the oud. To find out more about each aspect of music theory in more detail click on the corresponding link below:

The oud is also used in Arab-Andalusian and Persian classical music. An brief introduction to these musical traditions is given below:


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