To Hit

Key points / Lesson goals
Ornimentation, Heterophony, 
Quarter tones,
Maqam, Iqa, Taqasim

Heterophony - 
Much of Arabic Music is very linear, meaning that there are not a lot of different parts going on and often if there is an extra line, like a bass line, it is outlining the main melody. But something that makes it interesting is the use of ornimentation and different people using different ornimentation that creates the aesthetic.
Heterophony is when people play the same melody but vary and ornament it in slightly different ways.  I sometimes think of it as people walking down the same path but in a gaggle opposed to walking in strict follow-the-leader, which could be looked at as monophony. If you wanted to do some visual representation of this you could have a few kids follow a leader walking in a single file line. Then have them follow the same path but walk in a blob and all take slightly different paths.

Maqam - 
Maqam is the modal system of Arabic music and can sound particularly exotic because of the use of quarter tones.  On the piano there are the white keys and balck keys and if you picure putting a red key inbetween a white and a black key the red key is the quarter tone (as opposed to a half step). That is a simplified way to describe it.  In reality it is not as simple as dividing the frequency in half because some are just a little flat and some are a lot flat.  It is also worth noting that this does not mean that their scale is 24 notes.  Maqams are often still only based on 12 notes but certain accidentals will be half flat.

Iqa -
Iqa are the rhythms that arabic music is based around.  They are defined by a skeletal low and high patern which is ornimented similar to how the melody is ornimentation.  These come in a variety of time signatures and do not shy away from lilting odd meeters. 

Taqasim -
Improvisation (or taqasim) is an important part of Arabic music. Improvisation can happen in both a solo setting, with accompaniment, or as a part of a composition. One characteristic of this style of improvisation is a soaring arhythmic quality that floats over time. Another aspect of taqasim is finding ways to modulating from one maqam to another.  

Names to look for

Simon Saheen
Marcel Khalifa
Munir Bashir
Andre Hajj
Farid al Atrash
Issa Boulos

Umm Kulthum
Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Abdul Halim
Sabah Fakhri
Rahbani Brothers
Sayed Darwish

Bassam Saba
Nadeem Dlaikan
Samir Siblini

Gilbert Yammine

Michel Merhej Baklouk
Ali Khatib

*This is by no means a complete list. Just some names to put into google if you are looking for more music.


Video: This is a video of Simon Saheen and Rema Khcheich performing the song Ya Fayetni. It starts with a solo improvization (taqasim) on the 'ud and goes into the song around 2:00 min. You can also hear audience members exclaiming their enjoyment.

Video: This video was made by the Atlas Ensemble for composers who are interested in composing for this instrument. The first minute of this video is a great shot demonstrating the Qanun.  It is a facinating zither instrument.  You will notice on the right that there are movable bridges that are used to change the pitch of the string by quarter steps.  At 1:50 he shows the movable bridges.  This is a great opportunity to show students quarter tones. At 3:55 he shows how some of the ornaments are made. 

Here is a video of a large oriental orchestra.  You can have students pick out the differences from the western orchestra in instrumentation and sound. 


Video: This is a demonstration by the riq (tambourine) maker Lev Elman. This is a very modern way of playing the instrument and shows a lot of virtuisity.

Video: The is a very well done and entertaining video of the Turkish darbuka master Levent Yildirim.


Learn is a great resource for information and resources on Arabic music.