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Arabic Maqams

The Arabic word Maqam translates to place or position, yet Maqams are used as a way to musically express different emotions and moods. The music scales of Maqam Saba are played when the oud player is in a position of sadness.

Each Maqam contains two “Tetrachords” which each have four notes. The notes  in between those notes are three intervals that represent the true identity of the individual Maqam. In western music, there are usually two known tetra chords for each scale, major and minor. Major tetrachord contains the upcoming intervals which are 1, 1, and ½ tones. Minor tetrachords contain 1, ½, and 1 tones.

The Maqams of the Arab world do not only include a 1 or ½ tone, but in addition  include ¼ tones, ¾ tones, and 1 ½ tones as intervals.

In the Arab world’s  musical music system there are 9 tetrachords and they are the core ingredients of all Arabic Maqam systems.  Once you are familiar with these 9 ingredients you can easily play and remember all of the Maqams.

Let’s take a look at the 9 tetrachords that build up the core of the Maqam systems in the Arab world….

Intervals of the 9 Tetrachords that make up the Maqam System


  • Ajam  1-1- ½
  • Nahawand 1-½-1
  • Kurd ½-1-1
  • Hejaz  ½ – 1.½ –  ½
  • Rast 1 – ¾ – ¾
  • Bayat ¾ – ¾ -1
  • Saba ¾ – ¾ – ½


  • Nawa Athar  1 – ½ – 1.½ – ½
  • Seqh ¾ – 1

In School of Oud Online, there is a video module program. We have recorded over 200 videos that give complete, detailed explanations of every Maqam of the Arab world with an extra 3000 videos of the Maqams being played so you have a full picture. You will have a complete practice of the jargons of the Arab music world.

We could write about the Maqam system all day long, but the best way to learn about the maqam system is to hear it. Playing different Maqams is a true lifetime experience. It is almost like you are Aladdin rubbing the lamp of the genie. You start to feel the music and play solos out of instinct from these Maqams. For example, the Taqasm played by Ryad Al Soumabaty’s improvisation of Maqam Nahawand shows the true power of the Arab Maqam system.

Please watch how Ryad Al Soumbaty does a brilliant job of improvising the Maqam Nahawand to project his emotions and charisma to set the mood of the audience.


Analysis of Ryad Al Soumbaty’s Taqasim of Maqam. The improvisation started in the roots of Maqam  C and started the conversation from the first tetrachord of the Maqam. Ryad used C minor C E D flat G to use a Maqam that has never been used before in western music, but he used C E flat G C to theoretically open a correct balance of harmony while still creating out of this westernized domain. This is an absolutely perfect mood of the Maqam. He continued his conversation by opening another motifs back to back in the form of sequence using the right hand technique with Ferdash. After establishing the Maqam he then finds a way back to the root of the maqam which is C. Yet in the middle of his Taqasim he moved precisely to Maqam Zamzam. The dynamics of  Ryad Al Soumbaty’s Taqasim is a complete link between his feelings and his fingers.

The previous analysis is meant to show how one Maqam, which is Maqam Nahawand, could be used in several ways to put us close to the oud player into one irreversible position of feelings. This is the best definition of a Maqam. It is the mood or the position that the payer put us all in.

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