Oriental music relies more on melody, rather than harmony (chords) as in the west. The melody is played in unison and octaves by all the instruments in the group. The monophonic nature of oriental music puts great emphasis on the micro-structure of the melody. The melodies have to be played very precisely by all the instruments in unison and have many minute variations (trills & ornaments), to create a mood, without losing the heart of the music in the technicalities of theory. During the course of a performance different maqams (scales) are used. This modulation between the maqams (scales) is an art  which follows ancient classical guidelines.




Maqam (pl. maqamat)

A maqam is an Arabic musical tuning system similar to the Western scale and the Indian raga.  Each maqam  has seven notes. Generally the fourth and fifths are usually perfect. The octaves are always perfect.  Each 7 note maqam is made out of 2 or more smaller sets of notes called jins.

Many maqamat have quarter-tones , which are approximately half a semitone. The exact tuning of the quarter-tones varies according to the maqam.

Jins (pl. ajnas)

A Jins is a series of 3, 4 or 5 notes.

There are 9 main Ajnas, and many more lesser used ones. 

The 9 main ajnas :


3 notes – trichord

3Ajam BbSikah E¼

4 notes – tetrachord

Bayati DHijaz D
Kurd DSabah D
Rast CNahawand C

5 notes – pentachord

Nawa Athar / Nakriz C 


The Ajnas are the building blocks of a maqam.

The ajnas are combined together to form a seven note maqam. Usually 2 ajnas are combined to form a lower and upper jins, however 3 or 4 overlapping can be used especially in the development of a musical performance.

The first note of the upper and lower jins is called the dominant. Different jins can be used depending on whether ascending or descending in the maqam. Practically this means one note changes in the upper jins when descending – normally from a quarter tone to a whole tone. The same way the western melodic minor mode varies.

The maqam usually covers only one octave, but can cover more – maqam sabah.


Example – Maqam Bayati Husseini.

Husseini is a popular maqam from Morocco to Pakistan. It is made out of 2 bayati jins when ascending and a kurd then bayati jins when descending. The lower jins starts on the note D. The upper jins starts on the note G.


The maqamat organized into 9 main families according to their starting jins :

•Ajam – Ajam, Jiharkah, Shawq Afza

•Sikah – Bastanikar, Huzam, Iraq, Mustaar, Rahat El Arwah, Sikah

•Bayati – Bayatayn, Bayati,Bayati Shuri, Husseini, Nahfat

•Hijaz – Hijaz, Hijaz Kar, Shadd Araban, Shahnaz, Suzidil Zanjaran

•Kurd – Kurd, Hijaz Kar Kurd

•Sabah – Sabah, Sabah Zamzam

•Rast – Mahur, Nairuz, Rast, Suznak, Yakah

•Nahawand – Farahfaza, Nahawand, Nahawand Murassah , Ushaq Masri

• Nawa Athar – Athar Kurd, Nawa Athar, Nakriz



Modulation is a technique used during the melodic development of a maqam. In simple terms it means changing from one maqam to another (compatible or closely related) maqam. This involves using a new musical scale. A long musical piece can modulate over many maqamat but usually ends with the starting maqam (in rare cases the purpose of the modulation is to actually end with a new maqam). A more subtle form of modulation within the same maqam is to shift the emphasis from one jins to another so as to imply a new maqam.

Modulation adds a lot of interest to the music, and is present in almost every maqam based melody. Modulations that are pleasing to the ear are created by adhering to compatible combinations of ajnas and maqamat long established in traditional Arabic music. Although such combinations are often documented in musical references, most experienced musicians learn them by extensive listening.


more online resources about Maqamat:

Articles on maqamat – maqamworld.com

Article by SeifedDin Abdoun on Samaie Farhafza (PDF file)

Similarities of the Arabic maqam and Indian raga (PDF file)