Harmonic Secrets of Arabic Music Scales With 2 CDs
Fine Tuning the Maqams
Our Minds and Souls are like Stars!
I would like to mention this book by Cameron Powers:
Harmonic Secrets of Arabic Music Scales
It is about Middle Eastern scales in particular, but it's also very much about the sort of future that touchscreen instruments are going to bring with them; Just Intonation becoming normal practice once again, assisted by the digital age.
Usually, when Just Intonation is spoken of, 5-limit is what is meant. This means inclusion of perfect thirds, major and minor. It is a very fortunate coincidence that the 53 note per octave scale, happens to line up almost exactly. Almost every world-music system is using some variant of this scale. Flexible intonation instruments like Sitar, Violin, Voice, etc will invariably use this system or some subset of it.
Arabic Maqam is quoted as using a few different variations on what a "quartertone" is. It is typically notated as the dead center between a 12ET major third (or described as a 3/4 tone). But this is not what actually happens. Those intervals literally taken are awful for chording.
The just intoned variations that can be found by ear and practice are what are used.
I think touch screens will usher in some initial experimentation with these kinds of scales at first. But after a while, it will sink in that Phrygian scales and Harmonic Minor scales are bad imitations of the Arabic system (especially Phrygian sharp fourth), and people will start adopting actual Maqam scales for certain scenarios. Then people will realize that with 53ET you can do this, while also getting even better chords out of it than we are accustomed to getting.
-- Robert Fielding
I want to take this opportunity to thank you so very very much for all the work you have done on this and the other series. (Arabic Musical Scales: Basic Maqam Teachings with 2 CDs) I can't remember when I ordered the first book, I would say over ten years ago? …when it was more of a photocopied thing, on the maqams, and I have been trying to work with it ever since.
You were kind enough to answer some of the questions I had, either in the late 90's or early 2000's….
So I am really grateful for that, and all of the knowledge you've shared with me and so many others.
Back then I was trying to transfer the maqams to dobro, but since then, I have finally gotten an oud, which I have been working on for about three years now.
So, thanks so much for helping me along my path, and for doing what you do, it is inspiring, and I'm grateful.
-- Thanks, Lloyd
I am a DJ and have been for several years. I am getting into production now and have read and learned of the different frequencies in the standard musical scale and how they resonate with us, or as you mentioned in one of your videos, how they are just a tad off.
I really enjoyed the video where you showed the waveform of that chord on the piano before and after adjusting the frequencies of the notes.
Also I think your music missions project is awesome, and I'm a true believer in music being the universal language of the world. In my time as a DJ I have met and made friends with so many people from so many different cultures, (especially moroccans it seems, as they love the music I play) that I would not have met otherwise.
I look forward to reading and listening to the material in your book/cd's and look forward to any further help/guidance you may be able to offer in my music production endeavours! Have a fantastic weekend!
This will be sublime! nice playing yesterday -- finding notes that are calm and satisfying, that I knew not existed! In love with the "Thirds of Saba"
-James Hoskins -- cello player
I love your book and working on training my vocal cords to have control of 10 and less cents... Thanks for the inspiration!
Many thanks for your books on Maqamat, I have found them very inspiring and they help make the subject accessible for westerners who don't speak Arabic.
Man am I enjoying your Harmonic Secrets of Arabic Music Scales book! I have been playing the maqams on my 53-keyboard and reading your descriptions of them. Your explanations of possible just ratios in the Arabic/Turkish systems is brilliant, and well aligned with what I know from just intonation in general.
So, Cameron, you've re-inspired me to explore just intonation... btw, I heard part of your appearance on KGNU a couple nights ago... so, I acquired this really nice stage keyboard
(Roland RD-700nx) earlier this year. It has built into it the ability to choose from a whole array of tuning methods. Perhaps you know about these?:
Each can be set to any keynote. I've only been experimenting a couple days, but I can tell such a difference -- hearing the consonance between my voice and the keyboard like never before, like it's not even possible with equal temperament! It may just change how I create music, quite profoundly!
This tuning, justly intonated on my piano, provides clarity and energetic support to the whole body and nervous system.
The frequencies feel soothing, supportive, clarifying, and uplifting, both emotionally and energetically (physically). The singing with the piano tuned in Just is amazing! The voice fits in to the resonance of the piano when it is in Just as if the overtones are sound structures and there is room for the voice. I feel and see the overtones play with each other but not fight for space. As a recording engineer I would have had to lower the volume of the piano (a typical tuned piano in equal temperament) in order to make space for the voice. This is very common in mixing music.. You lower the volume to make space for instruments of similar frequencies. However when the piano is tuned in Just there seems to be no competition for space between the piano resonance and the voice even when they are in the same range... They do not compete. But the sonic structure of the Justly tuned piano has space for the voice. As a singer this is incredibly fun! And I no longer have to push the voice or make it a more pointed sound to get over the piano.. Now there is space and this allows me to use any vocal tone I want or need for the phrases or lyrics... Even softly sung vocals are easily heard within the piano resonance. I wish I could draw it... maybe an oscilloscope would show what is going on with the overtones.
I purchased your book and CD's Harmonic Secrets of Arabic Music Scales a couple years ago or so, and I want to say how much I enjoyed the music and information. I did a serious study of just intonation over a three-year period. I had such a deep desire to learn this aspect of music that most people are not aware of. Anyway, I appreciate you bringing this information about Eastern scales to the West. It helped me fill in the gaps with my just intonation studies.
Thanks for coming out with such a nice book, and recordings of the Maqam! I can right now maybe start singing along with the Maqam tunes for practice even if I don't have an instrument yet, as I really want to learn it. Neither a Oud, or a Tanbur, Saz or even a Ney is not available here in Mumbai or in India. Can’t wait for a single day to get started!
-R Kazn Young
Essential guide for study of maqam July 18, 2013
For anyone who wishes to learn the musical system of the Middle East and much of Central Asia, this book is a quintessential guide. The previous reviewer suggested that the book focuses on the oud; while this is the author's primary instrument, I find that this book focuses mainly on the maqam system, and hardly at all on the instrument. Cameron Powers first introduces the indigenous music of the Middle East by placing its tonality within the just intonation framework. Indeed, this is the most intuitive and organic intonation and is the basis of all indigenous music, as it is based in pure harmonics and in simple ratios of string length. He graphically shows how equal temperament (ET) distorts tones by imposing a mentally constructed idea on tones rather than the natural harmonics. On the sensate, feeling level, the effect of ET is jarring and disharmonious.
Next, Mr. Powers elucidates the structure of Maqam, and shows how the various maqamat are built from smaller three- or four-note sequences called ajnas. Once the reader becomes acquainted with the ajnas, the full scales (maqamat) are now readily accessible. Each maqam is identified by the ajnas of which it is composed, and accompanying the description of each maqam is a chart of an octave of microtonal possibilities, with the choices for that particular maqam highlighted. He also lists alternative choices, since in the microtonal world slight differences in pitch offer a great variety of moods and inflections that the master musician makes good use of. Mr. Powers' expertise in understanding and presenting maqam is unquestionably apparent. This book comes with CDs in which the author goes over each maqam and plays a short taqsim (improvization) in each; all in all, this book is just excellent.
UPDATE: I bought the first edition of this book that came with CDs. I'm not sure CDs are included in this later edition. One person commented that CDs did not come with his order. However, CDs made to accompany this book can be ordered separately from the author/publisher via his website printed in the book. I would highly recommend these CDs for any serious student of maqam.
- Wally Jasper
Fascinating book. May 12, 2013
This book is a very comprehensive study on "Just Intonation" and it's role in the music of the Middle East in particular, although other types of world music are given scant mention. I personally had a bit of trouble understanding the concept of "musical ratios", so to speak, and how the math & musical physics of that all works out on a fundamental level until reading the first few chapters of the book. It really helped clear up a lot of confusion on my part, and also supplies much more additional information that I haven't yet encountered.
If you aren't familiar with "Just Intonation" or the flaws of equal temperament, I suggest doing some research, especially if you are a musician. I have been playing music for over 10 years and am just now realizing that most musicians, myself included, have really been compromising the integrity of the harmony of the music we play by playing in what is called "Equal Temperament". Virtually all of the notes we play on a piano or guitar or whatever are out of tune. There are other tuning systems based on the harmonic overtone series, and "pure" ratios based on whole numbers, and that's about half of what is in this book. It's a real eye opener.
The other half of the book is about the Maqamat, which are Middle Eastern musical scales. I have been fascinated by Middle Eastern sounding music since I began playing music, basically, so I find this kind of thing to be very valuable. If you are interested in Middle Eastern Music, or play the oud, saz, ney, rebab, sitar, sarod (yes, this stuff applies to Hindustani Music as well), or any fretless instrument, then this may be your cup of tea. It's very well written.
Just Intonation September 6, 2011
Most of us have been brought up in the musical world with equal temperament in our musical scales. However,equal temperament is an approximation of convenience from the more pure sounding of just intonation. Cameron explains all of this very nicely. Tthe bulk of the book's writing is focused on the mid eastern Oud which is played in just intonation. All Oud players would find the book interesting.
Harmonic Secrets of Arabic Music and Arabic Musical Scales have become my bible.
End of story. Simply outstanding.
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