Turkish makam

The Turkish makam (Turkish: makam pl. makamlar; from the Arabic word مقام) is a system of melody types used in Turkish classical music and Turkish folk music. It provides a complex set of rules for composing and performance. Each makam specifies a unique intervalic structure (cinsler) and melodic development (seyir).[1] Whether a fixed composition (beste, şarkı, peşrev, âyin, etc.) or a spontaneous composition (gazel, taksim, recitation of Kuran-ı Kerim, Mevlid, etc.), all attempt to follow the melody type. The rhythmic counterpart of makam in Turkish music is usul.

Comparison in use in Turkish classical to folk music

Turkish Folk Music and Turkish Classical Music are the expression of Turkish people’s feelings and thoughts. Both are Modal (Makam) musics. Makam is the name of scale in one of them, Ayak is the name of scale in another. Ayak and Makam are similar, some samples:

Yahyalı Kerem Ayağı : Hüseyni Makamı
Garip Ayağı : Hicaz Makamı
Düz Kerem Ayağı : Karciğar Makamı
Yanık Kerem Ayağı : Nikriz Makamı
Muhalif Ayağı : Segâh Makamı
Tatyan Kerem Ayağı : Hüzzam Makamı
Misket Ayağı : Eviç Makamı
Bozlak Ayağı : Kürdî Makamı
Kalenderi Ayağı : Sabâ Makamı
Müstezat veya Beşirî Ayağı : Mahur Makamı

Rhythms show some similarities in Turkish Folk Music and Turkish Classical Music about their forms, classification and rhythmic pattern.[2]

Geographic and cultural relations

Turkish makam's closest relatives include maqam in Arab music and echos in Byzantine music. The Turkish makams, the Arab maqams and the Byzantine echos related to the Greek texts and works of music that Arabs translated and developed from the musical theory of the Greeks (i.e. Systema ametabolon, enharmonium, chromatikon, diatonon).[3] Some theories suggest the origin of the makam to be the city of Mosul in Iraq. "Mula Othman Al-Musili," in reference to his city of origin, is said to have served in the Ottoman Palace in Istanbul and influenced Turkish Ottoman music. More distant modal relatives include those of Central Asian Turkic musics such as Uyghur music, muqam and Uzbek music, shashmakom. The raga of (both North and South) Indian classical music employs similar modal principles. Some scholars find echoes of Turkish makam in former Ottoman provinces of the Balkans.[4] All of these concepts roughly correspond to mode in Western music, although their compositional rules vary.

Makam building blocks

Commas and accidentals

In Turkish music theory, the octave is divided into 53 equal intervals known as commas (koma). Each whole tone is an interval equivalent to nine commas. The following figure gives the comma values of Turkish accidentals. In the context of the Arab maqam, this system is not of equal temperament. In fact, in the Western system of temperament, C-sharp and D-flatwhich are functionally the same toneare equivalent to 4.5 commas in the Turkish system; thus, they fall directly in the center of the line depicted above.


Unlike in Western music, where the note C, for example, is called C regardless of what octave it might be in, in the Turkish system the notes arefor the most partindividually named (although many are variations on a basic name); this can be seen in the following table, which covers the notes from middle C ("Kaba Çârgâh") to the same note two octaves above ("Tîz Çârgâh"):

The following table gives the tones over two octaves, ordered from highest to lowest, pitch in commas and cents relative to the lowest note, which is equivalent to Western Middle C, along with the nearest equivalent equal-temperament tone. The tones of the Çârgâh scale are shown in upper case. (A comma is one 53rd of an octave. One cent is one hundredth of an equal-temperament semitone.)

Tone Name Commas above Middle C Cents above Middle C Nearest Equiv Equal-tempered Tone
Tîz Dik Bûselik1052377C6
Tîz Segâh1012287B5
Dik Sünbüle982219A#5 / Bb5
Sünbüle972196A#5 / Bb5
Dik Şehnâz922083A5
Şehnâz892015G#5 / Ab5
Nim Şehnâz881992G#5 / Ab5
Dik Mahur831879G5
Mahur801811F#5 / Gb5
Eviç791789F#5 / Gb5
Dik Acem761721F5
Dik Hisar701585E5
Hisar671517D#5 / Eb5
Nim Hisar661494D#5 / Eb5
Dik Hicaz611381D5
Hicaz581313C#5 / Db5
Nim Hicaz571291C#5 / Db5
Dik Bûselik521177C5
Dik Kürdi451019A#4 / Bb4
Kürdi44996A#4 / Bb4
Dik Zirgüle39883A4
Zirgüle36815G#4 / Ab4
Nim Zirgüle35792G#4 / Ab4
Dik Gevest30679G4
Gevest27611F#4 / Gb4
Irak26589F#4 / Gb4
Dik Acem AŞiran23521F4
Kaba Dik Hisar17385E4
Kaba Hisar14317D#4 / Eb4
Kaba Nim Hisar13294D#4 / Eb4
Kaba Dik Hicaz8181D4
Kaba Hicaz5113C#4 / Db4
Kaba Nim Hicaz491C#4 / Db4


The names and symbols of the different intervals is shown in the table below:

Interval Name
(Aralığın adı)
Value in terms of commas
(Koma olarak değeri)
koma or fazla1F
eksik bakiye3E
kücük mücenneb5S
büyük mücenneb8K
artık ikili12 - 13A

Tetrachords (dörtlüler) and pentachords (beşliler)

Similar to the construction of maqamat noted above, a makam in Turkish music is built of a tetrachord built atop a pentachord, or vice versa (trichords exist but are little used). Additionally, most makams have what is known as a "development" (genişleme in Turkish) either above or below, or both, the tonic and/or the highest note.

There are 6 basic tetrachords, named sometimes according to their tonic note and sometimes according to the tetrachord's most distinctive note:

  • Çârgâh
  • Bûselik
  • Kürdî
  • Uşşâk
  • Hicaz and
  • Rast

There are also 6 basic pentachords with the same names with a tone (T) appended.

It is worth keeping in mind that these patterns can be transposed to any note in the scale, so that the tonic A (Dügâh) of the Hicaz tetrachord, for example, can be moved up a major second/9 commas to B (Bûselik), or in fact to any other note. The other notes of the tetrachord, of course, are also transposed along with the tonic, allowing the pattern to preserve its character.

Basic makam theory

A makam, more than simply a selection of notes and intervals, is essentially a guide to compositional structure: any composition in a given makam will move through the notes of that makam in a more or less ordered way. This pattern is known in Turkish as seyir (meaning basically, "route"), and there are three types of seyir:

  • rising (çıkıcı);
  • falling (inici);
  • falling-rising (inici-çıkıcı)

As stated above, makams are built of a tetrachord plus a pentachord (or vice versa), and in terms of this construction, there are three important notes in the makam:

  • the durak ("tonic"), which is the initial note of the first tetrachord or pentachord and which always concludes any piece written in the makam;
  • the güçlü ("dominant"), which is the first note of the second tetrachord or pentachord, and which is used as a temporary tonic in the middle of a piece (in this sense, it is somewhat similar to the axial pitches mentioned above in the context of Arab music). This use of the term "dominant" is not to be confused with the Western dominant; while the güçlü is often the fifth scale degree, it can just as often be the fourth, and occasionally the third;
  • the yeden ("leading tone"), which is most often the penultimate note of any piece and which resolves into the tonic; this is sometimes an actual Western leading tone and sometimes a Western subtonic.

Additionally, there are three types of makam as a whole:

  • simple makams (basit makamlar), almost all of which have a rising seyir;
  • transposed makams (göçürülmüş makamlar), which as the name implies are the simple makams transposed to a different tonic;
  • compound makams (bileşik/mürekkep makamlar), which are a joining of differing makams and number in the hundreds

Simple makams

Çârgâh makam

This makam is thought to be identical to the Western C-major scale, but actually it is misleading to conceptualize a makam through western music scales. Çargah consists of a Çârgâh pentachord and a Çârgâh tetrachord starting on the note Gerdaniye (G). Thus, the tonic is C (Çârgâh), the dominant G (Gerdaniye), and the leading tone B (Bûselik). (N.B. In this and all subsequent staves, the tonic is indicated by a whole note and the dominant by a half note.)

The Çârgâh makam though is very little used in Turkish music, and in fact has at certain points of history been attacked for being a clumsy and unpleasant makam that can inspire those hearing it to engage in delinquency of various kinds.

Bûselik makam

This makam has two basic forms: in the first basic form (1), it consists of a Bûselik pentachord plus a Kürdî tetrachord on the note Hüseynî (E) and is essentially the same as the Western A-minor; in the second (2), it consists of a Bûselik pentachord plus a Hicaz tetrachord on Hüseynî and is identical to A-harmonic minor. The tonic is A (Dügâh), the dominant Hüseynî (E), and the leading tone G-sharp (Nim Zirgüle). Additionally, when descending from the octave towards the tonic, the sixth (F, Acem) is sometimes sharpened to become F-sharp (Dik Acem), and the dominant (E, Hüseynî) flattened four commas to the note Hisar (1A). All these alternatives are shown below:




Rast makam

Also see Rast (maqam)

This much-used makamwhich is said to bring happiness and tranquility to the hearerconsists of a Rast pentachord plus a Rast tetrachord on the note Neva (D); this is labeled (1) below. The tonic is G (Rast), the dominant D (Neva), and the leading tone F-sharp (Irak). However, when descending from the octave towards the tonic, the leading tone is always flattened 4 commas to the note Acem (F), and thus a Bûselik tetrachord replaces the Rast tetrachord; this is labeled (2) below. Additionally, there is a development (genişleme) in the makam's lower register, below the tonic, which consists of a Rast tetrachord on the note D (Yegâh); this is labeled (1A) below.




In Turkey, the particular Muslim call to prayer (or ezan in Turkish) which occurs generally in early afternoon and is called ikindi, as well as the day's final call to prayer called yatsı, is often recited using the Rast makam.

Uşşâk makam

Also see Bayati (maqam).

This makam consists of an Uşşâk tetrachord plus a Bûselik pentachord on the note Neva (D); this is labelled (1) below. The tonic is A (Dügâh), the dominanthere actually a subdominantis D (Neva), and the leading tonehere actually a subtonicis G (Rast). Additionally, there is a development in the makam's lower register, which consists of a Rast pentachord on the note D (Yegâh); this is labeled (1A) below.



In Turkey, the particular call to prayer which occurs around noon and is called öğle is most often recited using the Uşşak makam.

Acem makam

See Ajam (maqam).


  1. Beken and Signell 2006,.
  3. Habib Hassan Touma - Review of Das arabische Tonsystem im Mittelalter by Liberty Manik. doi:10.2307/
  4. Shupo, Sokol, ed., Urban Music in the Balkans. Tirana:ASMUS, 2006


  • Beken, Münir, and Karl Signell. "Confirming, delaying, and deceptive elements in Turkish improvisation," Maqām Traditions of Turkic Peoples: Proceedings of the Fourth Meeting of the ICTM Study Group "maqām", Istanbul, 18–24 October 1998, edited by Jürgen Elsner and Gisa Jähnishen, in collaboration with Theodor Ogger and Ildar Kharissov, Berlin: trafo verlag Dr. Wolfgang Weist, 2006. ISBN 3-89626-657-8 http://www.umbc.edu/eol/makam/2008Kongre/confirming.html

Further reading

  • Aydemir, Murat. Turkish music makam guide. Pan Yayıncılık, 2010. ISBN 9789944396844.
  • Mikosch, Thomas. Makamlar: The Musical Scales of Turkey. S.l.: Lulu.com, 2017. ISBN 978-0244325602.
  • Özkan, İsmail Hakkı. Türk Mûsıkîsi Nazariyatı ve Usûlleri. Kudüm Velveleleri. Ötüken, 2000. ISBN 975-437-017-6.
  • Signell, Karl L. Makam: Modal Practice in Turkish Art Music. Nokomis FL (USA): Usul editions/Lulu.com., 2004. ISBN 0-9760455-0-8. "Unabridged reprint of the 1986 hard cover edition with updates, corrections, introduction, audio and other supplements". Originally published: Asian Music Publications, Series D: Monographs, no. 4. Seattle: Asian Music Publications, 1977.
  • Signell, Karl L. Makam: Türk Sanat Musikisinde Makam Uygulaması (Turkish translation of above). Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık, 2006. ISBN 975-08-1080-5.
  • Yılmaz, Zeki. Türk Mûsıkîsi Dersleri. Istanbul: Çağlar Yayınları, 2001. ISBN 975-95729-1-5.
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