Mike's Oud Forums

Written Turkish notation

SV_T_oud - 10-23-2019 at 07:30 AM

Hello! Haven't visited this forum for ages and now I'm hopefully returning to explore oud and a few other Turkish instruments I own.

I feel myself utterly stupid because I can't find a single reference on the Internet that mentions the fundamental difference between Turkish and Western classical music notation. I remember that 5 years ago when I registered on this forum I used to find quite a few www resources that clearly stated that:

The Turkish notation is written a 5th higher. That is: when we see 'D' in the Turkish score it actually sounds in the Western pitch a fifth lower, that is as 'G'. Does it make sense?

Please help me find some references on the Web to this rule so that I feel myself a little bit more secure.

Brian Prunka - 10-23-2019 at 09:16 AM

You have it backwards. The Turkish "G" sounds a "D" below (or above, depending on your instrument, i.e., violin or qanun it might be above, oud it is below). But this is a simplification—Turkish players will use different tunings, so it might be written G and sound G, or it might be written G and sound C—these are the common ones that I know of, but I'm not a Turkish music expert.

Arabic music is commonly written a 5th lower than Turkish music, so "G" would sound "C". But this is complicated by the fact the Arabic music (particularly older music) is less commonly tuned to a fixed standard, so "C" could be B, Bb, Db, D . . .

Anyway: on a standard Turkish oud, a Turkish score would sound a 4th lower. On a standard Arabic oud, the score might be a 5th lower. If you wanted to play together, you'd just have to match whatever the other instruments are doing.

bugaga - 10-23-2019 at 03:49 PM

Turkish music is actually also very flexible in pitch. There is a system to refer a tuning to the length of a ney. Here is a table. Just look at the very left and very right column and ignore the others. It shows which tuning equals which Dügah/Dukah note (in standard Arabic tuning open D string of the oud).
So standard Arabic tuning (on an Arabic oud!) is Süpürde, standard Turkish tuning (on a Turkish oud) is Bolahenk, but also Kız is very common, especially for makams with the finalis on Dügah like Hicaz/Hijaz. Any other tuning/pitch is possible, depending on the singer or ney player.

SV_T_oud - 10-25-2019 at 07:18 AM

Thank you for your replies. It's all really confusing and there is no clear guidance anywhere. Is there any definitive source of information on the subject like a book or an authoritative web resource that summarizes these basics in an unambiguous and systematic manner?

al-Halabi - 10-25-2019 at 08:17 AM

The book 'Makam and Beyond: A Progressive Approach to Near Eastern Music Theory' by Eric Ederer should be helpful to you. It explores methodically the tone and modal system, and conveniently displays the Turkish notation alongside the equivalent pitches used in Arab music in its numerous tables and examples. Once you become more used to the Turkish notation you will automatically connect the notes on the page with particular fingerings on the oud without having to do any conversions in your head. This will probably happen faster than you might think it would.

Jack_Campin - 10-25-2019 at 01:57 PM

It isn't at all difficult. All recorder players have a similar issue to deal with when switching between F and C instruments - anyone who wants to do it gets it in a few weeks at most.

SV_T_oud - 10-25-2019 at 04:03 PM

Jack - there are people who I know who still couldn't play piano after 6 months of weekly lessons and they were initially highly motivated.
Everyone is different with a given level of talent and capabilities. For someone learning a scale takes a few days, for another person - a few months.

SV_T_oud - 10-25-2019 at 04:06 PM

Quote: Originally posted by al-Halabi  
The book 'Makam and Beyond: A Progressive Approach to Near Eastern Music Theory' by Eric Ederer should be helpful to you. ...

Thank you very much for this suggestion!

adamgood - 10-27-2019 at 09:20 AM

Quote: Originally posted by SV_T_oud  

I feel myself utterly stupid because I can't find a single reference on the Internet that mentions the fundamental difference between Turkish and Western classical music notation.

Hi I hope to offer some perspective and clarity, as a person coming from a "western music" background who is now pretty well versed in what has gone in to and what makes up the Turkish music notation system.

For starters, disregard the notion that Turkish music sounds a 4th/5th apart from what classical music sounds like, when reading music. That is only one transposition that is used (bolahenk transposition, as someone else brought up). It is however, a very common transposition for instrumentalists (ud, violin, kanun etc) however we'll rarely find people who sing from this transposition (Udi Hrant did fairly often, as did many others in the early part of the 20th century).

I'd like to offer the following:

Turkish notation is never transposed on paper but is transposed aurally CONSTANTLY. When we first learn ud for example, we see a G and out comes a D. That is Bolahenk transposition. But a singer may not be able to do that. Depending on what is comfortable, maybe we see a G and need to play an A. That is Kiz transposition. A local and well known Turkish singer here in NYC needs a G to be sung as C. That is called Supurde transposition. Sometimes we even read it as is, a written G=G. That is called Mansur transposition.

This is a non transposed music, in the written sense but we'll play it from wherever we want, as it is comfortable for our voice or instrument.

This makes a great way to study the music. The pitch "rast" which is the basis and tonic for the makam "Rast" will ALWAYS be written as a "G", 2nd line of the staff. Now we simply have a visual symbol for what the pitch "rast" looks like...any time I see a G on the 2nd line of the staff, I see that as the visual symbol for the pitch "rast" no matter what tuning system I'm playing in. It's extremely helpful.

For a bit of history (and my knowledge is very limited) the current system of notation which uses 8 accidentals is less than 100 years old (that's pretty new). The system calls G 2nd line of the staff "rast". However I've seen older notation that doesn't use any accidentals other than "regular" sharp or flat, yet G is still "rast". So, that seems to go back a ways (I have no idea when or why but, I like it).

I hope any of that is helpful, to just see pitches on a staff as symbols as it relates to makam but, play it from whatever transposition you see fit. Feel free to ask me any questions! I need to learn more about how to explain this very tricky concept.

Adam Good

SV_T_oud - 10-29-2019 at 11:50 AM

Adam - thank you. I get the idea and its pretty simple at the first sight.
I need some clarification on the named notes please. I saw that chart showing all the Turkish notes assigned a name but what's the fundamental idea behind it?

Let's approach it from the practical perspective. Suppose I've memorized all names of the Turkish notes: from the middle C = KABA CARGAH up to "somewhat flatted" B = Tiz Dik Buselik above the staff.
Now, how are they connected to the actual Maqams? For instance, I see that C an octave up from the middle C is CARGAH. How do I connect it with the corresponding Maqam and why?

Brian Prunka - 10-29-2019 at 12:09 PM

Don't worry about connecting names of notes to makams. It's arbitrary. There is a connection, but it's not consistent. The name of the makam is often just after a distinctive note. It can be the tonic or another important note, there is no pattern to it.

The basic idea of the note names is that the note names stay the same based on the position on the oud, regardless of the tuning. The first open string is Gerdaniye/Kirdan, regardless of what note you have that tuned to. However, this is a bit simplistic, as you can also transpose on the instrument, in which case you have to think of the whole maqam system as transposed.

As Adam explained, the notation can be thought of as a representation of the whole makam system, which it is up to the player to transpose, either by retuning the instrument or by playing in a different position. But Rast, Hicaz, Ussak, etc. will be written the same way regardless of the key/tuning you are playing in.

SV_T_oud - 10-29-2019 at 01:26 PM

Brian, thanks and could you please remind me briefly what most important Maqams are? I remember you summarized it once pretty nicely. Sort of, "Cowboy Maqam" system if you please. And how to arrive at them also using most common tetra- and penta-chords. Gins, aren't they? (surely not jeans...)

Brian Prunka - 10-29-2019 at 02:25 PM

Well, speaking of Arabic maqams, the main ones are:

Rast (Rast 1 + Rast 5 and Nahawand 5)
Bayati (Bayati 1 + Nahawand 4 and Rast 4)
Sikah/Huzam (Sikah 1 + Hijaz 3 + Rast 6)
Hijaz (Hijaz 1 + Nahawand 4 + Rast 4)
Saba (Saba 1 + Hijaz 3 + Nikriz 6 and Ajam 6)
Nahawand (Nahawand 1 + Kurd 5 and Hijaz 5)
Kurd (Kurd 1 + Nahawand 4)
Jiharkah (Jiharkah 1 + Rast 5_
'Ajam (Ajam 1 + Ajam 5)
Nikriz/Nawa'athar (Nikriz 1 + Nahawand 5 or Hijaz 5)

Really these are like maqam families.
There are variations within each family, but you can think of them as still belonging to the same general maqam. Arguably Hijaz Kar could be considered a separate family from Hijaz.

Turkish/Ottoman makams are more narrowly and rigidly defined, so this might be a bit misleading with respect to that system, but overall you would still have the same families with a few variations (prioritizing Buselik over Nihavent, for example).

SV_T_oud - 10-30-2019 at 05:33 AM

Brian - thanks! Great summary.

ilovegreentea - 11-21-2019 at 01:00 AM

Hi all!

I wanted to share my experience on how I read Turkish notation. I use the movable solfege system to read Turkish notation. The key is to transpose your open strings, not the notes that you see. Let’s take Strings 1 to 4 as an example. It doesn’t matter what they’re tuned to (Arabic or Turkish) because the top four strings are always tuned fourths apart.
For starters, we will read the Bolahenk system. This pitches you see ARE NOT concert pitches. They are ‘Turkish’ pitches.

G5 (Soh) ------------------------ (String 1 nylon – Highest pitch)
D5 (Re) ------------------------ (String 2)
A4 (La) ------------------------ (String 3)
E4 (Mi) ------------------------ (String 4)

Personally I do not like to use alphabets because it usually means concert pitch and cannot be moved around. I prefer to use solfege (or numbers; 1 = Doh, 2= Re) which is less confusing (at least for me). Besides, the Arabs and Turks refer to their notes in solfege too, so it’s international (except in the US and UK).

Imagine your open strings as Mi, La, Re, Soh (ascending in pitch), and play the notes accordingly. The pitch you play WILL NOT correspond to the score. It will sound a fourth lower.

Mi, La, Re, Soh is for Bolahenk. The other systems will have different open strings but they follow the same principle. For eg. Kiz Ney is LA, Re, Soh, Doh and Müstahsen is Soh, Doh, Fa, Si b-moll (Si-flat). Necati Celik plays on Mustahsen quite often.

Hope this helps!