Note ~ Please check out the OUD HOME PAGE , THE OUD and MAKAM WEB pages for great descriptions and examples. 
Here you will find some basic information and descriptions of the makam system in Ottoman music.  Please check out the suggested method books and others that may be more help to you with detailed explanations on this topic.
In a Western octave, we have 12 chromatic notes, all of which are utilized.  In Ottoman music we have theoretically 53 because each 'whole step' contains mathematically 9 subdivisions, called 'komas' (based on the Pythagorean system). The interval from B to C and E to F is 4 komas .  However, in Ottoman music and folk musics of the Aegean and Anatolian regions, we do not really use all 53 possible notes. In fact, even the Ottoman theory and notation only concern themselves with these subdivisions: 1, 4, 5, 8.  In practice, it can also seem complicated because the intonation we read on the piece of paper is not always exactly what we play on the fingerboard, but all of these elements come together and erase most of our confusion through playing the repertoire and listening to recordings by master players and to our teachers for the correct intonation.  As an aside, in Arabic music there are 24 chromatic notes in an octave, and in Byzantine music there are 72 possible chromatic notes, though again, the Byzantine system usually moves in 2 koma intervals, and in practice is close to the Ottoman/Pythagorean system.
In Ottoman music, commonly we will use the natural form of the note, and/or the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 8th koma position above or below it.  These are very real and solid positions on our fingerboards, but of course from player to player you will hear differences due to their own preferences and what they were personally taught.  Visit the OUD HOME PAGE , THE OUD and MAKAM WEB pages for great charts showing the values of various sharps and flats in their theory sections, along with audio and visual examples (Makam Web).

Above diagram taken from David Parfitt's website:  THE OUD


                   ♫ THE OCTAVE FROM �A� TO �A� ♫                      



A - - - - - - - - B - - - C - - - - - - - - D - - - - - - - - E - - - F - - - - - - - - G - - - - - - - - A


Letters and dashes represent individual komas 
What is a makam? Is it just a scale?  Actually, the basic scale of a makam is the most elemental part of it, but cannot by itself define the makam. The scale is the skeleton, but the makam is not a corpse or a pile of bones, it is a living, breathing thing, and so much more is needed to describe a makam, just like with a person. A makam's 'personality' is comprised of several things, including: basic note intervals, seyir or direction (ascending/descending), dominant notes, characteristic melodic phrases, inherent note interval changes, and modulations.  
The basic note intervals, or scale, of a makam are usually broken up into two pieces: a pentachord and a tetrachord, or vice versa.  It is important to note, however, that a makam's 'scale' is usually not just an octave of notes, but contains important notes below and above the basic octave. In fact, in many makams, the tonic note might not be repeated in the upper octave, because the melodic path of the makam changes as it ascends or descends. Examples of this will be covered in the individual makam lessons.

There are many practical nuances that though confusing at first, are very beautiful and add to the richness of the music.  Intonation is a big one, and really requires experience and being exposed to performances, whether live or on recordings, that give a good sense of correct intonation for each makam.   Sometimes the sheet music is not our friend - it betrays us by making notes look like they should have the same intonation, when in actuality they don't. One example of this is the note 'Segah' found in the makam RAST. This note is also found in sheet music for the makam UŞŞAK, but in reality, UŞŞAK uses a lower note, 'Dik k�rdi' for the most part, not 'Segah.'


My only answer is simply that I don't really know. Probably it has something to do with the effort to codify all the makams so that they would work with the Western notation system, which happened in the early twentieth century in Turkey. Other issues exist as well, such as the intonation shift on microtonal notes when we ascend or descend, and so on. Again, more detailed explanations will be given in individual makam lessons, but be aware of the fact that the sheet music we use is just a bare bones guide, with mistakes and misnomers included, that we don't rely on 100%. You are better off listening to a scratchy old recording of Tanburi Cemil Bey or Udi Yorgos Bacanos playing a specific piece, than relying only on a piece of sheet music.  When only the sheet music is available to you, then you need to pull from all the live and recorded performances you have heard in this makam to guide you in your intonation and general interpretation of the piece.

Something else to keep in mind is the idea of 'key' in Ottoman music. For example, the makam RAST is written in the key of G (Sol) in Ottoman sheet music. Of course, this doesn't mean that we play RAST only in G. In fact, the two most common keys to play in when the music says it is in G are D and A. When we transpose G down to D, our tuning is called 'B�lahenk.'  When we transpose from G down to A our tuning is called 'Kız.' Accordingly, when we read music for a makam like HİCAZ which is always written in A (La), we will most often transpose it down either to E or B, 'B�lahenk' and 'Kız' tunings respectively. There are many tunings of course, each named after the corresponding ney size which plays in each key.  On this site, I will stay in 'B�lahenk' tuning just to keep things simple.

So, keep all these things in mind, but don't let them discourage you or hold you back from continuing the journey towards mastery of your instrument and the makams.  This is truly a beautiful musical world we have inherited.  Just take your time and ask questions whenever you might get confused or discouraged.  After some steady exposure, all these nuances come together and not only make sense, but beautiful music!



Copyright � Mavrothi T. Kontanis. All rights reserved 2008