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Makam (pl. makamlar; from the Arabic word مقام) is a system of melody types used in Persian and Turkish classical 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.

Geographic and cultural relations[edit]

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).[2] 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.[3] All of these concepts roughly correspond to mode in Western music, although their compositional rules vary.

The rhythmic counterpart of makam in Turkish music is usul.

Makam building blocks[edit]

Commas and accidentals[edit]

The basic notes named according to the solfege system and thus, for example, "Do" is C and "Re" is D.

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-flat—which are functionally the same tone—are 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 are—for the most part—individually 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"):

Turkish Note Names (small).jpg

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 ÇÂRGÂH 106 2400 C6
Tîz Dik Bûselik 105 2377 C6
TÎZ BÛSELIK 102 2309 B5
Tîz Segâh 101 2287 B5
Dik Sünbüle 98 2219 A#5 / Bb5
Sünbüle 97 2196 A#5 / Bb5
MUHAYYER 93 2106 A5
Dik Şehnâz 92 2083 A5
Şehnâz 89 2015 G#5 / Ab5
Nim Şehnâz 88 1992 G#5 / Ab5
GERDÂNIYE 84 1902 G5
Dik Mahur 83 1879 G5
Mahur 80 1811 F#5 / Gb5
Eviç 79 1789 F#5 / Gb5
Dik Acem 76 1721 F5
ACEM 75 1698 F5
HÜSEYNÎ 71 1608 E5
Dik Hisar 70 1585 E5
Hisar 67 1517 D#5 / Eb5
Nim Hisar 66 1494 D#5 / Eb5
NEVA 62 1404 D5
Dik Hicaz 61 1381 D5
Hicaz 58 1313 C#5 / Db5
Nim Hicaz 57 1291 C#5 / Db5
ÇÂRGÂH 53 1200 C5
Dik Bûselik 52 1177 C5
BÛSELIK 49 1109 B4
Segah 48 1087 B4
Dik Kürdi 45 1019 A#4 / Bb4
Kürdi 44 996 A#4 / Bb4
DÜGÂH 40 906 A4
Dik Zirgüle 39 883 A4
Zirgüle 36 815 G#4 / Ab4
Nim Zirgüle 35 792 G#4 / Ab4
RAST 31 702 G4
Dik Gevest 30 679 G4
Gevest 27 611 F#4 / Gb4
Irak 26 589 F#4 / Gb4
Dik Acem AŞiran 23 521 F4
Kaba Dik Hisar 17 385 E4
Kaba Hisar 14 317 D#4 / Eb4
Kaba Nim Hisar 13 294 D#4 / Eb4
YEGÂH 9 204 D4
Kaba Dik Hicaz 8 181 D4
Kaba Hicaz 5 113 C#4 / Db4
Kaba Nim Hicaz 4 91 C#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 fazla 1 F
eksik bakiye 3 E
bakiye 4 B
kücük mücenneb 5 S
büyük mücenneb 8 K
tanîni 9 T
artık ikili 12 - 13 A

Tetrachords (dörtlüler) and pentachords (beşliler)[edit]

Tetrachords (dörtlü) are on the left, pentachords (beşli) on the right. The symbols (simge) from the table above are here used to signal the intervals used in these patterns

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[edit]

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 (in this, it resembles a tone row à la Schoenberg or Webern). 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[edit]

Çârgâh makam[edit]

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[edit]

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:

1) Buselikmakam-1.jpg

2) Buselikmakam-2.jpg

1A) Buselikmakam-3.jpg

Rast makam[edit]

Also see Rast (maqam)

This much-used makam—which is said to bring happiness and tranquility to the hearer—consists 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.

1) Rastmakam-1.jpg

1A) Rastmakam-2.jpg

2) Rastmakam-3.jpg

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[edit]

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 dominant—here actually a subdominant—is D (Neva), and the leading tone—here actually a subtonic—is 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.

1) Ussakmakam-1.jpg

1A) Ussakmakam-2.jpg

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[edit]

See Ajam (maqam).


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


  • Özkan, İsmail Hakkı. Türk Mûsıkîsi Nazariyatı ve Usûlleri. Kudüm Velveleleri. (2000). ISBN 975-437-017-6.
  • Beken, Münir and Karl Signell. "Confirming, delaying, and deceptive elements in Turkish improvisation," Māqam Traditions of Turkic Peoples, Elsner and Jähnishen, eds. Berlin:trafo, 2006. ISBN 3-89626-657-8
  • Signell, Karl L. Makam: Modal Practice in Turkish Art Music. Nokomis FL (USA): Usul editions/ (1977/2004). ISBN 0-9760455-0-8:
  • --- 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. (2001). ISBN 975-95729-1-5.

External links[edit]