Definitions, definitions. Arabic (and other) musical terms in 15 words or less.

3:08 pm Arabic Music, Music, Oud, Taqasim

As I work on restoring the Nahat for hours on end (so far a few hours each day for the past two weeks), I have had time to think strange thoughts (try planing wood continuously and very carefully for an hour as a catalyst for strange brain activity). One interesting theme: How few words does it take to define something?

By the way. I didn’t count prepositions, “or” or “and” and neither should you.


  • Arabic Maqam: Tonalmode consisting of one or more scales and rules governing melodic progression and cadences
  • Maqamat: Plural of Maqam
  • Jins: A set of consecutive scale degrees notes, the building block of Maqamat
  • Qarar: A note an octave lower than a given pitch
  • Jawab: A note an octave higher than a given pitch
  • Arabic Iqa’a: Rhythmic mode consisting of meter and a specific pattern of low and high pitched strokes
  • Iqa’at: Plural of Iqa’ a
  • Quarter Tones: Microtonalities resulting from dividing the whole step into several microsteps (compared to two semitones in western music)
  • Ornaments: Adding notes, expressions, articulations, and/or modifying rhythms in a melody line, and/or during rests
  • Embellishments: Typically in a percussion instrument context, playing an iqa’a with additional strokes than the basic pattern, to add spice


  • Taqsim: Non-metric instrumental modal improvisation emphasizing modulation and lyrical melodic lines
  • Samai: An A R B R C R D R musical form. All movements but D are in Samai Thaqil Rhythm
  • Samai Thaqil: A 10 beat rhythmic pattern in 3, 2, 2, 3 subdivision, used frequently in classical Arabic music
  • Mawwal: A pre-composed poem set to an improvised melody, musically a similar concept to taqasim
  • Mawawil: Plural of Mawwal


  • Risha (aka risheh): Pick used to pluck oud strings. Historically made of feather or animal shell or bone, now mostly plastic
  • Awtar: Plural of watar
  • Watar: String, and/or double unison-tuned course. Oud has six Awtar
  • Rash (oud): Tremolo, rapid bi-directional risha strokes
  • Qars (pinching): Left hand pizzicato, plucking the strings with left hand fingers
  • ‘Aqf: Qars

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