On Notating Arabic Music In Western Notation: Part 1, Symbols

10:33 am Music

This is a question that often comes up. How to transcribe Arabic music in Western notation.

The first step is to discuss the symbols for quarter tones. Notice that the term “quarter tones” is an abstraction that refers to notes that divide the western half step. In Arabic music, the half step is not the same as the western equal tempered half step, and the quarter tones are not equal divisions of the half step. It is an abstraction, and the the exact intonation depends on the maqam in which they appear. At any rate, here are the symbols for flats with a representation of their relative intonation:


And here are the symbols for sharps:


And here is a sample key signature:



1- Arabic music uses fixed do solfege.

2- Other clefs can be used, of course, in the same fashion that you would use them in western music.

3- The order of accidentals in key signatures is arbitrary in the sense that since Arabic keys don’t revolve around the circle of fifths, the Bflat Eflat.. order of flats is fairly meaningless. However people tend to follow that order anyway.

4- A key signature may have both flats and sharps (and quarter tones) since not all the key signatures are major or minor.

More to follow.

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