How we teach maqams

4:35 pm Arabic Music, Taqasim

One thing that I am extremely disappointed with is the general weakness in academic resources on Arabic music theory. Don’t get me wrong, I have about 3 shelves full of Arabic music theory books. There is no shortage of books. In fact, if you have only one book you will feel good. They all talk with confidence about the topic and you will feel that the book you hold is actually The Truth, the final word, the definitive resource, your key to the gates of musical heaven.. It’s got everything. They even got rhythms, and cheap photocopy quality pictures of Al-Hambra palace or some random Arabesque ornaments(what does that have to do with it anyway).

Until you open the next book.. The cheap photocopies won’t bother you much. But the maqam information.. As if they’re talking about an entirely different civilization.

How can we make matters worse? As if we already had a true and well researched and documented way to teach maqams that is too complicated, now many music schools are going for simpler ways to teach maqams. In other words, if you are tired of learning Arabic music theory using the traditional “rigorous” and “complex” approach, you now have a choice. You can study diet-maqams. I have one book of diet-maqams.

I am venting because as I am working on my book, I had a few questions about a maqam. I opened six different theory books and got.. Four different answers. Two never really addressed the maqam in any serious detail. So I am referring to the repertoire. Analyzing 19th and early 20th century compositions trying to fish for details.

Also annoying is the fact that it is evident that these books were written by people who actually never read a music theory book. That’s fair enough. It’s an oral tradition. But if you’re going to write a text book, you’ve got to think pedagogy before cheap photocopies of palaces and ornaments.

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