Oud lesson XX

11/04/2016 § Leave a comment

Things seem to be changing a lot of the time with regard to what I should be doing for the performance exam. The Bayat Samai is still part of it, but after today’s lesson with E he thinks that a longa should be included, and that including another samai would not give me enough time. We have therefore agree to not do the farahadaza samai – which is a bit of shame because I feel it’s one of the pieces that has arguably advanced me as a musician, and replaced it with the Longa Yorgo. This piece is one that I have known for several months and have played many times, it is quite familiar to me, but it is still not that much of an easy piece , it has some awkward fingering around bars 19 and 20 and 25 to 29:


The tempo, fortunately enough, although appearing awkward with the large amounts of triplets is quite instinctive and natural. It is only the fingering that is awkward  – esp bar twenty demands the 1st, 2nd and 3rd finger to be utilised in close proximity in quick succession – and this can be remedied by just playing the piece slowly and getting reacustomed to it, and then speeding up as necessary. This longa is known by other names such as Longa Sultaniyegah, Longa Sirtu or Sultaniyegah Oyun Havasi in Turkish.

As for the Bayat piece, we are still keeping this – but to my dismay E didn’t like any of my ornamentations that I had been so keen on! He told me not to do it and play the piece more or less how it is written as ‘bare bones’ [my words not his]. I am a little concerned about this because I think it will be quite boring for some people in the audience – especially those who are already familiar with the piece since it is quite well-known, and what makes familiar Middle Eastern music interesting to seasoned listeners is hearing new interpretations from the player who can similarly exhibit their understanding of the piece and technical skill, but E thinks it is best to do it simply. He said the fact that it was in Bayat and included quartertones is enough.

That only leaves the scales. I asked him why, for instance, I should concentrate on Saba from Re, Mi, So, La and not Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and I was told that the maqam from Fa is too difficult and that it was difficult to ‘feel’ instinctively. However, he thinks that I should not be concentrating on playing maqams for performance on anything other than their main tonics and that concentrating on the other transposed tonics should be done for future learning. Therefore he thinks that the following should be run through in Performance just from the main tonics:







Hijaz kar



I could always include others such as Nawa Athur, Shuri and Husseini but maybe this is enough. He said it might also be worth transposing one of the maqams [e.g. Nahawand on Re rather than on Do].

As for an improvisation in Bayat as a taqsim, E’s only advice here was that I play what I liked. A few weeks ago when I asked him to teach me the art of taqsim he said, “how can I teach you taqsim?! It is something in your blood” so I can deduce from that that it is only something that will come over a long amount of time. For now I will play a Bayat taqsim that showcases my understanding of the maqam as well as including the idiomatic phrases from Munir Bashir.

Oud learning diary XIX

05/04/2016 § Leave a comment

Saturday’s lesson with Ehsan was cancelled – or at least postponed – due to the fact that he had some people over from Sweden he was entertaining, exactly what the context was for that I’m not certain. Therefore if the lesson goes ahead this Saturday it will have been three weeks since the last one. In the mean time I have been almost exclusively playing the Bayat and Farahfaza samais. I don’t really know what more I can do for them with regard to learning them, I’m confident that I have their structure and order correct. Really from this point on I want to be concentrating on individual stylistics for each piece but I want Ehsan to be able to approve those that I have been employing, that is to say mainly the use of tremolo and the rhythm that I developed three weeks ago as given in diary entry XVII. He may or may not think that they are appropriate but at this point it’s difficult to say. I hope the lesson goes ahead this Saturday since I want some guidance on that front with regard to the ornamentations.

This brings me to the scales to learn. Last entry I specified Saba, Rast, Hijaz Kar and Nikriz but I am confused about the starting tones he has given me for this maqamat. For instance, he has given me Re, Mi, Sol, La for the Saba, but I don’t understand why this is not Re, Me, Fa, Sol, La. Likewise for Rast has has given me Do, Re, Fa, Sol, not Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol. I really want this clarified. Additionally, I am surprised that he has not given me Nahawand and Hijaz at least from some tonics, since these are such common maqamat. I really need this cleared up by next time by the final diary entry [entry XX].

One final thing is the bayati improvisation. I made reference in my last entry to the traditions of bayati, eg that the F [mi bemol] should contain vibrato whereas the sikah does not. I want to integrate more knowledge of these traditional rules into my knowledge of the maqam, such as the fact that even though the sekah does not normally contain any kind of vibrato it does have other ornamentation such as neighbour tone, turn etc. My lessons with Ehsan are very ‘traditional’ in the sense that most of the learning is done verbally – of course there is sheet music to accompany each samai – but a lot of the work in done by listening, watching and repeating. I came across this Munir Bashir improvisation which I would a good starting point to learn from with regard to the bayati taqsim. I notice certain idiomatic phrases within there which have been played by him in other recordings. I will examine the piece and notate these idiomatic phrases in my final entry.

Oud learning diary XVIII

28/03/2016 § Leave a comment

After the 10th lesson at E’s on Saturday the two pieces that I will play for the performance unit are the farahfaza samai and the bayat samai. He is also keen for me to play a taqsim in bayati, maybe this will start off the piece.

With regard to the maqamat to learn for the unit, he gave me the following:

Saba: Re, Mi, Sol, La

Rast: Do, Re, Fa, Sol

Hijaz Kar: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol

Nikriz: Do, Re, Mi bemol, Fa dez, Sol bemol, Do

With regard to the two pieces, it is very important that more stylistics are integrated into the playing such as vibrato and tremolo, and some crescendo, descecndo. At the moment and for the next two weeks the most important thing is getting the rhythm and notes correct for both pieces and I must focus on the most troublesome sections of the pieces in order to sort this out. They would be the second khana of the bayat and the third/fourth of the farahfaza. The best way to do this would be to play them with a metronome a lot slower than I currently am doing. Also it is very important to convey the enjoyment of the piece and a natural understanding.

With regard to the bayati, according to my thread on the oud forums, the F in the bayati should always have a vibrato, and the sikah [Eb] should normally not.

Oud learning diary XVII

15/03/2016 § Leave a comment

There are two important points to make in this learning diary entry. The first is about progression of performance styles, the second is about performance itself.

I have been learning the bayat piece consistently since the last entry. I am at a place whereby I feel I have got to know the piece very well, but getting an accurate rhythm to play alongside the piece is very important. I have been playing along with a sampled 10/8 samai rhythm and it is VERY different to playing without. Far more difficult. I have  now annotated the whole piece to point out the quavers where the second and third dums appear [6th and 7th]. Learning the piece alongside this rhythm would mean that the player would always know where they were in the bar if they knew the samai rhythm intimately alongside it.

Knowing the piece as well as I do now means that I have begun to develop a slightly rhythmic idiosyncratic feel which I can demonstrate as:


This pattern can be applied to other passages also and pieces, such as in the Farafaza samai.

The second point is about performance itself. Last week when I was at E’s place he asked me to play the Bayat piece a number of times with no success. I notice that when I am in my own environment playing is no issue but when in front of others it is. Even the simplest passages which I’ve played many times become difficult. The reason for this is not because the piece is not known. It is because of how the mind operates in such an instance. The mind, when relaxed, focuses on the piece overall, thinking several bars ahead. When put under pressure the mind thinks only about the note one is playing at that second. The result of this is that there is no preparation for which note[s] to go to next so one is far more likely to get lost and make mistakes. If one focuses on something other than what one is playing one can relax more. But like Bulletproof Musician says, it’s not all about relaxing. It’s about a moderate amount of anxiety and knowing how to use it to your benefit.

This weekend I will be going back to E’s to play the bayat and the farahfazah again, hopefully with more concentration and just the right amount of anxiety. Maybe the problem is continually seeing anxiety as a bad thing, rather than something that can be used to one’s benefit to aid concentration. Trying not to care is not the answer. Managing what’s already there is, because attempting to squash it won’t work. It’s about using it to one’s advantage. When I’m at E’s I will also get a definitive list of maqams to practise for theory.

Oud learning diary XVI

03/03/2016 § Leave a comment

The bayat samai gave me greater problems than I predicted with the two bars as noted in the last diary being particularly heard to fathom. Seeing as I won’t be, by the looks of things, being part of a Middle Eastern ensemble this term [doubly frustrating by the fact that there is one at the moment in SOAS and there wasn’t one last year] the best way to do things is to bring the ensemble to me and play along with the pieces.

I’m surprised I didn’t think of this before and it is proving very effective so far, mostly because it shows me the ways in which I have misinterpreted the pieces rhythmically. I split up the most problematic bar into quavers:


The problem with this bar is that the do comes on the sixth beat whereas it feels like it should be the re beforehand. Trying to get the ‘feel’ of a piece is an essential part in having a natural understanding in music but this feel doesn’t always come completely naturally. Sometimes, in cases such as this, one has to analyse things in ways that make the most sense to the player in order to gain a feel for the piece. The other thing which is difficult with this bar is the fact that the ninth beat comes halfway through the last do of the bar. Only by isolating the bar and putting it on a perpetual loop did I really get a feel for it:

The other thing that is the most significant was that I was treating the end of each hanna as a crotchet rather than a quaver, which it is. I think the most important thing from this exercise is what I have learned from playing in the ‘virtual ensemble’. Of course it does not compare from playing in a real one, but it is better than playing alone to the same piece since it gives ones a sense of timing and the correct rhythm, as well as other instruments within the same piece. More than anything though, it gives me a context which is sadly missing when playing the piece on one’s own. A YouTube playlist of all the best versions of these pieces may not be a bad idea.

Oud learning diary XV

21/02/2016 § Leave a comment

I’ve been working with the Bayat piece over the last couple of weeks and things are going much better, in fact I’ve almost been working on it exclusively. In spite of the fact that I said in the previous entry that it was an easy piece, I am not finding it too easy. The reason for this is twofold – firstly because the rhythms in the second and third hanna are quite unusual and secondly because it flits in and out of using quartertones within the same maqam. This makes it quite hard to remember where the ‘correct’ quartertones should be.

This means that I am still having a little problem learning the piece with total accuracy. The ‘feel’ of the piece is not coming that naturally. The fourth hanna is by far the simplest and presents no problems though, with its unusual [for me at this stage anyway] change into 6/8. Interestingly enough I have noticed a trend with this piece, in that each hanna of the piece is five bars. Not all samais seem to be five bars [judging by the huzzam piece by Haydar] but they all seem to have similar lengths to the hannas. It would be good to be more versed in other styles, but clearly I should get to know a lot about the samai by the end of this academic year.

Yesterday Ehsan and I concentrated on the Bayat again, with it being nearly complete, the main issues with it can be narrowed down to two bars. In the second hanna:


And in the third:



The dotted quabers providing confusion over the rhythm. These two bars need to be straightened out before moving on. We also discussed other time signatures for samais such as 10/16 and 32/8. I asked why would anyone have time signatures such as these, to which E replied, “because the music is the most rich”. Ehsan also gave me this [rather straightforward] melody to learn and possibly improvising Iraqi style ornamentations over by next fortnight:

Oud learning diary XIV

06/02/2016 § Leave a comment

Today’s lesson concentrated all on the new Bayat piece. Due to the last couple of week’s business with other academic pursuits I didn’t have a lot of time to spend on the piece, trying to do as much as possible yesterday. This taught me a valuable lesson in that it’s just not possible to learn a piece in a day. One may be able to play it with a minor degree of confidence at the end of the day, but the next day most of it will be forgotten – and even if some of the tune is known, the positions of the notes on the fingerboards won’t be. It really takes a good few weeks to know a piece thoroughly to the point where you’re not thinking about it, or at least to the point where you’re thinking about the NEXT bit when you’re playing. If you’re only thinking about the current part that you’re playing, it means you don’t have the knowledge to look ahead yet, and consequently you don’t know the piece.

That’s certainly what I found today. On attempting to play the piece today it seemed that I had forgotten a lot of it, in spite of the fact that I must have listened to the piece about five times on the way in. As Naveed says, when you can sing a piece, you know it. And I can’t sing the piece at all. Older pieces, I can do, and I would say I know them inside out [e.g. Longa Yorgo, Nihavend Longa, Huzzam as well by now].

So what problems do this new piece present? Certainly not as many as the Haydar or really must else I have learned. This is one of the easiest pieces I have been given. The only things that are difficult are the rhythms in the second and third hanna, but apart from that, the piece should be playable with a good degree of confidence in a fortnight.

The structure of the piece seems to lay in Bayat for the first and fourth hanna, and then Rast on Re for the second and third. The fourth hanna contains a 6/8 rhythm, which according to Ehsan is quite common. I’ve been used to 6/4 but 6/8 is apparently common as well.

I have noticed my ability to sight read improving. There is no difficulty in picking out do, re, sol, si in both reading a playing. It really is a slow process. In time it will improve. I have no idea but it’s true that the ‘lines’ are easier to remember than the ‘spaces. On another positive note my fear about playing high up the oud neck is really disappearing, and I have Haydar to thank for that [as well as Bashir]. The three pieces [Hussam, Flying Birds and Farahfaza samai] have done a lot to quell the concerns I have playing up there.

Playing in an ensemble is unfortunately something which is not happening at the moment. The one-three hours I have in the evenings are not really enough in order to give time to both Ehsan’s pieces and anything else for SOAS – even though I did write to EE and he hasn’t come back with any suggestions on regular workshops as yet, but then the timings are a little tricky.

Will continue with the Bayat samai in the next two weeks and pay particular attention to the rhythms of the second and third hanna. It’s still in the first stage of the learning process at this point. One thing I should also do is get to grips with the 10/8 samai thaqil rhythm and see how this works with the pieces: