Oud learning diary VII

29/11/2015 § Leave a comment

My repertoire of oud pieces is gradually increasing. On entering Ehsan’s place for the lesson last Saturday he immediately sat me down and got me to attempt to sight read a new piece, the Mahur Saz Semai by Refik Alpman, another Turkish piece. My sight reading needs to improve a great deal and it was a useful way to get me started, so over the last week I have been attempting to get the piece learned without listening to a professionally recorded version.

Aside: I have only just discovered this recorded version by Necati Celik, the piece begins at about 5.50

The piece is interesting since it spans at least three different maqamat – starting off in Mahur, then moving on to Nahawand, then Hijaz Kar. There is a fourth section but I am yet to attempt that, it should be complete by my lesson next week. It is certainly an easier piece than the Huzzam Semai or Flying Bird, of which I am thankful, though so far I am very much at the cognitive stage of learning with it. So thus far I am learning a combination of Iraqi and Turkish pieces, and over the coming months I should develop an awareness of how the two relate to each other.

In addition to this piece I am still learning the maqams ajam and nahawand [not hijaz at present since Ehsan didn’t mention it last week] from each semitone starting from the lower Sol. As each day progresses I feel I develop more of an innate and natural feel of the maqams – not so much counting intervallic structures but just knowing where the maqams are on the fingerboard naturally to the point where I don’t have to think about them as much as I was. I dare say there is a long distance to go with this, but it’s a promising and interesting point to note at this stage.

One other point to note is that I found an interesting post on Mikes Oud forum about thumb positions. All this time I have been playing with my left thumb bend, though it seems that one is supposed to play with it relatively straight. I tried it for the first time today and it actually sounded different, the oud tone sounded slightly clearer and sharper. Getting used to this mode of playing [if I am to adopt it and I probably should] will take  some time before it feels natural but I think it’s something worth doing, and it’s a lot easier to adopt than the issue I had in 2014 of having to incorporate upstrokes into my playing which I had never done before. That took a few months to correct.

Two more final points – I am still in the laboratory stage with regard to finding out the best way to learn hard sections. At the moment I know it’s definitely to do with fingering, but I am thinking that thumb positions will come into it a lot as well. I noticed that Flying Birds sounded a lot better with the thumb more relaxed. This seems to be because the fingers are able to put more pressure on the strings, whereas some unnecessary effort is put into bending the thumb – effort that could be put into better use elsewhere in the left hand.

Finally with regard to the Al Atrash piece – I asked Ehsan if he thought it were possible for me to play and all he said was “yes”. So I will concentrate on that when I have some time. Fortunately I can across some videos on Oud For Guitarists that guide the player through the piece – a great stroke of luck:

Farid Al Atrash Taqsim Al Rabeea Part 4 – Finale!

For the remainder of this week I will concentrate on the Alpman, natural thumb positions and getting the ajam and nahawand smoother in from sol to sol.

PS: Interesting point from Navid from the above link:

I was listening to this Album by the Classical Arabic Orchestra of Aleppo, Ottoman Arabic Classical Music. The first track is Samai Bayati starting with a Oud taqsim. At about 0:53 seconds, the Oud player plays the exact same riff that Farid Al Atrash played from his taqsim Al Rabeea… it’s not exactly the same, but it’s quite obvious where the inspiration for this comes from.

In Middle Eastern culture, it’s common to make reference to famous poetry, famous musical melodies, or other people’s work without mentioning the source, and without fear of plagiarism or copyright.  

Now I can’t comment on Arab culture, but this is what I’ve seen in Persian culture. I’ve been present at Persian concerts where the musicians spend a whole segment of their performance improvising on an old traditional melody or spontaneously do a cover from another musician’s repertoire.

The whole reason for doing this is not necessarily to steal some else’s work and profit off it. Rather, it is to pay homage to that artist’s work. It is also a proof of erudition and learning. It is also a way of gaining the listener’s interest.

Whoever the Oud player was from that clip, he was giving Farid Al Atrash some credit. But perhaps only a select few would really know where that riff was from and appreciate it.

I notice I do this a bit when playing parts of the Ahmed Al Khatib video [and mixing it in with the Kurd maqam from Bashir]:

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