Oud learning diary X

23/12/2015 § Leave a comment

After my practising the maqam scales fervently, Ehsan only tested me on Nahawand, and he seemed happy with that. Nevertheless, the three maqamat should be practised every day, especially since they are likely going to test me on them.

One of the most important things that happened in the lesson last Saturday was the fact that Ehsan changed the tuning of the oud from CGADGC to CFADGC, so now it is in traditional Arabic tuning. This makes things slightly more tricky when trying to play familiar pieces, but the psychological adjustments will come over time, I know this by now.

The mahur samai is improving, though the first section really needs practising more thoroughly, especially the fifth and sixth notes. It’s quite hard to go from fa dez to sol correctly, but this will have to be practised. The feel of the piece – like Haydar’s Huzzam Samai – is coming quite naturally to me. I am noticing more and more of a difference between the Turkish and Iraqi styles and should soon start developing my own interpretations of them.

I imagine the next diary entry will be more thorough – at the lesson on Saturday Ehsan gave me what looks like the hardest piece yet, a Farafaza Samai by Haydar. From memory the first and second section are quite easy, the third and fourth, on the other hard, look very tough. This is the trend with samais, so I am told, that the third and fourth section can demand a high technique from the player. I have practised nothing as much as the third section from the Haydar Huzzam Samai [which is improving more and more] but the Farafaza may take more effort.

Because of the time of year I may push the next lesson to 9th Jan. That would give me some time to progress a little with the Farafaza. Ehsan seems to think that I will have a good handle on the piece within three months, and the Mahur should definitely be a lot better by then.

Oud learning diary IX – maqamat

13/12/2015 § Leave a comment

When I was younger I never understood why musicians always had to practice scales. I’ll be honest about it, it is the least interesting aspect of learning the instrument so far. But the more I do it, the more I realise that it is a fundamental skill. Not only does it help me memorise, quite quickly, the different note names on the fingerboard but it also is very useful for transposition and getting to know the feel of the maqams.

At the moment I am concentrating on Nahawand, Ajam and Hijaz. These on their own are quite hard to learn in semitones from sol to sol – going up in one maqam is one thing, but them going down in another is quite hard. I don’t think that there is any magic way of learning how to do it, no mnemonics or formula, it may be just a case of putting the necessary times in.

There is one kind of formula that will help though. I have noticed that it is definitely helpful if I split the maqamat into ajnas in my head. Knowing the intervals of the first jins on the way up helps with getting confused – so when we are going down I must remember the second jins. So the ajnas go like this:

Nahawand: 4-2-4

Ajam: 4-4-2


These can be very useful for remembering on the way up. The second jins are:

Nahawand: 4-2-4-4

Ajam: 4-4-4-2

Hijaz: 4-2-4-4

So overall the maqamat go:

Nahawand: 4-2-4-4-2-6-2 / 4-2-4-4-2-4-4

Ajam: 4-4-2-4-4-4-2

Hijaz: 2-6-2-4-2-4-4

[Addition 15/12 – counting only the semitones is very useful in remembering the order. So notes 2 to 3 and 5 to 6 for Nahawand, 3 to 4 and 7 to 8 for Ajam and 5 to 6 for Hijaz.]

Now of course on the way down, these ajnas will be reversed.

The second point to note is that certain patterns are repeated. If I am going to remember things by patterns are well, it’s important to note that there are not twelve patterns to remember but six [technically five and a half since patterns on sol/do/fa are not identical but very similar. The repetitions on the patterns are thus:


As I say I don’t think there is any other magic way of expediting the process. It is purely time spent that will cede the results. However, the intervals and the ajnas must be remembers also. At this point I have a good knowledge of nahawand and ajam, hijaz needs more work. I will persevere over the next week till I am ‘tested’ by Ehsan next Saturday.

Final point to note for this entry about thumb positions – I spoke to Ehsan about this, we agreed that what was natural was best. I don’t think changing positions at this point is that beneficial purely because I noticed it was causing me to think too much rather and divert my concentrating from fingering and the progressions of the pieces I am learning. As long as pressure is not being exerted on the thumb, and it is just resting on the neck of the oud, it seems to be acceptable.

Oud learning diary VIII

06/12/2015 § Leave a comment

I am going to start this entry with a list of all the pieces I have learned since starting oud.

Nikriz Longa – Tanburi Cemil Bey
Nihavent Longa – Kevsir Hanim
Nikriz Longa #2 – Cemil Bey – [unfinished at present]
Nihavent Mini Mini Pesrev – [unfinished at present]
Longa Shaharazad – Abdel Wihad Bilal
Longa Yorgo
Samai Hijaz Kar Kurd – Munir Bashir
Huzzam Saz Samai – Haydar
Flying Birds – Munir Bashir
Mahur Saz Semai – Refik Alpman

The first four of these were done off my own back before I had a teacher, the last six since I have been with Ehsan. Curiously enough, Turkish forms the majority of the styles and composers. Only three of these ten pieces are by Iraqis. There must be a pertinent point here with regard to the Turkish influence on Iraqi music. Something to bring up with Ehsan next time.

At the lesson yesterday we focused on a couple of things, firstly improving the Mahur Saz Samai which is not yet finished, and talking about scales and improving those. Ehsan’s memory of exactly what we discuss doesn’t seem to be that great from lesson to lesson, so by next lesson I will have finished the ajam, hijaz and nahawand scaled from sol to sol in semitones quite confidently. I also should really pay attention to the timings and rhythm of the Mahur piece. A piece I really quite enjoy. Something which is quite interesting is the fact that if I visualise something to do with the piece I get the feel of it much more naturally. By which I mean this video gave me the idea to visualise Istanbul during the day and going into the evening for the piece, it made so much sense. The first section of the piece if very much a bright daylight piece, celebrating the day and Summer etc in the Ottoman city and as the final 3/4 rhythm change comes for the nahawand section, evening draws in as we switch again to a minor key. It may be worth interpreting the other pieces in similar ways because this vision and association really helps.

Bonus – edition with notes:

Ehsan and I also talked about the importance of playing what he called ‘folklore’ pieces at gig with Iraqi people. This is to say pieces that Iraqi people know and will be happy to hear. There are two pieces which spring to mind: the Rast piece we played at the Ealing concert and also the Bayat piece [I forget the name] which I hear time and time again in a lot of the oud albums I hear. I am very interested in the definition folklore here, as in music that is in peoples’ heritages, in their homelands, in their blood. Something that connects them very much to their homes and geographical region. In England this folkloric music is something hardly every done in gigs. When one goes to a gig one goes to see that band’s music, not a session so much of music. This is a very interesting distinction, it might be worth talking to Tom about this because he knows quite a lot about English folk music: i.e. where do these folk gigs happen, what kinds of people do etc, because it’s certainly not mainstream knowledge.

So for the next fortnight I will be practising the three maqamat and the Alpman, really enjoyable piece and the first which I have got a real ‘feel’ for, must be to do with the associations. Now if this is something I can feel personally, that must tell me something about what other Turks or Iraqi people feel when listening to the music of their homelands.


Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for December, 2015 at Lyscriber.