Oud learning diary XIII

24/01/2016 § Leave a comment

The lesson yesterday with Ehsan concentrated mostly on the Farafaza samai. As usual I seem to be having problems with getting the rhythm correct in some parts and this is something I should really concentrate more on improving. One of the most interesting parts of the lesson was the fact that I have been fingering the fourth hana of the piece incorrectly, playing it higher up the neck than necessary. Ehsan said that I should concentrate on playing it lower down round the centre of the fingerboard, which I find easier. He seemed to be quite pleased with my progress with the piece overall.

With regard to the tradition, I asked him why we were concentrating on samais. He said that there were many different types of pieces [longa, sirto etc] but that samai was the most commonly recognisable and it had the most variety in technique, presumably with regard to the fact that it changes time signature and maqam throughout, mostly normally – it may be worth reading up on some supporting literature of the samai.

He also stressed the importance of Haydar on the tradition, just with regard to how he advanced the discipline and that before he came along ‘Arabic people were asleep’, doing things with the oud which were beforehand unthinkable. It’s clear to me that I should concentrate on a Haydar piece if I am going to examine a samai, and preferably one which I should play in performance.

He also provided me with a new piece to play, a Bayat Samai by Al Aryran. I am, at present, completely unfamiliar with the piece but it’s nice to have one on Bayat. From what I can tell there is no high playing on the neck, the highest note being the Fa. I am curious to see where the difficulties will lie in the piece, I presume they will be rhythmic. Ehsan told me to copy the piece and hand him back the sheet music in a fortnight. I am unclear whether he was referring to photocopying though ideally I should copy it out. The piece is about fourteen staves so it would only take about one stave a day to do.


Ehsan also empahsised the importance of getting acquainted with intervallic structure and that these were the key to transposition. I should get to know the intervallic structures of all the major maqams – which was something I used to know well and I need to get back to. Particularly rast, nahawand, hijaz, saba, segah, bayat, kurd and possibly huzzam.


Oud learning diary XII

19/01/2016 § Leave a comment

This is really just a placeholder entry, so to speak, to elaborate on things since the last entry. Ehsan cancelled the last lesson which was supposed to be on the 9th Jan, for reasons which were not made known, and what with my being in Leicester the weekend just gone, the next lesson is to be this Saturday 23rd, which will have made just over a month since the last lesson.

I have been working on the Mahur and the Farahfaza since the last lesson. The former is going very well, and the latter has been committed to memory. To be honest there is only one problem with the piece, the expected issue which is the beginning of the fourth hanna. It is definitely possible for me to progress successfully on this section, but really success here lies in knowing how to transition well between the third and sixth notes of the second half of the bar:

bar 1

Prior to this piece I imagine that the difficulty would come in playing the high notes, but in fact playing them per se is not an issue, but moving between notes which mean using the fourth finger and then moving to a higher string on the first.

One thing which is also important at this point is the setting of goals per practice session as noted in this post. It would be worthwhile to set goals for each session and only finish the session once completed. I think these do not have to be large goals, but small, incremental ones which work towards playing a piece well. For instance, for tomorrow I could try working on how to transition well between the third and fourth note of the bar above. Not more than that, and in the next session between the fifth and sixth.

It has come to my realisation that it’s going to be pretty hard to work in some ensemble playing. I wrote to Ed Emery about this last week but am yet to receive any reply. I know that playing stylistically was a recent concern, but the natural working in of some tremolo in certain pieces, especially in the Huzzam Samai, appears to be quite successful so I should build on this. But working in ensemble time with working five days a week [and learning the pieces] seems very difficult with the current work I have to do for Ehsan. I will be in SOAS at the beginning of Feb and discuss my concerns.

Something I should really do the next time I see Ehsan is discuss the importance of the samai. Why am I always learning samais and why are they important to the tradition? I already know about their traditional structure, but it would be good to know more about their cultural significance and how they fit into the tradition. I imagine when I flesh out the diary proper I should also mention the impact of Targan which doubtless posts like this would be very useful for.

Suggested reading:

The Culture and History of Tarab

The origins of the Iraqi Oud generation 

Oud learning diary XI

04/01/2016 § Leave a comment

It’s been an important couple of weeks over the Xmas period, which accounts for the reason of this late diary entry. Also there was no lesson with Ehsan this Saturday because of the time of year, but I will be going there again this weekend.

Two important things to note – first is the inclusion of the model learning diary. This is vital in showing how the diary at the end of April should be structured and what kinds of things need to be addressed. I should really go through it once more in detail with regard to the kinds of topics covered, but on first reading a couple of points become clear:

1 – the importance of playing in an ensemble as being potentially more useful that one to one tuition

2 – playing stylistically

The first point is something which I should write to SOAS this week about and it was part of the plan. Exactly how I’m going to fit it into my schedule is another matter. I find that two hours of practice on a week night [which is about the current average] is really the minimum that is necessary so how would it be possible to practice more pieces for  an ensemble? This is really quite a concern and one which I should speak to them about also. On the other hand this is really the term to make use of this opportunity and a very good skill going forward, as well as one for making connections. The problem with one to one tuition is that it gives no context, and that’s really something that’s missing.

The lack of context really does not help one to play stylistically. In the model diary the following related the importance of integrating one’s own influence:


The author seems to share exactly the same issues as I – needing to integrate more stylistic playing and not being able to learn to read music until the start of the unit.

The second part of the diary analyses a piece, of which I should choose one myself. On first consideration, the piece chosen would have to be typical of the Iraqi/Turkish style [I am thinking it should be Turkish because my impression is that the Turkish influenced the Iraqi style], should be typical of a samai [10/8 to 6/4 and high technique on the 3rd and 4th hanna] and should switch between maqam. Currently two pieces that spring to mind are the Huzzam and Mahur samai. It might be early to say but I feel one of these pieces could be chosen for the performance.

There is a third possibility which is the Farahfaza which I am currently learning. Another Haydar piece, I was initially quite concerned as to its difficulty. However, the 1st and 2nd hanna are pretty easy, as is the 3rd, to be honest, even the high fa is not that challenging after a few goes. The 4th is where the piece really comes into its own and the first couple of bars are way out of the park in comparison to anything I have played. In spite of this I still don’t think it’s as hard as the Huzzam which took me hours and hours to get to grips with the 3rd hanna and it’s still not really complete. In foresight, I imagine even attempting the first couple of bars of the Farahfaza fourth hanna would get one points in a performance! I am really enjoying the Haydar pieces though, and can see their importance in the development of the oud player. The farahfaza piece has really shown me some important context in how they develop the skill [mentality] of the player.

One thing that need to be done soon is to go through the model diary again and look at the finer elements which could guide my own version. I will continue to work on the Mahur and Farahfaza samais. Videos of the latter on the web are thin on the ground, but here is one which gives a nice rendition:

And the kanun in this version really helps to articulate the melody:

This second video helps me to consider how I may develop stylistics for this piece and others using tremolo. But also the speed of the piece is one which I really enjoy. Ehsan said slow was as much as a technique as fast.

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