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.

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