Pianos vs Stringed instrument

Pianos vs Stringed instrument

Postby qas86 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 6:35 am

Hi. On MaqamWorld I tried to use music stave and produce similar ajnaas but on piano keys. They do sound a bit different but I think this is because of the violin being able to being tuned.
Pls can you explain what steps are; quarter and 3/4 steps etc. Pls can you explain what a double flat is because on a piano/keyboard it is 1 whole note back. Eg double flat B is A. So what is the difference
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Re: Pianos vs Stringed instrument

Postby MaqamDemon » Tue Nov 05, 2013 10:51 am

You will never be able to get the correct tuning of the maqam scales on the piano. That is because the notes of the piano are tuned to Equal Temperament http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_temperament which is a tuning scheme that was developed for Western Music to enable modulation to all 12 chromatic keys.

The Arabic tuning system, on the other hand, is based on a Pythagorean scale http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_tuning - in other words, the fourths and fifths are perfect, or "Just," based on the harmonic frequency ratio of 3:2 (in the case of fifths) or 4:3 (in the case of fourths). This is unlike the tuning of the piano. The typical oud tuning is C F A D G C, and the correct tuning of those intervals is as I just described, with fourths (C to F, A to D, D to G, G to C) resonating perfectly. Fourths on the Piano don't resonate perfectly, instead they are based on an irrational frequency ratio, which is in fact 5 times the 12th root of 2.

The other notes of the Arabic scale, on the other hand, are variable culturally. Although we call them "half-flat" and "half-sharp," they are not precisely halfway between anything. Only in an Equal-Tempered scale (see above) are half-steps precisely equal to 1/2 of a whole step. In the Arabic scales, there are half steps and whole steps of different sizes, each of which must be learned by ear. The so-called "3/4" steps are in between the size of a "1/2" step and a "whole" step, but not exactly halfway. In Syrian music, the sikah note tends to be higher than the sikah note in Egyptian music. In certain maqamat, the sikah note is higher than in others. By my count, there are around 12 different notes in between the smallest half-step and the largest whole-step, so there's no way to fit all of those different notes on the piano.

The following podcast has audio demonstrating and discussing this issue in more detail: http://maqamlessons.com/analysis/media/PPerform_019_2007-02-02.mp3

String instrument that don't have frets, like the violin, viola, cello, bass, oud, etc. can achieve any possible note, just like the voice, and so they are very suitable to play Arabic music, since they can get all of the varieties of intonation used in that music.

Some Arabic Keyboards have the capability of playing quarter tones, but most of them are out-of-tune with the Arabic maqam scales as most traditional musicians play them, because those keyboards are actually based on the Equal-Tempered scale with quarter-tones added (and in that case the octave is broken down into 24 equal 1/4 steps). Although this scale was first theorized in the 19th century, at the 1932 conference of Arabic Music in Cairo, Egypt, it was demonstrated that this scale is out of tune with the scales actually used by Arab Musicians.

So my suggestion for anyone wishing to learn the arabic scales, who doesn't play a fretless string instrument like the violin or oud, or who isn't playing one of the other Arabic instruments designed to play the microtones used in the music, is to sing the scales. Match pitch with any source with your voice.

But avoid using a piano at all costs - it will train you to have bad intonation.
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http://www.maqamlessons.com
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Re: Pianos vs Stringed instrument

Postby MaqamDemon » Tue Nov 05, 2013 10:54 am

Double Flats are equivalent to using two flats, so lowering a tone by a whole step. However, the symbol on Maqam World (a flat with a slash through it) is actually a "half" flat, not a double flat. The "half" flat lowers a tone by a 1/4 step, but as I said above, it is not exactly a quarter step, rather it is roughly half the size of a "1/2" step, at a distance that must be learned precisely by ear.
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Re: Pianos vs Stringed instrument

Postby qas86 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 6:01 pm

Thanks that was very interesting but a bit too complicated for people like myself who didn't find music classes important or interesting then came to learn music later only to think how much was lost!

What advice do you give to such a person who wishes to learn Western music in order to learn Maqaamaat? As i do not really know what flat and sharp mean or steps etc. It is necessary or do we listen by the ear as in your classes?
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Re: Pianos vs Stringed instrument

Postby MaqamDemon » Tue Nov 05, 2013 10:24 pm

qas86 wrote:What advice do you give to such a person who wishes to learn Western music in order to learn Maqaamaat? As i do not really know what flat and sharp mean or steps etc. It is necessary or do we listen by the ear as in your classes?


I think you have it backwards. Western music is very different than Arabic Music - why do believe you must learn it to understand the maqamat? That is not the case. Many assumptions about Western music do not apply to Arabic music. If you found the comments above to be too complicated, I hope you take away the basic message: you cannot play the maqamat correctly on the piano, because it is not tuned properly for Arabic scales.

Yes, I suggest you focus on learning by ear. Listen, imitate, and repeat. This is the only correct way to learn the maqamat. The best way to start is to train your ear to distinguish among the various ajnas, to be able to identify their different character/mood/melodies. Start, on this site, with: http://www.maqamlessons.com/analysis/basicajnas.html and http://www.maqamlessons.com/analysis/beginnertrack.html.

If you feel that you really need to learn something about Western music to increase your general knowledge, then I strongly urge you to find a teacher or a class and take a few lessons, in order to grasp the basics. When you know very little, learning entirely on your own can lead you into more confusion, whereas a little guidance can be enormously helpful. But don't assume that everything you learn will apply correctly to Arabic music and the maqamat.
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