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Beginner Track

Let's start by listening to a song. "Ghannili Shwayya" is one of the all-time classics of Arabic music, from the 1945 film Sallama starring Umm Kulthum. The lyrics speak of the joys and importance of singing, which, apparently, can ease weary travelers, help one communicate with birds, cure the sick, put an enchantment on listeners, make girls dance, and bring the spirit world closer. Click below to play "Ghannili Shwayya:"

Ghannili Shwayya (complete recording)

You may have noticed that the melody moves through different moods, as well as different parts of the voice. Within the Maqam System, each melodic area/mood is called a "jins," (plural: "ajnas") and each one has a distinct character. The purpose of this website is to illustrate the structure of Maqam by breaking down each song into its ajnas. So now, listen again to the song by clicking on the play button next to the box below that says "Rast 1" (in some older browsers, the play button may not appear, but you can click on the colored box itself, which will take you to a player away from this page; just click the back button when the clip is over). Click on each jins in turn to follow the song: the names in the boxes ("Hijaz" "Bayati" "Nahawand" "Sikah" etc.) refer to the name of each jins.




















Now that you've listened to the song broken down in this way, what do you observe? Do you notice the similarity among the boxes with the same name (and the same color)? Go back and click on them to see if you can recognize the similarities and differences. It may not be immediately apparent to you, especially if you don't have familiarity with Arabic music.

There are three ways we can distinguish between the ajnas: 1. by mood (which is somewhat subjective), 2. by melodic content (each jins has particular melodies and melodic vocabulary associated with it; the more you develop familiarity with the repertory the more your ears will start to catch this vocabulary), and 3. by interval structure, which refers to the distance between the notes of the scale. It's not necessary to understand all 3 ways at once: some people will react more to changes in mood and melody, while others will gravitate toward noticing the differences in intervals. However, because Arabic music uses many different sizes of intervals that can be difficult to distinguish by ears not used to them, I have de-emphasized interval structure on this site, preferring to represent each jins as a closed box, and allowing users to find their own way to learn to recognize and identify each jins.

If you are still getting to know Arabic Music, I recommend using this site in two ways: Listening to whole pieces, as we did on this page, either by visiting the Song List and going to each song page, or by visiting the Analyses by Maqam and listening to all of the songs in a given maqam. And second, in parallel to that, you should visit the Basic Ajnas section which contains pages with audio samples of each jins used on the site, from different songs - so you can start to recognize each jins when it is used in different songs. Spending time in this way should start to develop an aural sense of each jins, which will be necessary if you want to take the further step of exploring the Theory and Analysis sections of the site.

If you want to train your ear for the interval differences between ajnas, the next pages have an Ear Training Quiz, followed by answers. For definitions of terms like "tonic," "scale degree," "interval," and "jins", along with audio samples to illustrate, visit the Glossary; for a guide on how to read the examples on this site, visit the How-To page. Good luck, and feel free to contact me with any questions!

For the Quiz, go to Ear Training Quiz

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