Network Demo Site: Playground

Welcome to the maqam playground [this is the main index of the network demo site]. This is a mini-version of the future site, designed to make its structure more comprehensible to new users. It presents 6 out of the 34 maqamat, and 8 out of the 31 ajnas, that will make up the full site. The maqamat are smaller here as well: Maqam Rast includes 9 ajnas, selected from the 18 which will be included on its page in the full version of this site. And not every jins includes an audio sample--explore and see which ones do! Despite the reductions, however, structurally the playground is identical to the future site, with the advantage of being small enough to find your way around in in a few minutes--so you can learn how the site mirrors the structure of the maqam system itself, before being overwhelmed by 353 ajnas presented on 65 different pages. There is no required starting point--either in this site, or in learning the maqam system. You can get to every point from every other. So start anywhere!

For a basic introduction on how to read the network demo site, visit the Network Demo Introduction page. If you are a beginner, or new to maqam, consult the Introduction and Glossary pages on the analysis site, as well as the Beginner Track and Ear Training Quiz there.

Note: This site is cross-tabbed with the Analysis site and the Rast Vocabulary site, via the navigation bar at the top of the page: e.g. Maqam Rast on this site links directly to the Maqam Rast page on the Analysis site, and vice versa. Jins Nahawand on this site links to Jins Nahawand sentences on the Rast Vocabulary site, and vice-versa.

Pick a maqam:

Or start with a jins:

Or Take the tour instead.

Or read below for an explanation of what's going on.

This site is intended for two purposes: As a pedagogical tool for learning the Arabic Maqam (melodic modal) system, and as a theoretical statement about the structure of maqam.

Learning Maqam Through This Site

As a pedagogical tool, the main content of the site when fully developed will contain hundreds of short lessons containing melodic phrases used in the maqam system, useful for practicing with and repeating. I found when I was a student, recording lessons in Egypt and Syria on mini-disc player (dating myself!), that I repeated only parts of the lesson over and over again; having to wade through all of the other material on the recording (including my own poor renderings when I answered my teachers) was an obstacle to using the recordings as well and as frequently as I would have liked. With that in mind, I make an effort with my own students to record for them all of the things I want them to practice in one chunk, at the end of the lesson, so they can access it more easily at home. The mini-lessons on this site-- a few phrases on each jins, as it occurs in different maqamat--are the equivalent of those recorded nuggets of content I make for my private students.

I call, you respond. I play or sing a melody, and then repeat it again, for you to sing or play along. Thus the lessons here are just like my classes. (And for that matter, just like the ordinary means of learning in any oral tradition.) The advantage of the means of presentation here is that rather than following one fixed path through a maqam, you are more free as a student to choose multiple pathways through the ajnas, by following whatever paths you wish through the network.


This site is not intended to present an authoritative version of maqam. It is intended to be used as one source out of many, for pedagogical purposes. For theoretical purposes it is meant as one valid version of the maqam system, and its lack of authority makes an intentional statement about the fuzziness of the boundaries around what may or may not be considered part of maqam.

Just as what is valid in one region doesn't exist in another, and what one musician does is not exactly like another, so I am trying to capture the idea of many forms of validity, all linked together by a network of musicians and listeners, changing gradually over time and across populations.

Using this site, you can choose to focus on one maqam. Or you can choose to follow one jins as it appears in different maqamat. Or you can compare and contrast the ajnas with each other, observing how the 5-note ajnas (Rast, Nahawand, Ajam, Nakriz, Athar Kurd) behave as compared with how the 4-note ajnas behave (Bayati, Hijaz, Kurd). I intend this website as your playground, to discover what you can about the maqam system; every pathway you follow is intended to teach a particular lesson about maqam, and has unique information not contained along other paths.

The audio content on this demo site (16 minutes total, divided among about 25 audio samples), though obviously much smaller than what the eventual full site will contain, is enough to give you the sense of how to work with the materials. Absolute beginners should find that the audio material here is enough to practice with for a few weeks, however. It is recommended that any practice of this section of the site be complemented by working with the analysis section of Maqamlessons, which analyzes 29 pieces to demonstrate the structure presented here.

A Theory of Maqam

This site is an analysis of maqam structure, in the form of a representation of the maqam system as a network of html pages. Each component of the site should be read as an analytical statement.

The most visible analytical statement to users familiar with Western music theory is that provided by the notated images of ajnas:

Rather than representing Jins Bayati as a tetrachord built from the four notes D, E-half-flat, F, G, I include several notes on either side of that central tetrachord. The B-half-flat and C below, and the A and B-flat above. This is because melodies in Jins Bayati do not stick to the central four notes, but use the surrounding notes as well. This idea is elaborated on, and demonstrated through song samples, in the Jins Baggage section of the Analysis site.

The central argument about jins presented on this website is that a jins is not a set of notes, but rather it is a collection of melodies. The way I've rendered these jins images is the best way I could present part of that idea in a notated sample. The big open note represents the tonic or home note; the smaller open note is the secondary note of emphasis (and the primary note for modulations), and the smaller notes on either side are the notes I believe should be included in the jins for melodic reasons (as will become apparent when you listen to the audio samples).

Another analytical statement is provided by the hypertext links among the pages (click on the site map to view the structure of all of those links), as well as by the network graphs on the maqam and jins pages. That statement is: the maqam system has a network structure in which the average path length between any two ajnas is small, in which some ajnas are more common and therefore serve as central hubs of the system (such as Jins Rast and Jins Hijaz) and some are rarer and therefore peripheral (such as Jins Ajam on the demo site). A central hypothesis behind this site is that the network structure contained within it cannot be reduced to simpler form; this is an argument I will develop further via a discussion of the mathematics of Information Theory. The point here is that the network graphs and the links are the analysis, rather than something to be analyzed and reduced further.

The most important analytical statement is that provided by the audio content itself. That statement is: we cannot provide a simple, stateable rule from which melody can be generated in a jins. Instead, melody is built from a finite discrete vocabulary of melodic phrases that must be learned one-by-one. Every jins has a unique collection of melodies--a finite set of what I like to think of as melodic words (whether you think of them that way or not, it is still necessary to memorize them one by one). Each phrase contains information not contained in other phrases (in other words, we can't just derive all the other phrases from one phrase and the operation of rules). I am not stating that there is no operation of rules whatsoever--longer melodies are indeed produced by the recombination of these shorter melodic phrases, subject to certain limitations, principles, and operations (i.e. rules). What I am stating is that the core of melody is a large but finite vocabulary of shorter melodic phrases that musicians learn by ear, store in memory, and access spontaneously, in order to produce the infinite variety of melody that actually occurs.

The means of access of those melody units in the mind are, I am arguing, mirrored by the structure of pathways provided by the links among pages of this site. A short pathway between pages on this site represents a modulation between ajnas that is straightforward and typical, and it is so because those ajnas are closely connected along a short pathway in the brains of musicians and listeners. So while the HTML structure is intended as a cognitive model for memory recall among practitioners of maqam, the audio content is the content to be recalled. In tandem, the statement being made is: 1. there is content to store, 2. musical structure is generated from accessing melodic content rather than from applying rules to notes, and 3. the means of access, the ease or lack thereof of access, and the paths of access, are the fundamental constraints on the grammar of Arabic melody.

As a storehouse of content, this site when fully developed will therefore be akin to a lexicon of a spoken language. But what kind of lexicon? I intend it as a dialect lexicon, along the lines of the Dictionary of American Regional English. In a sense, then, I align myself with those who aim to preserve the many spoken languages of humankind, but who also strive to preserve them in the forms in which they actually occur rather than in some idealized, purified form. It is in the idiosyncracies of a particular dialect that we learn the most about Language.

Site Code

This site is coded in standards-compliant HTML and CSS for the sake of clarity. If one fundamental analytical statement made here is that a network of inter-linked html pages can accurrately represent something about the structure of maqam impossible to present in linear or print format, then part of that statement's justification is the code itself. In other words, I have written my analysis of maqam in HTML rather than in English or Arabic or another spoken or written language (the English text contained in the site is an explanation and translation of that analysis rather than the analysis itself). Clear and consistent hand-coding has therefore been one of my priorities.

It is my further goal to re-code this entire site in PHP and MySQL for its second generation, which will expand beyond my own musical contributions, and invite users to add recordings and analyses of ajnas and maqamat. The point of this, beyond the obvious value for students of having multiple versions of each jins to listen to and learn from, will be to build a dynamic database that will enable a large statistical analysis of the maqam system, in order to more closely determine some properties of the network in aggregate. This current HTML site is therefore the draft of an analysis of maqam in the language of PHP. It is because maqam, like spoken language, is an evolving and changing system (with different ajnas and different melodies becoming more or less important over time and across different populations), that a more accurate analysis can be written in the dynamic language of PHP rather than in the static language of HTML, and it will need a well-organized database to draw musical content from.