Melody and Rhythm

This is a brief collection of notes on Turkish ethnic music collated from various books, websites and CD booklets and based on listening to dozens of archival recordings.  I found that knowing a little bit of the context of the music (classical, religious, popular, folk, etc...) helped me to appreciate the music a bit more. I divide traditional Turkish music into 4 broad categories, but they actually intersect, since a folk tune may easily become a modern tune, and a classical movement can become the basis for a folk tune, etc...

     Before describing the types of Turkish traditional music it may be helpful (but not required) to know a little bit about the unique melodic and rhythmic elements of the music.

Turkish Melodic Structures - The Makam
     Turkish music is largely heterophonic (single line melodies played by 1 or more instruments with expressive variation) and uses melodic structures called makams.  There are over 600 makams defined, but only 20 are in large use. A maka…

Classical Music

Turkish Classical music is sometimes divided into 2 categories:
Klaşık Turk Muzigi (Classical Turkish Music)– "court music" from 1299-1922 (Ottoman Empire)Turk Sanat Muzigi (Turkish Art Music) - music after 1922 (intersecting with post-50s Modern Music)
     Ottoman court music is heterophonic.  A chamber instrumental ensemble with vocalist(s) performs suites called fasıl, typically 4 instrumental and 2-3 vocal forms.  All of the movements in a particular fasıl are in the same makam (mode).  A fasıl's vocal selections sometimes begin with slower works and end with faster, more well-known songs (şarkı).

Basic Fasıl movements:

Peṣrev - an instrumental prelude with a major usul stretching over many measures.  It is structured as 4 hane (movements) each followed by a teslim (refrain).  The first and last hane (as well as the teslim) use the named makam, but the other hanes can modulate to other makamlar.  There is a semi-cadence pause (yarım karar) at the end of each hane. 


Folk Music

A Turkish folk song, called Türkü, is microtonal, but does not always use a specific makam.  The scale is generally between 4 and 15 tones.  Rhythmically complex mixed meters are common. Türkü are played at weddings, funerals and special festivals. Tavir is a term to describe different regional instrumental styles, and Agiz describes different regional vocal styles.  Melodically, ayak is the folk analogue of the makam, except that they have less formal rules regarding melodic development. These folk modes include Kerem ayagi, Garip ayagi, Müstezat ayagi, Besiri ayagi etc.

Major forms of Turkish Folk Music (Türk Halk Müziği):

Uzun Hava ("long air") – un-metered laments/ballads, no regular rhythm, based on traditional patterns
      - Hoyrat - quatrains often contain allusions and plays on words
      - Maya - very common, sung in free form after an instrumental introduction, which may be rhythmic.  Repeating instrumental break between verses
      - Bozlak - a musical cry…

Religious and Modern Music

The Mevlevi are a Sufi offshoot of Islam and their ritual music is known as Mevlevi Sufi Music.  It's most prominent feature are the Whirling Dervish dancers who spin during the Mevlevi sema ceremony.  The musical suite which accompanies a sema is called an ayin.  An ayin progresses as follows:
Holy Koran – chanted by the Hafiz Rast Naat (Na’t-I Serif) - The Naathan itrî (solo singer of naats) chants the rast naat (praise for the Islamic prophet Muhammad, written by Sufi writer Rumi)Baş Taksim - The Neyzenbasi (head ney (flute) player) plays a rather long taksim (improvisation) in the makam of the ayinPeşrev1st selâm (greeting) - sung by the Ayinhans (singers)2nd selam, in the usul Agir Evfer (also known as the Mevlevî Evferi)3rd selâm, in the Devr-i Kebir, Aksak Semâi and Yürük Semâi usuls.4th selâm, in the Agir Evfer usul.Last (son) peşrev and last yürük semâî.Last taksim (son taksim)Recitation from the Qu'ran and a prayer by the Sheikh (Gulbang)
A sema is often preceded…