Maqamat on harmonica

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The harmonica is an instrument that is well suited to play oriental (arabic/turkish/persian, but also indian) music styles.

Known harmonica players that play oriental music are, e.g., Roland van Straaten, Howard Levy, Jason Rosenblatt, Jantso Jokelin.

A little surprising is, however, that one property of the harmonica that might be called essential for oriental music, its natural ability to play microtones, seems to be hardly ever used.

This page documents some of the arabic maqam scales that can be played on standard harmonicas, especially those maqamat with neutral seconds and/or thirds, which are impossible to approximate in 12edo. Quite a number of them can be played without too much difficulty on a standard diatonic harmonica, with the standard "bending" playing technique alone. Others require the more advanced playing technique of overblowing and/or a harmonica witih a non-standard tuning. A number of special harmonica tunings are commercially available. Examples that are interesting with respect to maqamat are Steve Baker special tuning, spanish tuning, country tuning.

This list is, of course, far from being complete.

As the author of this page is still exploring this realm, the musical examples on this page inevitably must be labeled "amateurish attempts". In case so many amateurish attempts make you sick, go to the website of one of the guys listed above - or do a web search for one of them.

The categorization of the maqamat below follows http://www.maqamworld.com .


Ajam family

Ajam, Shawq Awza

Ajam and Shawq Awza do not contain neutral intervals and as such can be approximated in 12edo (Ajam will appear as a diatonic major scale then). But harmonicas can serve if a more subtle intonation is desired, taking into account that the major third of the Ajam tetrachord is slightly lower than the major third of 12edo.

Both Ajam and Shawq Awza scales with a major third slightly lowered can be played on standard diatonic harmonicas on third position (starting on D on a C harmonica) and on 12th position (starting on F on a C harmonica). With the overblowing playing technique, on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica), too. With the bending playing technique alone, Shawq Awza including the slightly lower major third can be played on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica) on harmonicas in spanish tuning, Ajam on harmonicas in spanish tuning, Steve Baker special tuning and country tuning.

Jiharkah

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a Jiharkah scale on first position, starting on C on a C harmonica (without the possiblity to lower the major third).

Jiharkah scale, first position on a standard diatonic harmonica in Bb (amateurish attempt)

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning, spanish tuning and country tuning allow to play Jiharkah also on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica) - and with the possibility to lower the major third.


Bayati family

Bayati

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a full Bayati scale on 4th position (starting on A on a C harmonica) and on 5th position (starting on E on a C harmonica).

A phrase in maqam Bayati, fifth position on a standard diatonic harmonica in Bb (amateurish attempt)

With the overblowing playing technique, standard harmonicas can play a full Bayati scale also on first (starting on C on a C harmonica), second (starting on G on a C harmonica) and 12th position (starting on F on a C harmonica).

Bayati scale, second position with overblow on a standard diatonic harmonica in C (amateurish atempt)

With the uncommon playing technique of upward bending, standard harmonicas also can play a full Bayati scale on 8th position (starting on C# on a C harmonica). (A little difficult.)

Bayati Shuri/Karjighar

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a Bayati Shuri scale on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica) and on 5th position (starting on E on a C harmonica).

Bayati Shuri scale, fifth position on a standard diatonic harmonica in Bb (amateurish attempt)

With the overblowing playing technique, standard diatonic harmonicas can play Bayati Shuri also on first position (starting on C on a C harmomica) and on 4th position (starting on A on a C harmonica)

With the uncommon playing technique of upward bending, standard harmonicas also can play a full Bayati Shuri scale on 8th position (starting on C# on a C harmonica). (A little difficult.)

Husseini

Standard harmonicas cannot play a full Husseini scale with standard bending playing technique alone.

With the overblowing playing technique, standard harmonicas can play a full Husseini scale on first position (starting on C on a C harmonica) and on 12th position (starting on F on a C harmonica).

With the uncommon playing technique of upward bending, standard harmonicas can play a full Husseini scale on 8th position (starting on C# on a C harmonica). (A little difficult.)

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning and country tuning can play a full Husseini scale on 4th position (starting on A on a C harmonica) with standard bending technique alone.

Husseini scale, 4th position on a harmonica in Steve Baker special tuning in F (amateurish attempt)


Nahawand family

Ushaq Masri

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play an Ushaq Masri scale on third position (starting on D on a C harmonica) - including the lower minor third (lower than the "usual" minor third of western music and of Nahawand).

Ushaq Masri scale, 3rd position on a standard harmonica in C (amateurish attempt)

With the playing technique of upward bending, standard harmonicas can play Ushaq Masri also on first position (starting on C on a C harmonica). (A little difficult.)

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning, spanish tuning and country tuning allow to play Ushaq Masri (without the lower minor third) also on fourth position (starting on A on a C harmonica).

Harmonicas in spanish tuning allow to play an Ushaq Masri scale, including the lower minor third, also on 12th position (starting on F on a C harmonica).

Ushaq Masri scale, first position on a harmonica in spanish tuning in C (amateurish attempt)


Rast family

Rast/Yakah/Yekah

Standard diatonic harmonicas can play a full Rast scale, both ascending and descending (which is different!), on first position (starting on C on a C harmonica), but only in the third octave (highest range of the harmonica). (A little difficult.)

In the lower ranges (first and second octave), standard harmonicas can play certain phrases in maqam Rast but not the full ascending scale - not with the bending playing technique alone, to be precise. The descending form is possible on second position (starting on G on a standard harmonica) and third position (starting on D on a standard harmonica).

With the overblowing playing technique, standard diatonic harmonicas can play a full Rast scale, both ascending and descending, on 11th position (starting on Bb on a standard harmonica).

Rast scale, ascending and descending, on 11th position on a standard harmonica in C, with overblows (VERY amateurish attempt)

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning, spanish tuning and country tuning allow to play a full Rast scale, both ascending and descending, on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica).

Rast scale (ascending and descending), second position on a harmonica in spanish tuning in C (amateurish attempt)

Rast scale (ascending and descending), second position on a harmonica in Steve Baker special tuning in F (amateurish attempt)

Suznak/Suzinak

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a Suznak scale on third position (starting on D on a C harmonica) and on 12th position (starting on F on a C harmonica).

Suznak scale, third position on a standard diatonic harmonica in Bb (amateurish attempt)

Harmonicas in spanish tuning allow to play a Suznak scale also on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica).

Nairuz

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a full Nairuz scale on third position (starting on D on a C harmonica).

Harmonicas in spanish tuning allow to play a Nairuz scale also on 12th position (starting on F on a C harmonica). Standard diatonic harmonica can do this, too, using the overblowing playing technique.

Nairuz scale, third position on a standard diatonic harmonica in C (amateurish attempt)

Mahur

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a full Mahur scale on third position (starting on D on a C harmonica) and on 12th position (starting on F on a C harmonica).

A Mahur phrase, third position on a standard diatonic harmonica in C (amateurish attempt)

In the third octave (highest range of the harmonica), it is also possible on first position (starting on C on a C harmonica).

A Mahur scale on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica) is possible on a standard diatonic harmonica using the overblowing playing technique.

Mahur scale, second position on a standard diatonic harmonica in C, with overblowing (VERY amateurish attempt)

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning, spanish tuning and country tuning allow to play a full Mahur scale on second position (starting on G on a C harmonica) with the bending playing technique alone.


Hijaz family

Hijaz

The Hijaz-Rast (ascending) form of the maqam Hijaz can be played on a standard harmonica on first position (starting on C on a C harmonica) with the bending technique alone.

With the overblowing technique, a Hijaz-Rast scale can also be played on 12th position (starting on F on a standard harmonica).

[Todo subtleties concerning second and third note]

[Todo non-standard tunings]

[Todo examples]

[Todo Hijaz-Nahawand (descending) form]


Saba family

Saba

The first form of Saba (repeating at the octave) can be played on standard diatonic harmonicas on 4th position (starting on A on a C harmonica) and on 5th position (starting on E on a C harmonica).

On 4th position (starting on A on a C harmonica), it is also possible to play the second form of Saba (not repeating at the octave).

On 5th position (starting on E on a C harmonica), the scond form of Saba is only possible using the overblowing playing technique.

The overblowing technique enables you also to play both the first and the second form of Saba on second position (starting on G on a standard harmonica) and first position (starting on C on sa standard harmonica).

Saba scale (first form), fifth position on a standard diatonic harmonica in Bb (amateurish attempt)

Saba scale (second form), 4th position on a standarddiatonic harmonica in C (amateurish attempt(


Sikah family

Sikah

Full Sikah scales cannot be played by standard diatonic harmonicas.

Harmonicas in spanish tuning can play a full Sikah scale, both ascending and descending (which is different), on "sort of" third position (starting on D half-flat on a C harmonica).

Sikah scale (ascending and descending), "sort of" third position on a harmonica in spanish tuning in C (amateurish attempt)

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning allow to play a full Sikah scale (ascending and descending), on "sort of" 6th position (starting on B half-flat on a C harmonica).

Sikah scale (ascending and descending), "sort of" 6th position on a hamronica in Steve Baker special tuning in F (amateurish attempt)

Huzam/Rahat El Arwah

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a full Huzam scale on "sort of" 4th position (starting on A half-flat on a C harmonica)

Huzam scale, "sort of" 4th position on a standard diatonic harmonica in Bb (amateurish attempt)

Iraq

Full Iraq scales cannot be played by standard diatonic harmonicas.

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning can play a full Iraq scale on "sort of" 12th position (starting on F half-sharp on a C harmonica).

[todo example]

Bastanikar

Standard diatonic harmonicas allow to play a Bastanikar scale on "sort of" 12th position (starting on F half-sharp on a C harmonica).

[todo example]

Mustaar

Full Mustaar scales cannot be played by standard diatonic harmonicas.

Harmonicas in Steve Baker special tuning, spanish tuning and country tuning can play a full Mustaar scale on "sort of" 12th position (starting on F half-sharp on a C harmonica).

[Todo example]


Longer examples

Acemli Yegah Peșrev by Dimitrie Cantemir and Kantemiroğlu Edvarı (amateurish attempt). Score