top of page

Makam (Mode)

A makam actually has two definitions: an individual melody centered on a diatonic pitch and a terkip (combination) as a group of makams arranged in order to create a desired musical effect.This second meaning is what we refer to when we say that a song is in this or that makam.


This desired musical effect depends on the following factors: starting pitch (agaze) and subsequent melodic path (seyir), the use of characteristic melodies (nağme) associated with a certain makam, emphasis given to any particular perdes, and finally the cadence (karar).

Returning to Cantemir’s pitch collection, we see that it roughly comprises two octaves: one from Yegah to Neva, and another from Neva to Tiz Neva and extending by one note to Tiz Hüseyni. If my melody begins in the lower octave, I will have a rising seyir. This is true for the pitches Irak, Rast, Dügah, Segah, and Çargah. Aşiran and Yegah, function primarily as melodic perde-s in the lower register.


These perde-s will form the starting point of the melody (agaze) as well as the cadence (karar). Any perde from this collection can work in the melodic path (seyir), although there will often appear one of the characteristic melodies (nağme) associated with that particular mode (makam). Here is an example of some of the characteristic melodies associated with the makam Rast.


Melodies A, B, and C all point to the perde Rast. They each have certain directions and intervallic content that remain consistent whenever they appear in a composition or an improvisation. Melodies D and E point to the perde Neva. These melodies are used in passages that establish the makam Pençgah by cadencing on Neva. These melodies may or may not appear in a piece of music in makam Rast, but they help to guide the listener in identifying Rast because of their deep association with that particular makam.

Below is an analysis of a song in makam Rast, by Abdülkadir Meragi (1360–1435), including identification of makam-s, starting and ending perde-s, and characteristic melodies.


If my melody begins on Neva or Hüseyni, I will have a seyir that hovers in the middle register but ultimately descends to cadence on one of the pitches in the lower octave.

Yine baglandi dil.png

Finally, if my melody begins on Eviç, Gerdaniye, or Muhayyer, I will have a seyir that descends. All the pitches above Muhayyer function as melodic perdes in the upper register.

Feryada ne hacet.png

Turkish makam is therefore a lot like other modal traditions, like Hindustani classical music. This is because a mode’s identity depends on a number of features of melodic construction. In Turkish music, these features help to bring out each individual makam’s characteristics to the point where the listener can say for certain which makam they are hearing and enjoy the process. I hope you will, too.

bottom of page