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Pitch in Turkish Music

Dmitrie Cantemir (1673–1723) was the theorist who identified and categorized the pitches of the makam system, called perde, according to diatonic and chromatic. This way of conceiving of the makam system brings it more in line with other pitch collections, like Hindustani classical music or Western music. In this view, there are certain diatonic pitches and then there are the pitches which alter them.


According to Cantemir, the diatonic perde-s are: Yegah (D), Aşiran (E), Irak (one comma lowered F-sharp), Rast (G), Dügah (A), Segah (one comma lowered B), and Çargah (C). When represented on modern staff notation, the one-comma-lowered pitches are indicated with accidentals, but they are considered to be diatonic. There then begins a second octave from Neva (D), Hüseyni (E), Evc (one comma lowered F-sharp), Gerdaniye (G), Muhayyer (A), Tiz Segah (one comma lowered B), Tiz Çargah (C), Tiz Neva (D), and Tiz Hüseyni (E). The pitches are listed in modern staff notation along with their names and corresponding Arabic letters, which are what Cantemir used to label them.


While some makams have nicknames, Cantemir shows that the names of the makams derive from the names of the perdes that are used as final tones. For example, a melody using this pitch collection that ends on the Rast perde is the makam Rast; a melody that ends on Segah is makam Segah.


The chromatic pitches are divided into two kinds, those that raise one of the diatonic pitches (or sharps), and those that lower them (or flats). These pitches are further distinct from diatonic ones in that they cannot form the goal note of any melody. That role is reserved for the diatonic pitches. However, the makams that use these chromatic pitches are named for the pitch they feature. Of the flats, we have Acem, which is spelled as F-natural, Bayati, or E-flat, Saba, or D-flat, and Kürdi, or B-flat. Since then, more perdes have been added to the collection, including Hicazkar, or high A-flat, Arazbar, a one-comma lower E-flat, Hüzzam, 2 commas lower E-flat, and Araban, 4 commas lower E-flat.

Of the sharps, we have şehnaz, or high G-sharp, Mahur or high F-sharp, Hisar, or D-sharp, Hicaz or C-sharp, Buselik, or B-natural, and Zirgüle, or G-sharp.


For Cantemir, the perdes and their names are the key to understanding the makam system.

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