The Classical music traditions of Turkish, Arabic and western music are all based on the same musical theories of scale building credited to the ancient Greek Pythagoras. Over the centuries, the three traditions followed a separate path of development, each of which is now recognized as a form of high art, but each with a distinct musical ‘dialect’. By the time of J.S. Bach, Western Classical music had developed into a system of tuning known as equal temperament, where the musical octave is divided into 12 equally spaced half-tones. These tones are visible on any piano or fretted guitar. Equal temperament enables Western composers to create works using complex harmonies and polyphony.


Arabic classical music went through an important period of early development during the 9th through the 12th centuries when the Arabs ruled large parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe. Arabic scholars made important contributions in studying and interpreting the works of the ancient Greeks. The Arabic system of modes known as MAQAMAT came out of these early studies. In the Arabic Maqamat, the octave is divided into 24 equally spaced Quarter-Tones. Classical Arabic composers show their skill in the development of these quarter-tones not through harmony or polyphony(as in the West), but through melody. To Western ears trained in 12 tone equal temperament, these quarter-tones can sound odd at first and are sometimes referred to as Micro-Tones.

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What are makams?