online experimental and world music since 1996
feature article
village uprising
kinetik trance
warrior caste
miq productions catalog
miq productions store
The tuning of rebetika

Urban Greek music, historically, was based on a twelve note octave. As early as the time of Pythagoras, instruments were made that could play the twelve untempered pitch classes. In the Medieval and Renaissance eras, European church and secular music utilized modes such as the "Ionian" (Major) and "Aeolian" (minor), and developed several hundred different tuning systems centered around a cluster of 12 named pitches. However, Rebetika music is based less on European art music forms and more on Turkish and Arab folk and light classical repertoires.

Contemporary Egyptian music, for example, uses 24 equally spaced notes per octave, and Ottoman Turkish classical has a theoretical system with 53 notes to the octave (though in practice between 17 and 36 are actually used). Many of these "extra" notes, notes not played in Western music, appear frequently in Rebetika music.

Here is a chart of the notes that occur in rebetika music (arbitrarily beginning from the note G). There are 17 unique pitch classes per octave, and five of them have enharmonic equivalents (B flat and A sharp, for example), meaning that there are 24 uniquely written notes. My notation deliberately differs a bit from contemporary Turkish styles, because Smyrnaikan and rebetika groups used specific intonations for particular notes which don't have a convenient contemporary notated equivalent.

17 notes in Rebetika

In my notation, the backwards-flat is always a bit higher than the flat with a slash through it which is higher than a regular western flat; the single-line sharp is lower that a western sharp. The exact intonation of these intervals differed from group to group, perhaps depending on the instruments in the ensemble and the other music styles that that ensemble's musicians played.

Note: the 17 note system I present here should be read as a relative tuning system. Thus, based on the particularities of some instruments, one finds recordings where the base root is not G, but something lower or higher. The 17 note system still pertains, it is just not fixed to an exact pitch reference.

Melodic modes found in rebetika

In my studies of hundreds of rebetika songs, I have found that 35 makams are used repeatedly in rebetika music, and among those, there are "common" and "uncommon" ones. The most common ones are listed below:

makam Ussak/ Beyati
The most common mode of smyrnaiikan and early era rebetika music.

makam ussak/ beyati

makam Hüseyni/ Muhayyer
2 Turkish folk makams that are also found in Smyrnaiikan and early era rebetika music. A classic example of makam Hüseyni can be found in the song "Tha Spaso Koupes."

makam hüseyni/ muhayyer

makam Karcigar
Often used only as the ending phrase of a piece in Ussak or Hüseyni (as in "Ti Si Melli Esenane"), but pieces such as "Abodavli Ka Sou Maria" are entirely in Karcigar.

makam karcigar

makam Saba
The most common mode for improvised vocal solos known as amanes

makam saba

makam Hicaz
In later rebetika and in ensuing Greek popular music, the most commonly used mode. "Mangiko Mou" is a classic example.

makam hicaz

makam Rast
Rast is similar to Western major, except that the third note is a little flat from the Western major third. Also, Rast melodies never suggest I-IV-V-I harmony (there is a makam, Mahur, which is more like Western major, but is very rare in rebetika).

makam rast

makams Nikriz and Neveser (Neva Efza)
These two modes are quite common in Roman gypsy music, and later in Greek folk and rebetika music. The two modes frequently alternate - thus a piece in Nikriz will feature solos in Neveser (and vice versa).

makam nikriz
makam neveser

makams Huzzam and Segah
These modes feature a slightly flattened B as the tonic pitch. However, on lavta and guitar recordings, Segah may be played with a B natural. Many zembekikos are written in one or both of these makams (including, "La Xanades" and "Hanoumakia").

makam segah
makam huzzam

<-- previous section home next section -->



  © 1996-2013     web design by eliot bates