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Turkish Music

Melodic and Rhythmic Modes and Dance Performance Music

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Turkish Music is the music of a large number of people in many diverse locations who have been politically and culturally connected for a very long time. From the Turkish Music Portal:

The Turks are a huge group of people living over a very wide geographical area, who have founded or lived within many and diverse states, with widely varying ways of life. When we speak of Turkish musical history, it is especially important that we know which Turkish tribe's music we are talking about, and from which period. "

Turkish people, though connected to the Arabs both culturally and musically, have a separate history, culture and language, and therefore their music merits its own page.

Turkish Melodic Modes

  • In contrast to the Arabic makam, which use quarter-tones, or four notes per whole step, Turkish music divides each whole note into as many as seven tones. From the "Turkish music is a monophonic musical tradition founded on the principle of makam. Though the Turkish makams resemble the makam traditions of surrounding cultures, they contain their own unique characters of style and execution."
  • "Traditional music of Turkey has a big community of listeners, and the music is strongly related to the music of neighboring regions. For example, in Greece and Arabian countries music melodies of traditional music are often based on similar modal systems in Turkey. " -- Rhythmic Similarity in Traditional Turkish Music.

Turkish Rhythmic Modes

  • "Concerning rhythm, there is a correspondence in classes of rhythm found in Arabic music (iqa) and in Turkey (usul), and dances encountered in Turkey have influenced rhythms played in Greek Rembetiko music." -- Rhythmic Similarity in Traditional Turkish Music.
  • "In Turkish music, the usuls are referred to according to their names, not their meters. With an array of characteristics as broad and varied as the makams, the usuls of Turkish music are divided into two main groups: a) Minor usuls b) Major usuls. The minors are those of 2 to 15 beats. The majors are those containing from 16 to 124 beats." --
  • "Rhythm (usül)... is a basic element which, together with melody, forms Turkish music... There are a great many different Turkish time signatures, with measures from two to 88 beats... Each percussive sound in Turkish music has its own syllable. Combining these syllables gives rise to a rhythmic language, and can be understood as such." Shakir Ertek, Turkish Rhythms.
  • The syllables of Turkish rhythm are frequently written using the dum-tek terminology familiar to users of American Creole Dance Rhythm Notation, but with finer gradations of sound and duration. From Shakir Ertek:
    A low, long sound;
    A high, long sound;
    TE KE
    Two short sounds in the high register;
    TE KA
    One short and one long sound in the high register;
    TEK KA
    Two long sounds in the high register;
    TA HEK
    Two long sounds in the high register
  • "In Ottoman classical music, usul is an underlying rhythmic cycle that complements the melodic rhythm and sometimes helps shape the overall structure of a composition. An usul can be as short as two beats or as long as 128 beats. Usul is often translated as "meter", but usul and meter are not exactly the same. Both are repeating rhythmic patterns with more or less complex inner structures of beats of differing duration and weight. But a student learning Turkish music in the traditional mesk system first memorizes the usul kinetically by striking the knees with the hands. The student then sings the vocal or instrumental composition while performing the underlying usul. This pedagogical system helps the student memorize the composition while internalizing the underlying rhythmic structure. Usul patterns have standard pronounceable vocables built from combinations of the syllables düm, dü-üm, tek, tekkyaa, teke, te-ek, where düm, dü-üm indicate a strong low beat of single or double duration, and tek, tekkya, teke, te-ek indicate various combinations of light beats of half, single or double duration. Long usuls (e.g., 28/4, 32/4, 120/4) are compound metric structures that underlie longer sections of entire compositions." -- Wikipedia.

Mehterhane Bands

The Mehterhane (military bands) of the Ottoman empire, originating in 1289, were a distinctive component of the Ottoman Empire. Their functions included accompanying troops into battle to encourage courage in the Ottoman infantry. According to an article on Mehter Music in Saudi Aramco World, "Mehter musicians were a key part of the soundscape of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted from 1299 until 1923, dominating the middle East and reaching into Europe at its height. . . Europeans had many opportunities to hear mehter bands, for from the time the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 until 1699 -- a period known as the Turkish Wars -- they worked to extend their power into eastern Europe, bringing their musicians with them into battle. One can only imagine the impression it made on Europeans who had never heard a crashing cymbal and bass drum played together before. " The official Meterhane included Zurnas (similar to oboes), trumpets, kettledrums, bass drums, crash cymbals, and cevgan, a tall staff with bills attached, with seven to nine players of each instrument. The sultan's band included kos drums played by musicians on camels. Antione Galland described a kos as "larger than I have ever seen or heard, carried on camels. There was no one who was not only stunned by it, wbut whose whole body stirred inside out." European military bands and orchestras eventually adopted Turkish instruments; By the beginning of the 19th century, most military bands and popular orchestras in Europe included bass drums and cymbals. . . migrating mehter percussion sounds into the West while the mehter bands in Turkey were being dissolved and replaced with military bands based on the Western styles -- which now had mehter roots of their own.

Folk Dance Music by Region

Different Turkish folk dances from different regions call for different music.

Hora: Trakya, or Thrace: Music of S Bulgaria and NE Greece as well as E Turkey.

Kasik - karsilama: NW Turkey: Folk dance of NW Asia Minor and carried to Greece by refugees.

Ciftelelli: a rhythm and dance of Anatolia and the Balkans with a rhythmic pattern of 2/4.

Zeybek: W Anatolia: Agir (slow) has a pattern of 9/2 or 9/4; kivrak (fast) has a pattern of 9/8 or 9/16.

Halay: E, S.E and Central Anatolia. Probably the best known. Rhythmic structures can be complex.

Horon: from the Black Sea region, now modern Turkey. Derived from Greek circle dances. 7/16, 2/4, 5/8 and 9/16.

Bar : Eastern Anatolia: 5/8 and 9/8 occasionally 6/8 and 12/8.

Lezginka: aka Caucasian dances: shared by many ethnic groups in the Caucasus Mountains. The Georgian couple dances, with accrobatic martial male combinations and the women floating as though gliding through air, are the most familiar to Americans.

Kasik Oyunlar: Spoon dances.

Turkish Dance Performance Music

Artemis Mourat, writing on her web site:

  • A typical Turkish Oriental dance show will be comprised of selections from several different styles of music. The expression Oyun Havalari refers to dance music (usually Oriental dance music) and this is an umbrella expression for the styles of music that can be found within an Oriental dance show.
    • Arabesque music: a fusion form combining Classical Turkish music with Arabic music. Some of these songs have been used by Oriental dancers for many decades. The Turkish çiftetelli is often used and this version is in a medium to fairly fast tempo, existing in different styles of Turkish music, not just Oriental.
    • Roman Havasi music: Roman Havasi literally translates to Gypsy Music. This is composed by the world famous Rromany musicians of Turkey. It can include various 2/4, 4/4 and 9/8 time signatures.
  • The 9/8 time signature differentiates the most profound separation between Arabic Oriental music and the Turkish. Note that the 9/8 time signature is present in Turkey in the Classical music, the folk music and the Oriental music.
    • For Oriental dancers, this family of asymmetrical rhythms ranges from very slow to very fast. The preferred version in Turkey is a 9/8 where the accents are on the 1, 3, 5, 7, 8. We can credit Eva Cernik and the American drummer Brad Sidqi Sidwell for bringing the Rromany 9/8 to American dancers.
    • Up until very recently, there was another version of the 9/8 that was and is most familiar to American dancers who perform in the Turkish style or the so called, American Cabaret style. In this version the accented beats are the 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9. This version is rarely used in Turkey for dancers now but was almost exclusively played by the musicians in the United States on all the belly dance music records and in all the clubs in America.
  • In a Turkish Oriental dance show, the musicians include many of the musical sections that exist in an Egyptian Oriental show. There is a fast entrance and a fast finale and there are taqsims (improvisations that have no rhythm) and drum solos imbedded within the show. There are also some of the same 2/4 and 4/4 rhythms such as masmudi saghir (beledi), ayub and maqsum.
From Jasmin Jahal:

"[In comparison with Egyptian music, Turkish] music has basically the same rhythms, but often uses rhythms that Egyptian music does not, such as the chiftetelli and the karsilama (also known as kashlimar). Chiftetelli is slow and lends itself to flowing veil dances, snakey arm movements, and sensual floor work. In a way, it can be considered counterpart to the Egyptian takasim, the solo improvisational music played between various parts of a longer routine. The karsilama is an unusual 9/8 beat rhythm, counting 9 beats to the measure. Egyptian music never uses this rhythm. Getting used to recognizing the karsilama rhythm and to dancing to its lively feeling is a bit tricky.

"Turkish instrumentation also varies from that of Egyptian music. The bouzouki is played instead of the oud (the ancestor of the lute and guitar). More wind instruments are used, such as the clarinet."

In the past decade or so, Egyptian music has become more popular with Turkish dancers -- and when the music changes, so does the tenor of the dance. From Artemis Mouret's article on Turkish Dance: "Unfortunately now, many dancers in Turkey are imitating the Egyptian styling and they prefer the Egyptian Oriental dance music and also Arabic Pop music. This is affecting the dance in unfortunate ways. Dance is driven by music and the Arabic music has a different feeling to it, a different energy. When the Turkish dancers superimpose their dance onto the Arabic music, it loses the Turkish spirit. The popularity of the Egyptian styling is also resulting in a lack of finger cymbal playing so some dancers are losing touch with their musicianship. Unfortunately many Non-Turkish dancers now who are curious about Turkish style are watching Internet clips of this newer form of Turkish dance and they think that this is what Turkish style has looked like all along."


Maura Enright, 9/8 Rhythms, Web.

Maura Enright, American Creole Dance Rhythm Notation, Web.

Maura Enright, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Dance Rhythm Diagrams and Descriptions, Web.

Music Theory for the Oud,, Web.

Turkish Music Portal, Web.

Great collection of folk song melodies at

A map of Turkish Folk Dance origins
A map of Turkish folk dance origins. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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