Ajnas (sets): Trichords, Tetrachords and Pentachords


Trichords
are sets of 3 notes, tetrachords are sets of 4 notes, and pentachords are sets of 5 notes. The Arabic word for these sets is
jins, plural ajnas [pronunciation of jins/ajnas], which means the gender, type or nature of something. In case of pentachords, the word 'aqd, plural 'uqud [pronunciation of 'aqd/'uqud], is also used. These sets are the building blocks for Arabic maqams.

It's possible and often practical to view a maqam as a collection of sets, as well as a collection of notes. Each maqam is made up two main ajnas (sets) called lower and upper jins. The lower jins is used to group or classify the maqam in a family (see Maqam Index classification by lower jins). In general the starting note of the upper jins is called the dominant note. A maqam also includes other ajnas (called secondary) which overlap the two main ajnas, and can be exploited during modulation.

Different Arabic music references define sets slightly differently. As with maqams, many sets are too archaic or rarely used. There is also disagreement about the length of each set (3, 4, or 5 notes), and some references simplify and standardize every set as a tetrachord.

In general all sets are defined as tetrachords unless there is a good reason not to. A set is a defined as a trichord when the next (4th) note is impossible to predict out of multiple choices, as in the Sikah and Mustaar trichords for example. Another reason to define a set as a trichord is when 3 notes are enough to convery its melody or mood. An example of this are the Ajam and Jiharkah trichords. Complex sets (containing other partial sets) are defined as pentachords, as in Nawa Athar and its variation Athar Kurd for example.

This following is a compiled list of the most commonly used ajnas (sets):

Trichords Ajam, Jiharkah, Sikah, Mustaar
Tetrachords Bayati, Busalik, Hijaz, Kurd, Nahawand, Rast, Saba, Zamzama
Pentachords


G clef B flat C D
1 tone 1 tone
 

Ajam Trichord Pronunciation

The Ajam trichord sounds very similar to the first 3 notes in a major scale in Western Classical Music, with the 3rd note tuned slightly lower. This makes it more mellow than a major scale. Some books represent this trichord as a tetrachord since the 4th note is almost always 1/2 tone away (E).

Sample Maqams: Ajam


G clef F G A
1 tone 1 tone
 

Jiharkah Trichord Pronunciation

The Jiharkah trichord sounds very similar to the first 3 notes in a major scale in Western Classical Music. The 3rd note is tuned slightly lower than the major scale, and even lower than in the Ajam trichord.

Sample Maqams: Jiharkah


G clef E half-flat F G
3/4 tone 1 tone
 

Sikah Trichord Pronunciation

One of the most common sounds in Arabic music. Some books represent this trichord as 3 different tetrachords, depending on the next possible tonal interval: 1/2 tone is called Huzam Tetrachord, 3/4 tone is called Iraq Tetrachord, and 1 tone is called Sikah Tetrachord.

Sample Maqams: Sikah, Huzam, Iraq


G clef E half-flat F # G
1 1/4 tone 1/2 tone
 

Mustaar Trichord Pronunciation

This is a very uncommon trichord. It a variant of the Sikah trichord, with the 2nd note raised by a 1/2 tone. Some books represent this trichord as 3 different tetrachords, depending on the next possible tonal interval: 1/2 tone, 3/4 tone and 1 tone.

Sample Maqams: Mustaar


G clef D E half-flat F G
3/4 tone 3/4 tone 1 tone
 

Bayati Tetrachord Pronunciation

One of the most common sounds in Arabic music. The tuning of the 2nd note (E) is slightly lower and more mellow than the E used in the Rast and Sikah sets.

Sample Maqams: Bayati, Husseini, Bayati Shuri


G clef C D E flat F
1 tone 1/2 tone 1 tone
 

Busalik (Buselik) Tetrachord Pronunciation

The Busalik tetrachord (sometimes called 'Ushaq) sounds very similar to the first 4 notes of a minor scale in Western Classical Music. The tuning of the third note is played lower than in the Nahawand tetrachord. This difference in tuning is about 1/9th of a tone (also know as a koma in Turkish msuic).

Sample Maqams: Ushaq Masri


G clef D E flat F # G
1/2 tone 1 1/2 tone 1/2 tone
 

Hijaz Tetrachord Pronunciation

One of the most common sounds in Arabic music. The E is tuned slightly higher than usual, while the F# is tuned slightly lower, in order to narrow down the 1 1/2 tone difference and make it more mellow.

Sample Maqams: Hijaz, Hijaz Kar, Zanjaran


G clef D E flat F G
1/2 tone 1 tone 1 tone
 

Kurd Tetrachord Pronunciation

The Kurd tetrachord sounds very similar to the first 4 notes in the Phrygian mode in Western classical music.

Sample Maqams: Kurd, Hijaz Kar Kurd


G clef C D E flat F
1 tone 1/2 tone 1 tone
 

Nahawand Tetrachord Pronunciation

The Nahawand tetrachord sounds very similar to the first 4 notes of a minor scale in Western Classical Music.

Sample Maqams: Nahawand, Farahfaza


G clef C D E half-flat F
1 tone 3/4 tone 3/4 tone
 

Rast Tetrachord Pronunciation

One of the most common sounds in Arabic music. Its 3rd note falls between a minor 3rd and a major 3rd in Western Classical Music.

Sample Maqams: Rast, Suznak


Partial Bayati on D
Tetrachord
G clef D E half-flat F G flat
3/4 tone 3/4 tone 1/2 tone
 

Saba Tetrachord Pronunciation

The first 3 notes are a partial Bayati tetrachord. Also notes 3 and 4 are usually used to start a Hijaz tetrachord.

Sample Maqams: Saba


Partial Kurd on D
Tetrachord
G clef D E flat F G flat
1/2 tone 1 tone 1/2 tone
 

Zamzama Tetrachord Pronunciation

This is a very uncommon tetrachord. The first 3 notes are a partial Kurd tetrachord. This is the Westernized version of Saba with the 2nd note changed froma quarter tone to a semitone.

Sample Maqams: Saba Zamzam


   
Hijaz on D
Tetrachord
Partial Nahawand on C
Tetrachord
G clef C D E flat F # G
1 tone 1/2 tone 1 1/2 tone 1/2 tone
 

Nawa Athar Pentachord Pronunciation

This pentachord is sometimes called Nikriz. The first 3 notes are a partial Nahawand tetrachord. Also the last 3 notes are usually used to start a Hijaz tetrachord. Some books represent this tetrachord as a pentachord with a G as the 5th note, in order to complete the Hijaz tetrachord.

Sample Maqams: Nawa Athar, Nikriz


Partial Kurd on D
Tetrachord
G clef D E flat F G # A
1/2 tone 1 tone 1 1/2 tone 1/2 tone
 

Athar Kurd Pentachord Pronunciation

This tetrachord is a variant of the Nawa Athar tetrachord, with the 2nd note lowered by a 1/2 tone. The first 3 notes are a partial Kurd tetrachord.

Sample Maqams: Athar Kurd


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