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107 – The taqsīm 1



002--B, Memdouh Effendi, Higaz Kaman Aylah TaqsimThe Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR), in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), presents “Niāmunā al-Mūsīqī”.

Dear listeners,

Welcome to a new episode of Niāmunā al-Mūsīqī”. 

Today, and in our following episode, we will discuss one of the major aspects and characteristics of maqām music in general, and Arab Music in particular: the taqsīm.

The taqsīm is among the instrumental forms characterizing maqām music in general, and classical Arab Music in particular. It is an improvised form par excellence, fully relying on the performer’s mind and his relation to the tune. While improvised, it is also a form, as each taqsīm is necessarily improvised while an improvised form is not necessarily a taqsīm. If a performer memorized a certain taqsīm performed by another performer, he is then performing a piece he has decided to set/fix. But, if he aims to perform a taqsīm, the melodic result will surely be derived from his own mind even if it is a result of his experience and his practice of the tune.

The taqsīm is the third section of the Arabic maqām waṣla, following the instrumental istihlāl (bashraf or samā‘ī) and followed by the muwashsha. This rule does not apply to all maqām traditions: in the Turkish singing fāṣil for example, the taqsīm is the first section and precedes the instrumental work instead of following it. This difference leads to the diversity in the traditions of the maqām system as a whole.

Now back to the Arabic maqām waṣla:

The taqsīm section is supposed to be free from any cyclic rhythm, i.e. its rhythm is the rhythm of the internal measure of the phrase. The section comprises a taqsīm played by a solo instrument, followed by layālī and a mawwāl. We have detailed this section in previous episodes about the waṣla. The relation between the taqsīm section and the layālī section somewhat indicates that, in the layālī, the muṭrib improvises in vocal sections that are not meant to carry a linguistic meaning, as he deals with his voice as a source of melody that he does not use to convey any linguistic meaning.

When recording led to sectioning the waṣla because of the limited record duration, the taqsīm layālī section usually filled a whole record-side.

Among these recordings, here is a taqsīm layālī section to the bayyātī in the voice of ‘Abd al-Ḥayy Ḥilmī, accompanied by Ibrāhīm Sahlūn (kamān), and Muḥammad Ibrāhīm (qānūn), recorded around 1905 by Zonophone, daughter company of Gramophone, on one side of a 25cm record, order # X-102545, matrix # 7817b…


As noted, the taqsīm layālī is a dialogue between the voice and the instrument, built upon the instrument’s interpretation of the words uttered by the voice, and the voice attempting to talk to the instrument: the relation between both is a purely linguistic relation where the structure of the melodic phrase is based on the trochee’s measure of the language’s lyrics, not only the Arabic language, but all the languages where the trochee indicates the measure of the lyrics and poetry. 

As an example and in order to compare, let us listen to a taqsīm to the same maqām, played on the same instrument, i.e. the kamān. We will listen to a taqsīm to the ḥijāz played by Turkish kamān player Mamdūḥ Afandī recorded in 1903 also by Zonophone, order # X-107904, matrix # 496z, followed by a taqsīm to the same ḥijāz maqām performed by Arab kamān player Ibrāhīm Sahlūn, recorded less than 2 years later also by Zonophone, order # X-107908, matrix # 7808b.

Dear listeners, please compare the system of the melodic phrase with the melodic scansion in the taqsīm layālī section we listened to, observe the melodic motions, the modulations in the two taqsīma, the difference in the instrumental language, the close dimensions, and the unified melodic system…


The origin of the word taqsīm is apparently deep-rooted in the old Arab Music History. We are not implying the oldness of the taqsīm form itself, but the discussion around the origin of the word, i.e. why the word taqsīm was chosen for this form. Book “Al-Aghānī” and other books written in the Fatimid and the Abbasid eras mention the expression “word qisma (scansion) according to the key” or “poetry qisma according to the melody”. Book “Al-Aghānī”, for example, mentions that Ibrāhīm al-Mawṣilī was skilled in teaching singing to female singers who excelled under his tutoring in scanning poetry according to the voice’s melody. So, the issue of lyrics’ qisma according to the tune apparently evolved until it included the scansion of the melodic phrase itself… thus leading to a possible explanation of the secret behind naming this form “taqsīm”.

Taqsīm are either free or fālit, i.e. with no cyclic rhythm, or not –which we will discuss in future episodes, while we will discuss today free taqsīm, i.e. taqsīm with no rhythmic cycle. Again, the lack of a rhythmic cycle does not imply the lack of rhythm: the structure of the melodic phrase in maqām music is built upon the internal rhythm of a horizontal linguistic trochee that does not abide by a rhythmic cycle or by a vertical structure.

The secret behind the difference between taqsīm –even though it is fully improvised– and the other improvised forms, lies in the melodic rules that appeared with time, some of which can be described and explained, while most can’t be explained with words and can only be understood through practice and listening.

The taqsīm is a display of a certain tune and its etching by the performer in the mind of the listener, which can only happen if the performer is well-imbued with it through the memorization as well as the interpretation of many works with their different forms structured with this melody, and through listening to many of the performers who guided him, directly or not. In this manner, the performer can formulate a taqsīm to the tune of his choice, whether original, derived, sub, or compound.

Performing a taqsīm is similar to writing an article, eating a meal, or even praying: it is impossible to reach its core without an introduction or leave it without a conclusion, as it is a istihlāl that displays the pattern of the maqām calmly and following an ascending path, then a core displaying the maqām following an ascending path and a descending path in all its parts “root, trunk, branch, and peak” after which the instrumentalist can go to one of its sub-maqām in a display or in a transition. In the conclusion, the performer goes back to the origin of the maqām and its initial position following a process opposite to the structure process of the introduction.


Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī

Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī


As an example, let us listen to a ūd taqsīm to the rāst performed by Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī, recorded in the 1970s and published by awt al-Qāhira within a collection of 6 ūd taqsīm by Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī.


Dear listeners, we have reached the end of today’s episode of “Niāmunā al-Mūsīqī”. 

We will meet again in a new episode to discuss the different types of taqsīm.

“Niāmunā al-Mūsīqī” is brought to you by Mustafa Said.


  2015  /  Podcast  /  Last Updated April 16, 2015 by Amar  /  Tags:
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