Disadvantages of musical notation

If wrongly used, notation can cause damage to the musical structure, especially when it is applied without awareness of the fact that it has been borrowed from alien cultures which once developed it for completely different purposes.

As has been seen, the western composer tends to specify every musical detail of his work with the help of pre-script notation. This is a necessity, especially when the music is to be distributed among various instruments and/or polyphonic voices, to secure an accurate performance.

Therefore, musicians who want to perform such compositions are trained to adhere strictly to the given notation in their performance of the musical work. They are often explicitly discouraged from introducing any improvisation. A good player is regarded as the one who literally implements what is written for him by the composer.

The circumstances of Oman's local music are in clear contrast to this. A good player tends to express his musical identity through personalized, individual additions to the original work, reflecting his own musical background and technical skills. Hence, the extreme importance of improvisation, taqasim in the Arab World, as it enables the player to demonstrate his individual capabilities in dealing with the given melody or maqam and his mastery of his musical instrument at the same time.

Likewise, in singing, the two genres of mauwal and layali have always been the yardstick for determining the singer's musical ability and voice potential.

Thus the use of modern western notation by nations to whom it represents an integral part of the musical heritage must be set apart from its use by nations which have borrowed it from external sources, which typically causes a sense of 'uneasiness'. Many things, which in the original musical surroundings are taken for granted, can present problems when they are moved to a foreign musical environment, e.g.

w   The term 'original' in Arab music
w   Register and absolute pitch
w   Accidental signs
w   Setting text to music
w   Pagination
w   Rhythm: presentation of iqaat
w   Meter (bar scheme)

Arabic music is closely linked to live performance, rather than to a theoretical compositional concept. Therefore, the piece actually played or sung is highly important. Even the melody maker himself, mulahhin in Arabic, who is the creator of the musical work, hardly expects each player or performer to reapply the same rules every time he performs. In vocal or instrumental performance, both the singer and instrumentalist are expected to make their personal contribution to the work at hand. Umm Kuthum, the famous singer, was well known for her additions to the text and the melodic improvisations during her performances. Not only was this permissible but desired, expected and appreciated by both audience and melody makers, as well as the song-writers themselves. Here, the term 'original' acquires a new meaning: in conventional Arabic, there is no 'original' in the western sense of the word, as the piece of music undergoes changes from one performer to another, without violating the melody maker's or song writer's expectations. Arabic musicians cannot stand the idea that live music is visually represented by a musical score on paper. Rather, their idea of music is typically associated with the process of listening or playing.

This site is designed and maintained by Oman Electronic Network.
Copyright © 2002 Ministry of Information. All rights reserved.
Copyright of all photographs belongs to the Ministry of Information from whom permission must
be sought for use in any other format, i.e. whether this be in a printed or electronic form, or in a retrieval system