Register and absolute pitch

Arabic music, unlike classical music of the western hemisphere, does not tend to establish a link between the note and an absolute pitch level with a specific number of vibrations.

Accidental signs

Especially in the performance of traditional Arabic music, the impact of regional musical schools in the interpretation of the Arabic maqamat is still clearly perceptible. Even if the maqam is fixed by notation through corresponding accidentals, the implementation underlies individual regional practices.

Setting text to music and pagination

Setting text to music gives rise to a specific Arabic problem. Whereas the notation, because of its European origins, is written from left to right, the Arabic text has to be written in the opposite direction. This problem has no satisfying solution up to now, especially as the Arabic script does not know single letters, but only ligatures, which cannot be broken up easily. Thus the first-time reader of such a songbook is usually confused and unable to read prima vista.

Likewise, the pagination of musical notation faces similar difficulties. There are even editions of scores, where the pagination of the music goes from left to right, following the notation, whereas the pagination for the text goes from right to left, following the direction of the Arabic script. Thus, each page has two different page numbers, which again is very confusing.

Rhythm: presentation of iqaat and metre (bar scheme)

When writing Arabic rhythms in notation, the problem of dealing with rhythmic embellishment occurs. These embellishments are usually improvised and different in every performance. Therefore, rhythmic notation has been limited to the infrastructure of the rhythm which does not reflect the musical reality. If a bar line is used to describe one unit of an Arabic rhythm, further problems arise because the bar scheme, due to its origin in European instrumental music, differs in many respects from the system of Arabic rhythms. Substantial evidence of misunderstanding of the bar used in Arabic music can be found in numerous academic textbooks.

Most importantly, preservation of musical identity must be top priority for users of musical notation. Notation is essentially a medium of transmitting thoughts, and thus the musical thoughts are the pivotal element which must be attended to and kept up, with all the other constituent elements placed in its service and not the other way around. What can be noticed nowadays in many recording studios is the misuse of notation as nothing more than a convenient short cut. The musician or player in the studio is performing his duties through musical notation only, without any idea of the musical work as a whole; often he does not even know whether he is supposed to play music for a belly dancer, a love-song or a national anthem. Unlike folk musicians, this type of player does not have any personal share in his performance; he also lacks contact with the other musicians in the group, takht in Arabic, because the instrumentalists and the singer usually do their recording separately, whenever their agendas permit. The instruments and the voice are recorded on different tracks and afterwards mixed together electronically. Thus, the original substance of Arabic music is lost. Many of today's commercial productions suffer from these blemishes as they hardly take the musical basics into account. Like medicine, notation is a mixed blessing. If used properly and opportunely, it may produce good effects. Otherwise, it may produce futile results which should be avoided.

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