Classical Arab Music


Diverse factors define a person, community, or groups conforming to different ideals. Cultural practices are the most noticeable attributes, which distinguish groups from each other. An example of a cultural factor, used to characterize communities, is music. The classical Arab music is a one of the most distinct features of the Arab community. It is noteworthy that the music is characteristically unique with rich message content; furthermore, it is very entertaining.

It is worth mentioning that the musical instruments are peculiar since different musicians play them with the intention of matching diverse settings and occasions. In as much as examining the Arab classical music is interesting, it is necessary to focus on the instruments, its association with culture and religion, composers, performance venues and notations.


Different instrument in the classical setting show the uniqueness of the music. An example is the ensemble, which is synonymous to the takht in Arabic. It constitutes four instruments known as the nay, violin, qanun, and a percussion called riq (Frishkoph, 2009). These instruments have changed over time from the traditional ones, which they used to play.

However, they still possess many similarities in their modes of operation especially, upon reference to diverse pieces of music. For instance, the riq was common in the traditional musical instruments; however, a frame drum commonly known as daff or table replaces it. Apparently, the violin also came to replace the traditionally used kamanjah and jawzah.

Like other aspects of human life, musical devices from other regions across the world have replaced those used in the customary classical Arab setting. This is because the electric guitars and piano are increasingly common in the classical music (Randel, 2003). An example is evident in setting of the drum, which has embraced westernized classical style.

A characteristic, which sets the classical music apart, is evident in its harmonious coexistence with diverse instruments. Apparently, the flutes are useful since they make it simple to control the pitch especially when experienced artists blow them. These flutes aid in enhancing harmony between the instruments, vocal capabilities and among the various instruments.

‘Classical Arab music and culture’

As evident in other cultures, the classical Arab music is a distinct feature of the Arab culture. However, it is consistently subject to dilution by foreign cultures together with the commercialization process. Evidently, the classical are currently mixtures of traditional Arab music such as Tarab and pop music (McCauley & Tim, 2009).

For instance, Tarab music enhanced maturity as evident in its deep messages but the modern Arab music portrays abuses and vulgar language. Interestingly, some of the traditional classical Arab melodious events have lost their meaning. The Andalusian music which had a conventional Arabic dialect is absent in the contemporary classical Arab music.

The classic Arab music enhances cultural continuity among the Arab community (Radan, 2008). Apparently, dissimilar groups of people basing on age and sex enhanced classical performances. Therefore, traits associated with each age group and sex was propagated by music.

Consequently, this process was instrumental in enhancing cultural practices regardless of the challenges by the immigrants entering the native Arab regions. Initially, the westernized music was subject to rejection in native Arab regions; however, it is slowly gaining ground and overtaking the customarily acknowledged classical music.

An additional sign that the invasion by foreigners has led to diminishing significance of the classic Arab music is evident in changing fortunes for the classical. Either the cultural events when the music was played are non-existent or meaningless (Radan, 2008). However, some of the regions with high populations of traditionally settled Arabs such as the “North Africa, Central Asia, and Near East” still exude the cultural aspects of the classic Arab music.

Although such changing fortunes of the classical music diminish the focus of cultural aspects, some genres such as Tarab have significant and continuous influence on the Arabic culture. This is because the music has gained attractiveness in other regions and cultures especially among Arabs.

‘Classical Arab music and religion’

The classic Arab music conveys religious messages, which are mostly in praise of traditional gods, and in other cases, Allah. It is evident that Arabs abide to the Islamic religion thus the music praises Allah. However, there are the traditional groups, which believe in other gods, and so the religious classic Arab music portrayed messages praising the gods. Music such as the maqam rast has been existent for a long time; furthermore, it poses strong religious messages (Randel, 2003).

The religious Arab communities defend the music thus generations from these regions grow up respecting it. This is a culture, which needs preservations with the intention of appreciating diverse musical aspects. It is evident that they believe their music has both cultural and religious values essential for the up bringing of children. Most importantly, the music holds more value than just entertainment.

‘Genres of classical Arab music’

The classic Arab music is divisible into two major genres. This is regardless of the fact that other genres exist. The two major genres are the secular music, which is mainly for musical artistry, and sacred music, which mainly serve religious purposes. It is noteworthy that the dulab is one of the genres aligned to secular music.

Its major characteristic incorporates short pieces of instrumentals. This genre of music prepares the singer to embrace other musical aspects especially the maqam. The maqam is played in different Arabic regions such as Egypt and Turkey in distinct ways (Frishkoph, 2009).

Taqsim is an additional minor genre; however, it applies in worldly and sacred music. It does not have a specified rhythm and lacks meter. The musicians perform along the features of the given maqam thus giving them the freedom to improvise as they sing (Frishkoph, 2009). Apparently, Taqism is a prelude when singing an earlier composition or as postlude in the end of a song or instrumental.

It is also used to interlink, or as an interlude, when joining two dissimilar vocals in a song. This genre is thus preferred when many artists are performing in the same place, which is a characteristic of the classic Arab music. Finally, it allows the different performers to introduce their music in harmony and end the music in a way that performers can start in a seemingly unified note.

Prominent composers

There are many classical Arab music composers, but their prominence is mainly in the places where the Arab music is evident or played. It is noteworthy that these composers are popular in regions where the classic Arab music is trendy. This is usually in line with their livelihood since music is their major source of funds.

One of the most prominent classical Arab musicians is Marwan Abado who has his roots in Palestine. His taqism is recognizable due to its unique inspirational characteristic and the criticism to the Palestinian politics (National Geographic Society, 2003). Some of his songs such as kabila have won awards on many occasions. This is regardless of the claims that his music constitutes his lifestyle.

An additional prominent composer is Rahman who originates from India. He is recognizable as talented artist who has been involved in music as well as film production. “His classical Arab music such as Roja won major awards such as the Times awards for the ten best soundtracks” (National Geographic Society, 2003). His music is merged with soul and jazz making it gain international audience. The music has been as soundtrack for various films in Asia and other regions in the world.


Unlike the twelve notes chromatic scale, which is common in the western music, classic Arab music uses a 24-note diwan. The twelve notes are subject to disconnection by half sharp and half flat thereby giving a twenty-four note melodic scale. The quarter notes are evident between the natural note and a sharp note or amid the natural and flat note.

This differs slightly from the scales used in the western compositions. For instance, there is a disparity in sound for the same quarter note because it varies depending on the maqam. Evidently, the E flat in maqam bayati is lower than the same note in maqam rast. This is different from the western music where similar notes have the equivalent sound even when played in other songs (Randel, 2003).

Current trend in the classical Arab music

Classic Arab music has gained popularity as evident in history. The core of this music is in Cairo, Egypt but it is also popular in most of the Arab nations (McCauley & Tim, 2009). The trend is changing since the music is now popular in other parts of the world where it used to be non-existent. It is a fact that numerous individuals have begun appreciating this music. As a result, it proponents claim that it rich cultural value might have fanned its rise in popularity.

This is mainly because the customary classic Arab music fuses with music from other places in the world. The combination attracts the attention of the people from other regions such as America and the Europe since the music used to be rare. Tarab incorporates other types of music such as jazz and pop thus attracting a wider audience for the Arab music. Most importantly, the blending of this music with others from different parts of the world has increased its popularity and appreciation (Spector, 1970).

It is also worth noting that the classic Arab music has not only changed by allowing infusion with other types of music but also changing the languages used in the music (Frishkoph, 2009).

Though most of the songs have an Arabic dialect, the new music uses other languages such as English. It is thus simpler for people from other region to understand the music, which has helped in boosting its popularity. One of the best ways to draw audience in art is to enhance comprehension. For this reason, the classic Arab music has continued to gather a larger audience in the globe.

Performance venues

One of the most common performance venues is the “Wayne State University where the Michigan Arab Orchestra Takht Ensemble holds regular performances by internationally recognized musicians” (McCauley & Tim, 2009). This year the will be a performance by the “Michigan Arab Orchestra on April”.

Other places where there are performances are “Sheraton Cairo Hotel Towers and Casino” since there are regular performances by local musicians as well as the international ones such as Shaheen. “The Alwan Festival of Sacred Music”, which was started in 1998, is also a common fiesta for classic Arab music held in New York each year at a fee averaging at $ 15 (McCauley & Tim, 2009). The popularity of the music is growing thus it is possible that there will be more performances in different parts of the world.


Music is perhaps the most popular work of art thus it plays a significant role in determining various factors affecting humanity. It is important to accord the same consideration to the tasks it enhances in the society. The classic Arab music has been instrumental in promoting cultural growth and societal relations within the Arab community.

The music has a significant role in enhancement of international relation and exchanging cultural experiences. This is important since it helps the different communities to understand each other by accepting weaknesses and positive aspects. The music should be subject to marketing and promotion by the diverse Arab governments since it plays vital roles. The individual citizens should make an effort to understand such music since it upholds personal relationships amongst individuals and the community.


Frishkoph, M. (2009). Music and Media in the Arab World. New York, NY: Amer Univ in Cairo Pr.

McCauley, M. & Tim, S. (2008). Kennedy Center announces Arab arts festival: American fete also set for 2008-2009. The Baltimore sun. Web.

National Geographic Society (U.S.). (2003). Arab classical music. Web.

Radan, S. (2008). Exploring the legacies of Arab music. Khaleej Times. Web.

Randel, D. (2003). The Harvard dictionary of music. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Spector, J. (1970). Classical’ UD Music in Egypt with special reference to maqamat. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 14, No. 2.

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