Apart from Turkey and Greece, I mean.

I'm looking for fairly abstract musicological and comparative descriptions, not "how to play"-style information. Particularly interested in departures from the well-tempered 12-semitone "Western basic" system.

Are there for instance standard texts that a musicology student would be expected to read?

  • 3
    I'm aware this is pretty open-ended. Suggestions for narrowing it down (or edits) gratefully received.
    – Tikitu
    May 15, 2011 at 20:52
  • One way is to restrict it to a specific kind of music.
    – user107
    May 16, 2011 at 7:27
  • Apart from or particularly Turkish and Greek scales? I'm not sure which you mean. Greek scales for one are very much Western - the Western scales today descend from the Ancient Greek modes (although many were dropped during the medaeval and Renaissance periods).
    – Noldorin
    May 17, 2011 at 21:57
  • Noldorin, Turkish music often departs from 12-tone equal temperament. The lead instrument, the oud, is like a guitar with no frets, and people who play it don't stick to the Western modes and don't stick to 12 equal intervals in an octave either.
    – user1044
    Apr 27, 2012 at 20:43
  • Noldorin, see my answer on the Holdrian Comma. Turkish scales need a certain note with an interval of a quarter-tone from its nearest neighbor. Those don't exist on the piano or guitar.
    – user1044
    Apr 27, 2012 at 21:00

7 Answers 7


John Coltrane famously studied Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns and using eastern and exotic scales in his solos. I believe this text is supposed to contain such scales, but I don't have a copy and can't verify that definitely, or that it will specify which scales come from where.

Yusef Lateef's Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns appears to be a competing volume of a similar nature. and if you're interested in scales and scale theory in general, Masaya Yamaguchi does something interesting here: The Complete Thesaurus of Musical Scales. It is clearly written with jazz in mind but may yield some interesting fruit to you.

You are asking for texts that a musicology student my be expected to read. So ask a professor of musicology (musicologist)! If you're looking for a book specifically devoted to non-western scales you'll need the help of someone who teaches (or has taken if you aren't lucky finding a teacher) a region specific musicology course. I know there are Eastern European Music and Music in Asia courses so you should be able to find whatever you need if Encyclopedias and Thesauruses of scales are too general for you. Otherwise, go big! Check a few of those out from a library to see if they have what you need, then buy it if you need it to be in your library. Good luck!


Here are two links that you might find useful: Turkish Music Wikipedia page and Turkish Music Portal.

Here are some books I found (some are in Turkish):

  1. Turk musikisi nazariyati dersleri (in Turkish, translation of the title: Lectures on Turkish Music Theory)
  2. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: The Middle East

There are quite a number different kinds of Turkish music. You have be more specific about the type of the music you are interested in to get more specific answers.

  • Well, they didn't directly help (lots of sociological context in the links, but not much technical information). But it seems what I was looking for is makam theory. If you update your answer to link it I'll accept it.
    – Tikitu
    May 16, 2011 at 11:29
  • (Forgot: any equivalent for Greek? Wikipedia redirects δρόμοι to the makam page, which is an answer of a sort I suppose.)
    – Tikitu
    May 16, 2011 at 11:34
  • I think makam is not specific to Turkish music (it is also used in Persian and Arabic traditional music), so I think yes.
    – user107
    May 17, 2011 at 3:00
  • I think it would be better if you post an answer in place of me updating mine, since you have find the answer for your question yourself. :)
    – user107
    May 17, 2011 at 3:01
  • Fair enough -- thought I'd give you the credit since you got me on the right track, but if you don't mind then I'll self-answer instead.
    – Tikitu
    May 17, 2011 at 7:46

The Wikipedia page on makam theory seems to be a good beginning.

  • This is a self-answer and pretty limited. If anyone wants to fill it out with more detail I'll happily accept a different answer.
    – Tikitu
    May 17, 2011 at 7:57
  • I know it has been quite some time, but if you can give me more details I might look it up for you. (As being turkish in TUDelft and having Greek friends all over ;).
    – user1306
    Sep 28, 2011 at 23:28

I don't know if they sell abroad but you may read Turkish Music Makam Guide.

enter image description here


Holdrian Comma

This is the famous musical interval of 22.6 cents that crops up frequently in Turkish and Arabic music. The Makam references posted here will explain how the Holdrian Comma is used. But you need an instrument capable of playing notes based on factors of this interval, which is not used in Western music.

Extra frets for notes not found in Western music

I am told that many fretted instruments in this part of the world have an extra fret at certain positions to enable playing an interval of approximately a quarter-tone in certain keys.

I found a Web site that explains, in English, the frets, intervals and tunings used on the Turkish saz, a popular fretted string instrument. Here is a quote:

If you are used to a guitar or other western string instrument, first realize that the saz has extra frets for notes not found in western music. Most of these are "about halfway" between other notes that western music does use.


'Where' to go to learn scale tunings? Two places named 'pure/just' and 'tempered' in the territory named 'practice' on a map named 'theory', where people map the territory and make territory from map.

Two major PRACTICAL approaches to musical scales are pure tuning and tuning by tempering. Both can involve acoustic/auditory beat: the first approach choose scale pitches to minimize it; the second makes a number of 'practically-the-same' scale steps out of some musical interval by adjusting or even maximizing it. Timbre is of importance to both because choice of timbre can change the sensation of beats too (yet, the need for lowering cognitive dissonance by pitch choices remains). Human voices and some instruments are capable of an 'adaptive' approach 'in-between'.

Two major THEORETICAL approaches to musical scales are Just Intonation (JI) and Equal Temperament (ET). The first approach chooses scale pitches with 'integer frequency ratio' and the second with (mathematical) 'equal division' of an interval (most usually an octave, but not necessarily). The first approach usually is supposed to involve 'small integer' ratios because of its practical roots in pure tuning; however, it is not unusual at all to see just intonation theorist to report their results in terms of ratios of 'really big numbers'. The second approach uses the syntax of enharmonics to create semantically synonyms of musical intervals, perhaps expressed in cents (sometimes millioctave).

In theory, ET intervals are approximations of pure intervals. In practice, JI intervals are interpretations of tempered intervals. In theory, practice follows theory. In practice, theory follows practice.

Into these 'two places to learn scale tuning', you may start exploring 'non-western' theory and practice of these people:

  • Ozan Yarman (on Rauf Yekta, etc.) for the tempered approach
  • Stefan Pohlit (on Julien Weiss) for the just/pure approach

There are electronic musical instruments specifically marketed for Greek, Turkish, and Arabic music, utilizing modes and scales from those cultures as well as specific microtonal tuning (rather than the 12 equally-spaced pitches in an octave that we refer to as equal temperament).

You might be able to find owners manuals or documentation on these instruments that would explain the scales and tunings programmed into them.

I'm fairly certain you could find an affordable virtual instrument for your computer that could reproduce these scales and microtonal tunings in a way that a piano or guitar cannot.

Here is one example from GeneralMusic, an Italian company.

enter image description here

Genesys Pro Oriental is the new GEM multimedia workstation explicitly developed for the music of Middle East and Mediterranean countries.

Featuring the exclusive and advanced technical characteristics that have made the Genesys one of the most popular keyboards in the world, the new Genesys Pro Oriental includes 128 new styles and over 200 hi-quality oriental sounds and percussions originating from different cultures such as Arab, Greek, and Turkish designed in collaboration with the top musicians from this sector. Genesys Pro Oriental includes some important features that fulfil oriental music requirements, such as a joystick for pitch and modulation and programmable Arabic scales, assignable to the programmable pads. For the most demanding musicians, the external module AS-1 can be easily connected, allowing to create, save and recall Arabic scales and microtuned notes.

Main features: 128MB RAM memory (64MB internal sounds + 32MB new sounds + 32MB user samples) 256 Factory Presets (including 200 hi-quality oriental sounds) and 256 User Presets; 64 notes polyphony 256 Factory Styles (including 128 new oriental styles) and 64 User Styles Built-in CD player/burner Internal 20GB Hard disk; sampler and hard disk recording functions (mono/stereo) Vocal genius with separate EFX for the microphone Wide LCD graphic display (320 x 240) Pitch/modulation joystick new software functions: Edit Parts functions (L+R Mode, Portamento, Legato), MultiPedal Mode, new Play List function, and others...

By merging the exceptional performances of the Genesys series with the versatility of the AS-1 module, with Genesys Pro Oriental you will discover the fascinating world of oriental music.

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