MAKAM – Modal Practice in Turkish Art Music – Review


Karl L Signell, PHD

There are many fretless guitarists using the instrument to play Turkish Makams or scales. To a non-native this can seem a complex and impenetrable mystery, but if you want to learn about how the music is constructed, this book is a great addition to the bookshelf.

The author, Karl Signell, spent four years studying and teaching in Turkey and the original book began as his doctoral dissertation in 1973 which made it into paperback in 1977 and has been revised several times with a digital edition in 2004.

One very useful page is the pronunciation of the Turkish letters, which is quite different to English pronunciation.

Signell first discusses the historical evolution of Turkish notation and the history of the music. Dealing with Classical and Contemporary music he then explains Turkish intervals in a readable and understandable way. These intervals have general rules but depending on the individual Makam and the artist playing it, these intervals might vary.

The chapter on Intervalic structure gives many examples of scales and pitches along with a diagram of a Tanbur neck that has been fretted for a twenty four note octave. Tetrachords and Pentachords are well explained and how they are used to build Makam scales.

The book goes on to discuss Tonal Centres, Modulation, Stereotyped Phrases and Tessitura, all these have examples and I’ve counted 114, plenty to work at.

Appendix A covers measurement of intervals with a Strobocon, the remainder cover sources, further reading, notes, glossary, discography and indexes.


All in all a great reference book for anyone interested in exploring Turkish music, if you already have a fretless guitar this book will lead you down new avenues in music – Highly recommended.

Review – Jahloon – November 2015

Turkish Notes and their values in cents

I’ve put together this two octave diagram showing values in cents on a Western scale divided in 100 cent segments with the Turkish equivalents, their names and their value to the nearest cent. It is intended for the fretless guitarist to see where these notes would lie on the fingerboard. The starting note is D and notes in the C scale are in Blue. Naturals on the turkish side are highlighted in orange lozenges and microtones in blue. Information was sourced from this book and “A Comparative Evaluation of Pitch Notations in Turkish Makam Music” by Ozan Yarman.



Download a hi-res pdf of the above diagram here:

Two Octave Turkish Cents

More Book Reviews Turkish Makam Masterclass

3 thoughts on “MAKAM – Modal Practice in Turkish Art Music – Review

  1. The book was a good beginning for its time, 1977 (my PhD dissertation), but I recommend an excellent online response by Prof. Munir Beken and me: “Esthetics of Improvisation in Turkish Art Music.” Asian Music, v. 5, no. 2.
    In an unrelated topic, you might be interested in my “Shadow Music of Java” on Rounder CD 5060. /Karl

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