Before we go on there are some important things you should know about notation (the names of the notes, the ways they are written) in Middle Eastern music. 

There are MANY ways to name each note.  We have the Western system (common in the U.S.) which has:  A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A for the octave.  We have the common naming system used in Europe and the Middle East, among other places, in which:  LA=A; SI=B; DO=C; RE=D; MI=E; FA=F; SOL=G; and of course LA=A again.  So for the same octave we would say;  LA-SI-DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA.
Then we have the naming system used in Arabic and Ottoman Classical music, in which each individual note has a specific name.  I'll be listing below an insert which shows some of the notes and their names (with Anglicized spellings).  In Ottoman music, the music is written in set keys, usually the key of G or A, though it is played in the key of our own preference/necessity (the key is not important, the intervals are).  In other words, the notes on the paper are merely place holders, showing us the general melody and intervals.  You can always play in whatever key you want, with the most common tunings being Bölahenk and Kız tuning (transposing down a fourth or a seventh, respectively). The names of the tunings come from the ney size which corresponds to each key. 

In Arabic music we have a similar situation.  The scores are usually written in D or C, but played as in Ottoman music in any desired key.  Check out this page for more information about Arabic Classical Music: 


NOTE:  The notes written below are played a fourth lower on this site (Bölahenk tuning).  Therefore the names written correspond to the note played a fourth lower for our purposes.  For example, the written note 'G' (RAST) is played concert 'D' here at the Oud Cafe.  I know it may seem confusing now, but it is just another habit that you'll pick up with time. The goal is to stop seeing the notes on the paper as 'G' or 'A', etc, but to see them as their specific piece of the makam and therefore their intervals/intonation, regardless of what key we are in.


Additionally, we have the Byzantine and the Armenian (Hamparsoom Nota) naming and notation systems.  These were originally the way Middle Eastern music was notated before the Western style notation was developed. 
In this system, generally as far as naming goes:  NI=D; PA=E; VOU=F; GHA=G; DHI=A; KE=B; ZO=C; NI=D

 ~ (Please note that it may be preferable to have the above note correspondence shifted down one whole step.  In other words, NI=C; PA=D; VOU=E; etc.)

So an octave starting from D would be:  NI-PA-VOU-GA-DI-KE-ZO-NI.
In Byzantine ecclesiastical music, the correspondence is not so concrete, but here this is good enough for us, since I don't think we'll be going that much into Byzantine music (at least not yet). 
I am not so familiar with this notation system (unfortunately), suffice it to say that the notes 'build' off of each other.  Having made clear the musical mode the piece is in, the first note let's say is declared 'NI' (D), and from thereafter markings tell us where to 'jump' to within that mode. 
I do hope to study Byzantine theory to get a better grasp and feel for the music, and I think you should consider it too.  Though very different from Western notation, it captures the essence of this style of music much better and would be very helpful in playing and general articulation.  The more perspectives we are familiar with, the more comfortable we can be within the music of the Aegean Region.

Copyright © Mavrothi T. Kontanis. All rights reserved 2008