When terms are initially introduced they will appear in bold, eg. makam, seyir. After their initial introductions and subsequent definitions they will appear in regular font.

An overview of the conventions of Turkish music

Melody & Harmony

The makam is the basis of the melodic content of a Turkish musical composition. The makam can be thought of as the Arabic, Persian, Kurdish and Turkish equivalent to the western scale or mode. Unlike a western scale the realization of the makam will also include adherence to a given seyir. The seyir or melodic development dictates the way in which the melody will begin, upon which scale degree it will rest at the midway point of the piece, and finally on which scale degree it will end. The makam is of such importance that the title of Turkish classical pieces will contain the name of their respective makam and pieces will also be classified by makam.


Just as the melodic content is governed by the makam, the rhythm of Turkish classical music is dictated by the usulü. The usulü are performed in darps or beats, typically on the darbuka. Usulü can be thought of as the western equivalent of a measure, but is more closely related to the tala of India.


Turkish classical music is often referred to as monophonic, but heterophonic is a much more accurate description. Monophonic describes music consisting of a single melodic line without harmonic accompaniment, while heterophonic refers to texture in which a single melodic line is played by multiple voices with each varying and embellishing it rhythmically or melodically.


Taksim is the name given to the instrumental introduction to a vocal performance. Literally meaning “partition”, the purpose of taksim is to introduce the makam of the piece and to demonstrate the skill of the musicians. Although the taksim is semi-improvised it must follow the makam and usulü of the piece that it precedes, although subtle modulations are common.


Typical instruments of Turkish music include: keman-violin, kanun-zither, kemençe-bowed fiddle, ney-end blown wooden flute, oud-lute, tanbur or bağlama-long-necked fretted lute, and kudüm-tabla-like drums. These instruments can appear in various combinations throughout every genre of Turkish music from classical to popular nightclub music.