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in music of the Middle East and parts of North Africa, a set of pitches and of characteristic melodic elements, or motifs, and a traditional pattern of their use. Maqam is the principal melodic concept in Middle Eastern musical thought and practice (parallel to iqa'at in rhythm). Each performance of Arabic classical music is said to be cast in a maqam, whose attributes are a scale consisting of a collection of tones, characteristic motifs to which an improviser or composer consistently returns, and a distinct character perceived by the informed listener. (The notes used in the maqam are separated by the half tones and whole tones also found in Western music, as well as by three-quarter and five-quarter tones, which result from finer pitch distinctions than the West's half tone; see microtonal music.) Among the most prominent genres of Arabic music is the taqsim, in which a performer modulates from the home maqam to others, eventually returning to the original point of departure. Approximately 50 maqamat are extant, but a small number are by far the most widely used. Chief among these are the maqamat of rast, saba, nahawand, hijaz, hijaz-kar, 'ajam, and sika. The origin of many Arabic and Turkish maqam names is Persian, reflecting the considerable influence of Iranian culture throughout the Middle East in the formative period of this musical system

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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