An excerpt from "Kitab-i Edvar"


by Nilgün DOGRUSÖZ

(Associated Professor)

Istanbul Technical University

How was music theory taught according to old sources? What was the historical process of the development of theory and the relationship between the theory of music and its practice? How do older works of music theory differ from the contemporary ones? The only way to find out was to study old theory books called "edvâr," a term coined from the Arabic word for cycles (adwâr). While the term usually refers to time, especially long periods of time such as centuries, theoretical books of music were named "Kitâb-i Edvâr," i.e., book of circles, because usul-s (rhythmic patterns) and makam-s were explained using circles until the end of the 19th century.

In terms of the tradition of edvar, theoretical studies started with El Kindi (9 cc.), Farabi (10 yy.) and Ibn-i Sina (11 yy.), which later on with Safiyyüddin Urmevi (b.1224-1294) in the 13th century became the systematic school. Safiyyüddin supplied the analytical framework, which has been used by nearly all major writers ever since. He systematized the theory in which the pitches, classification of modes and rhythms, respectively, were the most important elements. Another important name was Marâgali Abdülkâdir, who also used the system of Safiyüddin and improved it. The followers of these masters always paid tribute to them by quoting their thoughts in their own edvâr-s. Some of these edvar-s and their writers are as follows; "Kitabu'l Edvar" ( by Hizir Bin Abdullah, "Zeynü'l Elhan" (, by Ladikli Mehmed, "El Matla" ( by Seydi, "Kitab-i Ilmü'l Musiki Ala Vechil Hurufat," ( by Kantemir, "Tefhimü'l Makamat Fi Tevlidin Negamat" ( by Kemani Hizir Aga and "Tedkik u Tahkik" ( by Abdülbâki Nâsir Dede and Mecmua-yi Karha ve Naksha ve Sarkiyyat by Hasim Bey ( what's particularly interesting about this last example is that he was a member of a new Ottoman court ensemble that was open to westernization, but based on the tradition of edvar. Out of above theory books, the "Kitabü'l Edvâr" by Kirsehirli ( will be main focus in following lines.

Even though the original book is written in 1410 by Kirsehirli in Persian (this book is yet to be found), today the researches conducted in Turkey were based on various Turkish translations that were generated from 15th century through 18th century. In our own article Risale-i Musiki, which was written in early 18th century and is kept to this day in Ankara Library #131/1, was the main resource. The author of this theory book is unknown.

The edvar includes the classification and description of makam-s (mode), usul-s (rhythmic cycle), tunings of the instruments, and the relationship among physiology, makam-s and stars and planets.

Edvar treatises are generally composed of a muqaddima which is then followed by two main sections: makam (Modes) and usul (rhythmical pattern) The muqaddimah traditionally opens with a prayer followed by the reason why, or the occasion for writing the treatise, and its dedication. And then, the importance of the word or phenomenon "musiki" is explained through legends. One famous example is the legend about Safiyüddin Urmevi and the camel. During the time of Safiyyüddin, the ulema or scholars of the city of Bagdat prohibited the practice of (the science of) music. When Safiyyüddin heard about this he went to the Caliph and asked for permission to demonstrate the importance of this science. The Caliph then asked how this demonstration could be undertaken. Safiyyüddin first instructed that they bring a camel and keep it away from water for forty days, and then at the end they should offer the camel water in the presence of music and see which the camel would then prefer. And if the camel prefers water over music then music is not a science of vital importance. When the time came for the test, they tied a rock to the camel's feet, brought water in a silver cup, and the people of Bagdad came to watch the camel with curious eyes. Safiyyüddin started singing a Nevbet-i müretteb in the makam of Zirgüle, as they untied the camel's feet. The thirsty camel, instead of moving towards the water, stood still and turned his head over to the passionately singing Sheyh Safiyyüddin, with tears in his eyes. This test was performed three times in a row and every time the result was the same. And so, that day it was understood that music was vital to humanity as the appreciation for it grew day after day.

After showing the relationship of music to the other sciences such as astrology and medicine more technical subjects were analyzed in detail. In the earlier theory treatises the explanation of the monochord and the tuning systems take quite a lot of space. The various classifications of makam, avaze (voice), agaze (Persian agaz: starting point), sube (branch) and terkib (compound) are now simply known as makam. All the theorists believed in the power of music over human soul and they named this power as "ethos". These ideas passed onto the theoreticians of the Islamic world from the ancient Hellenistic philosophers. The theoreticians of the Islamic world transformed these ideas into the realms of their own beliefs. Makam-s are related to the 12 horoscopes.

Makam Horoscope Element

1. Râst Evvel Hamel ((Taurus) Nâri (Fire)
2. Irâk Sevr (Lion) Haki (Soil)
3. Isfahân Cevzâ (Gemini) Bâdi (Air)
4. Kûçek Seretân (Cancer) Âbi (Water)
5. Büzürk Esed (Leo) Nâri
6. Zîrgüle Sünbüle (Virgo) Hâki
7. Rehâvî Mizân (Libra) Bâdi
8. Hüseynî Akreb (Scorpio) Âbi
9. Hicâz Kavs (Sagittarius) Nâri
10. Bûselik Cedy (Capricorn) Bâdi
11. Nevâ Delv (Aquarius) Hâki
12. Ussâk Hût (Pisces) Âbi

7 agaze are related to the 7 stars and planets.

All of the latter comes from 4 subes which are related to the 4 main elements of the creation of the Universe. They are water, soil, air and fire.
In the theory books, other than the associations between horoscopes, makams, stars, agaze-s, etc., no historiographic information is given.

Makam, agaze and sube are researched explicitly.

This example shown in Fig.1 is taken from Kirsehirli Edvar. It is written clockwise. In the inner most circle the name of rast makam is displayed. In the middle circle the basic pitches are shown. And then in the outer circle the rast makam is explained by using melodic direction or path in detail.

In Fig 2, in the Inner circle the name of usul, Hafif is displayed and then in the outer circle the details of usul are given.

A group of beats that forms a cycle and is divided into certain segments is called a rhythmic pattern (usûl) by the theoreticians of music in the Islamic World. These rhythmic patterns are shown as circles just because they are repeated and carried through. Since music is not considered any different from poetry, rhythmic patterns are made of basic elements of poetic prosodic meter (aruz). The principal elements are; ten, te-ne, te ne, te nen, ta ni, te ne nen, te ne ne nen which is used in the teaching of both the prosodic meter and the usuls. The first among these theoreticians is Al-Farabi. Later, his writings were repeated many times by Safiyyuddin and Abdülkadir Meragi. Meanwhile, new rhythmic patterns developed in time. Safiyyuddin cites Al-Farabi in his book titled "Serefiyye" as follows: "rhythmic patterns are classified under two categories; adjoined, and separated. A group of beats that is divided by equal spaces in time is called adjoined rhythmic patterns. It is called separated rhythmic patterns when beats are not equally spaced.

The creation and the understanding of the rhythmic cycles (usul-s) are shown in circular diagrams just like the makam examples. At this point explanations about the forms are given. Nevbet-i müretteb is explained. Before the explanation is given another legend is told about Safiyyüddin. The three pedagogical systems are then explained according to the masters of his time: kabl, ma and bad. Kabl, is to first play the usul and then sing the song. Ma is to sing the song while you play the usul. Bad, is to sing the song first and then play the usul. As a result we understand how important the usul is in learning a song. Later on in the 19th century, Hasim Bey would also confirm that usul is the song's measurement. Even though Kirsehirli points out the three main paths of learning a song still he would stress how important it is to study with a master.

Kirsehirli, interestingly enough, then assigns a certain time of day to each makam. For example, between afternoon and night time, Isfahan, Rehavi, Buselik and etc. should be performed. The associations between makam-s and the times of the day are taken a step further with more associations between makam-s and human types. For example, to a blonde person the makam of Rast would be suitable.

Later on the tuning systems of different instruments are given such as, ud, çeng and ney. This information is given with diagrams. According to the ancients, the names of the pitches came from their positions based on a numerical order. Number 1 was called Yekgâh, number 2 Dügâh, number 3 Segâh, number 4 Çargâh, number 5 Pençgâh, number 6 Sesgâh number 7 Hestgâh, number 8 Heftgâh. These names are all in Persian.

When Kirsehirli talks about the tuning of Çeng he gives the tuning according to the makam of Rast. The pitches in Rast makam are given as follows; Rast, Dügah, Segah, Çargâh, Pencgâh, Hüseyni, Hisar, Gerdaniye, Muhayyer. As you can see from Kirsehirli on, the first pitch which was previously called Yekgah was then on named as Rast. Another scholar in 15th century, Hizir bin Abdullah also in his theory book, 'Kitab-ül Edvar' shows Rast instead of Yekgâh. He also used Hüseyni, Hisar and Gerdaniye for the 6th, 7th and the 8th degrees of the makam scale degrees of Rast. Over time Pencgah became Neva and Hisar became Evc.


DOGRUSÖZ, Nilgün, AGK 131 Numarada Kayitli Risâle-i Musikideki Makaleler, (Sanatta Yeterlilik Tezi: 1997), Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü.

DOGRUSÖZ, Nilgün, "131 Numarali Musiki Risalesi Üzerine", Musiki Mecmuasi, sy.466, Istanbul,1999

DOGRUSÖZ, Nilgün, "Geleneksel Türk Müziginde Makam ve Unsurlari" Osmanli, c.10, Ankara, 2000

KIRSEHIRLI, Kitab-i Edvâr, Ankara: Milli Kütüphane, No:131/1