A TURKISH MAKAM MUSIC SYMBOLIC DATABASE FOR
MUSIC INFORMATION RETRIEVAL: SymbTr
M. Kemal Karaosmanoğlu
Yıldız Technical University
Turkish makam music needs a comprehensive database
for public consumption, to be used in MIR. This article
introduces SymbTr, a Turkish Makam Music Symbolic
Representation Database, aimed at filling this void.
SymbTr consists of musical information in text, PDF, and
MIDI formats. Raw data, drawn from reliable sources,
and consisting of 1,700 musical pieces in Turkish art and
folk music was processed featuring distinct examples in
155 diverse makams, 100 usuls and 48 forms. Special
care was devoted to selection of works that scatter across
a broad historical time span and were among those still
performed today. Total number of musical notes in these
pieces was 630,000, corresponding to a nominal playback
time of 72 hours. Synthesized sounds particular to Turk-
ish makam music were used in MIDI playback, and tran-
scription/playback errors were corrected by input from
experts. Symbolic representation data, open to the public,
is output from a computer program developed exclusively
for Turkish makam music. SymbTr was designed as a
wholesome representation of aforementioned distinct au-
ditory and visual features that distinguish Turkish makam
music from other music genres. This article explains the
database format in detail, and also provides, through ex-
amples, statistical information on pitch/interval allocation
Turkish makam music is a genre drawing roots from a
thousand year old tradition, featuring distinct melodic
patterns called makam and rich rhythmic structures called
usul. Since the number of tones per octave is greater in
Turkish makam music, compared to Western music, sev-
eral sharp and flat accidentals appear in printed scores.
Additionally, one must take into consideration a multi-
tude of idiosyncratic rhythmic structures. Although there
exists only one version of the score, independent of the
instrument or key, musicians perform improvised trans-
positions during performance, as permitted by the ranges
of their instruments and the vocalist on hand. Probably
the most prominent feature of Turkish makam music is its
monophonic ─and incidentally heterophonic─ structure.
Another characteristic is the number of notes in an oc-
tave: 17, 24, and, according to some musicologists, even
a greater number of tones to the octave make up the pitch
palette of Turkish makam music , . Although dis-
playing a higher pitch count compared to Western music,
there is no one-to-one correlation between the fixed fre-
quency values, music theory, implied in engraved scores
and what is actually performed in practice .
Everything mentioned up to this point was to differ-
entiate Turkish makam music from many other world
music genres. It then follows; data structures and algo-
rithms developed for other musical traditions are not di-
rectly applicable to Turkish makam music. On the other
hand, there are only a handful of researchers working on
computational models for Turkish makam music. There
remains much to be done in areas related to data collec-
tion/compilation, algorithm development, and research.
SymbTr is hopefully a likely candidate to be a pioneer in
the field, since it is capable of accommodating and ex-
pressing information specific to makam music. Secondly,
early studies (, ) have returned encouraging re-
sults. It is anticipated that SymbTr might provide a setting
for scholars interested in makam music, potentially
Figure 1. A Turkish folksong's scoring in (a) KTM,
(b) THM, and (c) mixed format
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for
personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies
are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that
copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page.
© 2012 International Society for Music Information Retrieval
stimulating further research at a global level.
2. STYLES OF TURKISH MAKAM MUSIC
Turkish makam music is viewed under two major head-
1. Classical Turkish music (KTM),
2. Turkish folk music (THM).
Since both styles originate from the same cultural
roots, their modal motifs and rhythmic structures are very
similar in character . Owing to political movements
emerging at the turn of the 20th Century, a superficial bi-
furcation took place, which led to a divergence between
the two styles resulting in two separate traditions. Today,
these two traditions differ considerably when it comes to
their respective theoretical models, notation systems, and
terminology. Fig. 1 shows the first two measures from a
folksong score, which is part of both the THM and KTM
repertoires of TRT
. Scores are shown in three different
As can be detected in the scores, accidental symbols,
in particular, are different even though the melody is es-
sentially the same: In the KTM version reverse and
hooked flat signs (Fig. 1-a) represent the accidentals,
while in the THM version superscripts over ordinary flat
signs are used (Fig. 1-b). The mixed notation in (Fig. 1-c)
displays a combination of the two. Reverse and hooked
flats, by definition, lower a note by 1 and 4 Holdrian
respectively. However, many of the
measurements (, , ) evince that, printed scores for
works in the Saba makam should carry a 2 comma flat
sign for B and a 3 comma flat sign for D as the key signa-
ture. Indeed, these values are substituted in THM and
The difference between KTM and THM notation lies
not only in the symbols representing the accidentals. In
KTM notation there are almost no ornamentation sym-
bols on the score. In THM, on the other hand, ornamenta-
tion is achieved by repeated use of notes with smaller
rhythmic values, as shown in the trill in Fig. 1-b .
When such passages are converted into SymbTr, note
clusters representing ornamentation are indicated by a
single core note, with its type shown in the Code field.
Because of the fact that THM and KTM have mixed
and intertwined traditionally, the SymbTr database natu-
rally accommodates pieces from both categories. Format
in the database was, therefore, designed to reconcile the
artificial disparity between the two traditions. The most
important design element for the database was the fun-
damental tuning selected. The Arel - Ezgi (AE) tone-
system, which has been recognized and widely adopted as
the official KTM system since the 1950s, has 24 notes in
an octave. In contrast, THM has adopted a notation with
17 notes to the octave. Twelve of the said 17 notes are
common with the AE system. Moreover, both tonal scales
Turkish Radio/TV Broadcasting Corporation.
Interval unit obtained by the division of the octave into logarithmical-
ly equal 53 parts: Hc = 1200 / 53 ≈ 22.5 cent. In this article comma
signifies the Holdrian comma.
present a near-perfect subset of 53 tone equal tempera-
ment (53TET), with deviations less than 1 cent  (Fig.
2). Possibly due to this structural connection, Turkish
makam music education has been built around 53TET,
whether acknowledged by name (Ayomak, Sarısözen) or
Figure 2. 17 tones in THM (left column), 24 tones in
KTM (right column), and 53TET in between
not . Hence, the term "comma", when describing
makams and preparing printed scores, refers to the
Holdrian comma as the basic intervallic unit, obtained by
equally dividing the octave into 53 equal parts. Selecting
53TET as the master underlying tuning in SymbTr also
facilitates transpositions across ahenks (pitch-levels).
Ahenks can be defined as 7 principal and 5 minor catego-
ries corresponding to 12 chromatic pitch-levels akin to
what key transposing instruments of Western music ac-
complish. Detailed information about ahenks and Turkish
makam music in general can be found in  and .
3. MAKAM MUSIC AND SYMBOLIC DATA
SymbTr database is generated by using the output from a
computer program Mus2-Alpha, developed by the author
of this article. This software is the first notation and play-
back application for Turkish makam music to the best of
our knowledge. All pieces in the database were entered
manually using the said software. Printed scores and
MIDI files were, then, prepared for every piece in the da-
tabase. Initially, before the introduction of Mus2-Alpha
and its sister applications (Nota 2.2
were engraved either manually or using programs such as
Finale or Sibelius, that were developed solely to tran-
scribe Western music. Since these programs were not de-
signed to notate flats and sharps specific to Turkish
makam music, their standard output formats such as Mu-
sicXML and MIDI have not been useful in research on
Turkish makam music .
The format for SymbTr described in this article was
derived from Mus2-Alpha's original format that was used
initially to transcribe printable sheet music for pieces in
Turkish makam music. Since this format includes reprise
markings such as segno and coda, some modifications for
scientific research are necessary. In SymbTr, notes are
linearized just as they are performed. An advantage asso-
ciated with Mus2-Alpha originating data is that pieces can
be amended through consultation with experts, using lis-
tening tests based on synthesized sound output. An entry
level version of this program, Mus2okur
, has reached
thousands of users, thereby resulting in a wide scale
screening of possible errors in the database.
The main source of data in SymbTr is TRT and other
trustworthy archives (Recollection of Turkish Music Cul-
), where almost all of them were entered using the
AE notation. To synthesize realistic intonations, however,
it was necessary to use pitches not included in the AE
tone-system. Five notes in the THM scale lie outside the
AE scale (Fig. 2). As a courtesy for Turkish musicians, a
composite system was adopted in the printout scores of
SymbTr: Symbols for flats and sharps were taken directly
from AE, and numerical superscripts were inserted to ex-
press comma-alterations for notes that were not available
www.sanatmuziginotalari.com/ under http://devletkorosu.com
Please go to the second link ‘http’first to reach the main site. Then,
look for and click on the first address ‘www’.
in the tone-system (Fig. 1-c).
4. SymbTr FORMAT
Basic information such as makam, form and usul related
to each piece in SymbTr is indicated in the filename. In
this manner, any piece can be accessed directly from the
Makam Form Usul Title Composer
Some fields in the SymbTr format consist of different
representations of the same information. Therefore, one
field can be easily converted into the other with the help
of the relevant computer code. However, since this addi-
tional information requires very little extra storage space,
it is provided separately for the convenience of research-
ers. These basic and readily derived fields are described
under common headings below.
Code: Signifies a normal note (#9) or ornamentation.
The most commonly used ornamentation codes are as fol-
lows: #7 for tremolos, #8 for acciaccatura, #12 for trills,
and #23 for mordent.
NoteAE / CommaAE: A kind of scientific pitch nota-
tion : Indicates note letter, its octave (for exam-
ple, G5 for gerdaniye), and its comma equivalent (349)
(Fig. 3). Notes in THM sheets that do not exist in the AE
system are represented by their closest equivalent
AE note, e.g. Mi b2 = Dikhisar (Eb1) (Fig. 2). C4 is the
Figure 3. Triple octave operational range of SymbTr
database and some of the comma numbers
Table 1. SymbTr representation of the score in Fig. 1.c
Table 2. The most used 10 makams, usuls, and forms in SymbTr
note with the frequency of about 262 Hz and numbered as
60 in the MIDI standard. All notes excluding C’s have a
fractional MIDI Nr. The MIDI Nr corresponding to
CommaAE can be computed by the following formula:
In order to represent flats and sharps in Hc units,
the "b" and "#" prefixes were used respectively. For ex-
ample, the segah note in AE tone-system is represented
as B4b1; since, according to AE theory, it should sound
one comma lower than the natural B (Si - buselik). Its
comma equivalent is 313, and MIDI Nr is 70.87.
Note53 / Comma53: Indicates the code and the value
of the note in 53TET. If there is no difference between
the performance and the sheet music, CommaAE and
Comma53 values are the same. However, in some makam
sequences such as Uşşak, Hüzzam, Saba and Karcığar,
these two values often vary. For example, in some
makams the pitch that corresponds to B4b1 in AE is
Si4b2 in 53TET, since, in practice, this note should sound
2 commas lower then Si (B). Its comma equivalent is 312,
and MIDI Nr is 70.64.
Numerator / Denominator and ms: Stands for the
rhythmic value of the note, with its duration measured in
milliseconds. When the tempo (quarter note beats per mi-
nute) of the piece is known, these two values can be con-
verted to each other by the following formula:
In Turkish makam music, changes in the tempo of a
piece is a run-of-the-mill situation (e.g., the 4th section of
sazsemaisi pieces are performed faster than other sec-
tions), and since the database can be used for rhythmic
analysis purposes , it was found useful to enter these
two strands of information in the same record.
LNS (Legato / Normal / Staccato): Indicates how tied
or detached the notes are to be played. This information is
extracted by listening to performances in synch with
verses and syllables in the lyrics. The default value is 95;
that is, the last 5% of the duration time for normal notes
is completed with silence. 50 means playback should be
of staccato. Rest signs are determined using this value.
VelOn: Indicates the volume or strike of the note,
making nuanced performance possible. Turkish makam
music scores ordinarily do not contain dynamics mark-
ings like piano or crescendo. In SymbTr an attempt has
been made to compensate,
as much as possible, for this
Syllable1: Indicates the
syllable corresponding to a
note. There is one space
character at the end of the
syllables that occur at word
endings and two space char-
acters at the end of the vers-
es. This information was
added to facilitate the track-
ing of the melody, as well as
for its utility in studies of lyrics-based analyses . In
instrumental pieces, it is used to represent the beginning
of sections such as "TESLİM", etc… In other places this
field is left blank. Instrumental parts of vocal pieces con-
tain a series of dots in this field. In the original Mus2-
Alpha database, repetitive passages have a separate field
for the second syllable. However, due to copyright con-
siderations there is only one field in SymbTr.
The representation of the score of Fig. 1-c in SymbTr
is listed in Table 1. The data starts immediately after the
column headings. Fields are tab-delimited.
5. MAKAM MUSIC AND MIDI
It is impossible to produce makam music intonations us-
ing ordinary MIDI messages. Therefore, it becomes nec-
essary to use pitch-bend techniques. To generate the
needed feature, a pitch-bend message must be sent with
the same delta-time value as the note, just before the
‘Note on’ message. The pseudo-MIDI messages for the
first 5 notes in Fig. 1-c are as follows:
The anchor note is A (La). Therefore, pitch-bend is
unnecessary for any A in all octaves. Bend is required for
all other pitches. For example, the A – C interval is 13 Hc
wide. This value is up to 5.7 cents narrower than the
12TET minor third. Taking into account that 100 cents =
4096 pitch bend units, bending for C is calculated as fol-
lows: 8 192 – 5.7 ∙ 40.96 ≈ 7 960.
MIDI files in SymbTr database are not for listening to
music. They are included, so that the researchers may
find it useful to hear the tune in its simplest raw form. To
this end, even the instrument information has not been
added. Voicing is done with the default MIDI instrument.
6. SOME STATISTICS
SymbTr has been created mainly for the purpose of edu-
cation and scientific research, and hence, endeavored to
be as rich as possible in the diversity of makams, forms,
usuls, and so on. There are many examples such as seyir
composed for educational purposes. One criterion in the
selection of pieces has been music lovers’ familiarity
with them, as to whether a piece be average or above-
average. We did not adopt random sampling (as in ,
, and ) as proper methodology when one consid-
ers 80% of the twenty five thousand pieces in the TRT
repertoire have hardly ever been performed or have be-
come obsolete. A musical piece, composed but almost
never performed cannot be held equivalent to one widely
known and frequently performed.
Some statistics about SymbTr as follows:
Total number of pieces: 1 700
Number of notes: ~ 630 000
Classical: 1 400
Vocal pieces: 1 295
Instrumental pieces: 405
The number of distinct makams: 155
The number of distinct usuls: 100
The number of distinct forms: 48.
Highest ranking 10 makams, usuls, and forms are
shown in Table 2.
7. PITCHES AND INTERVALS
Of all the pitches in the database, 17 that are used
over 1 per cent in quantity and duration are listed in de-
scending order in Table 3. Percentages in quantity and
duration exhibit slight variances but these do not affect
Figure 4 shows a histogram of these pitches in the
two octave range between yegah (D4: 274) - tizneva (D6:
380) using the note codes as given in Table 3.
It is interesting to note that 9 pitches in the 3 octave
range (Fig. 3) have never been used (for example, kaba-
hicaz, and kabadikhicaz). When we excluded the notes
that were heard for less than one thousandth of the time,
only 33 pitches remained, whereas there were 72 pitches
defined in this range in the AE tone-system. These obser-
vations seem to support Can's results .
The most commonly used 13 AE intervals and their
usage as quantity in percentages are listed in Table 4.
The SymbTr database can be accessed at the follow-
ing address, open for public consumption:
Figure 4. Usage of the notes in SymbTr as durations in percentages
Table 3. The most commonly used 17 pitches
Whole Tone (Tanini), descending
Apotome (Küçük Mücennep), desc.
Whole Tone (Tanini)
Apotome (Küçük Mücennep)
Limma (Bakıyye), desc.
Minor Whole Tone (B. Mücennep),
Minor Whole Tone (Büyük Mücennep)
Augmented Second, desc.
Augmented Second, desc.
Table 4. The most commonly used 13 AE intervals
8. SIMILAR DATASETS
In this article, we announce the availability of a new da-
tabase called SymbTr, the most extensive machine reada-
ble database for Turkish makam music currently availa-
ble. There is only one other compilation that would quali-
fy to be called a database: the recently launched TSM
Corpus  (TÜBİTAK
ref. is PN: 110K040) consisting
of symbolic data that relate to 600 pieces. These two da-
tabases are far from adequately representing Turkish
makam music. New data, however, is being continually
added to the SymbTr database through various projects. In
addition, Mus2 (Turkish makam and microtonal music
, which is still being marketed com-
mercially, can produce output in the SymbTr format.
TSM Corpus project, supported by TÜBITAK, can be
quite useful. However, the following deficiencies in data-
base design need to be resolved:
Presence of data belonging to various pieces in a
single Excel format file makes usage difficult,
Syllabized lyrics are not included in the database,
Tempo information for musical pieces is not provid-
ed. Only one quantization information is included
concerning durations: 1/4 meter note = 100 units.
This is a serious drawback for musical pieces that
require, in particular, the inclusion of tempo and / or
usul modulations throughout,
It is not specified which engraved score variant is
employed when entering symbolic data.
If MIR community members at large run their applica-
tions on the SymbTr database, making necessary small
changes, it may lead to two-way improvements: Myster-
ies of makam music may be unraveled on a grand scale,
at a global setting while scholars keep tapping into new
structures and patterns, thus moving into uncharted terri-
tories of human cognition.
This research was partly funded by the European Re-
search Council under the European Union's Seventh
Framework Program, as part of the CompMusic project
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