Arguably the most difficult part of being a Hazan in any Sephardic synagogue is the knowledge of Maqamim.
Knowing how maqamim and how they are sang is essential to having parts of the Tefila run smoothly and without a hitch.
What is a Maqam?
Taken from Wikipedia (and I verified this information): "A maqam is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, which is mainly melodic. The word maqam in Arabic means place, location or position. The Arabic maqam is a melody type. It is "a technique of improvisation" that defines the pitches, patterns, and development of a piece of music and which is "unique to Arabian art music."[1] There are seventy two heptatonic tone rows or scales of maqamat.[1] These are constructed from major, neutral, and minor seconds.[1] Each maqam is built on a scale, and carries a tradition that defines its habitual phrases, important notes, melodic development and modulation. Both compositions and improvisations in traditional Arabic music are based on the maqam system. Maqamat can be realized with either vocal or instrumental music, and do not include a rhythmic component."
Depending on where in the Arab world your family originates, will determine the names of the maqamim. In general the names of the Moroccan/Algerian Maqamim are different than those from Iraq and Syrian descent.
Do I need to know Maqamim in order to learn Sephardic music or conduct a Tefila?
In short, you don't. However, as I mentioned above there would be an apparent difference in the flow of the Tefila if you one sings songs with different melodic modes.
How do I learn Maqamim?
The easiest way is to sit down with a teacher. I was privileged to learn with my good friend, Hazan Shahar Dadon, during his tenure in Toronto, conducting services in our synagogue. We sat, I asked, we discussed and I learned more and more. As time went by, I was starting to pick it up on my own. I noticed that the ending of the melody is what teaches you to determine the proper Maqam. Until today, when I hear a new song, I go straight to the last note and can realize immediately the Maqam. I can then input the song in the Tefila accordingly or begin the song with an appropriate "petiha" (introduction).
In the future, I plan on recording "petihot" or "mawalim" (introductions) of different Maqamim that can be an opening for the songs that you sing.
What are the Maqamim according to the Moroccan tradition?

  • Mzmoum
  • Istahlal
  • Rasd Dil
  • Sahli
  • Zarka
  • Raml-Maya
  • Hijaz el Msirki
  • Iraq
  • El-Maya
  • Isbihane
  • Sika
  • Hijaz el Kbir
  • Rasd
The Maqamim that are highlighted in colour, work well together as a group. There are slight differences between them, but in general, a Maqam of one fits well with the other.
I will do my best to label every song I record with it's correct Maqam. They can be sorted and viewed based by LABEL on the left panel of the blog.
Always remember that this is ultimately the hardest part of learning any music originating from Arabic countries. However, once mastered the learning process becomes much simpler.


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