Below is a list of terms taken from Dr. Ali Jihad Racy’s book, Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab. These terms give the listener an idea on the Arab music mentality and allow for new listeners an opportunity to understand common terms used by the musicians and experienced sammi’āh (listener).
ādāb (singular, Adab): codified rules of conduct pertaining to members of various professions, including musicians
āhāt (singular, āh): vocalizations on the syllable “āh” by the soloist with responses by the chorus within the dawr.
ālāt al-ṭarab: musical instruments, especially ṭarab instruments.
arāḍī (from arḍ or ground): the low register or low notes, for example, of a vocal composition.
arḍiyyah (literally, ground or base): low-pitched ostinato pattern, for example in the sufi dhikr performance.
‘azf: a formal term that means playing on an instrument.
‘āzif: performer on an instrument, or instrumentalist.
bashraf (from the Ottoman-Turkish peşrev): a precomposed instrumental genre that is metric and follows a rondo-like structure.
basṭ: a state of elation or mood of merriment.
brova: a rehearsal or preparatory musical session.
buzuq: a long-necked, fretted lute with metal strings.
dawr: a mostly precomposed vocal genre that uses colloquial Arabic text, prevalent in Egypt primarily during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
dhikr (literally, remembrance or reiteration): a term for the Sufi ritual, also more specifically for the practice of repeating certain religious verbal phrases.
dūlāb: a short, precomposed, instrumental prelude traditionally used for establishing the mood, or ‘feeling” of the maqām.
dūzān: the way an instrument is tuned or the process of tuning, also referred to as taṣlīḥ (fixing) or taḍḥbīṭ (adjusting).
fann (literally, art): ṭarab music in genereal, especially as a professional domain.
fannān (from fann, or art): a man who pursues ṭarab artistry, usually as a profession.
fannānah (from fann, or art): a woman who pursues ṭarab artistry, usually as a profession.
fāṣil: a medley of pieces that normally share the same maqam and consist of muwashshaḥat and other genres. It is genereally associated with Syrian music.
firqah: the relatively large urban ensemble typical of modern ṭarab music.
ḥaflah (literally, festive gathering): a large, usually public, musical event.
hank: a passage that appears in the dawr and consisits of solo-chorus alternations.
hāwī: amateur, also known as ghāwī, both literally meaning, “infatuated” or “passionately in love.”
iḥsās (also, ḥiss): feeling, or the ability to sense the music and perform it ecstatically, or with feeling.
insijām (roughly, harmoniousness): being in a musically agreeable or ecstatic state.
īqā’ (plural, iqa’at): metric mode or pattern, also referred to as wazn (plural, awzan) and darb (plural, durub).
jalsah: a small informal gathering in which music may take place.
jawāb (literally, answer): a note an octave higher.
jawābāt (singular, jawab): the high notes of a modal scale or composition, or on a musical instrument.
jaww: atmosphere, ambience, or desirable mood for performing.
kabarēh (or caberet): nightclub.
khānāt (singular, khanah): the variable sections that intervene between the taslim repeats withing a bashraf or sama’i; also applies to the digressive musical section of a muwashshaḥ.
kalām (literally, speech): ṭarab lyrics, or texts, sometimes also called nuṣūṣ or naṣṣ.
kamanjah (also known as kamān): in today’s speech, the Western violin, which is used as a ṭarab instrument.
kayf: a mood of elation conducive to making ṭarab music or to become entertained by the music, also the elative state the music produces.
laḥn: tune or melody.
lawn (literally, color): musical style or “flavor,” alsor referring to a stylistically distinct segment within an eclectic piece of music.
layālī: vocalizations on the syllables yā layl and yā ‘ayn, as a rule leading into a mawwāl.
lāzimah (plural, lawāzim): a short musical interlude or filler between musical phrases.
maqām (plural, maqāmāt): melodic mode.
mawwāl: a vocal improvisation that uses a colloquial poetical text and is typically preceded by a layāli section.
mazāj (literally, disposition or temperament): the mood of the performer or listener, also the emotional state that inspires a musician to perform well.
mụhāsabah: listening carefully and judiciously.
mundamij: being emotionally self-absorbed or drawn to the music.
munsajim: being in an ecstatically harmonious or musically agreeable state.
mūnūlūj: (or monologue): a through-composed (nonstrophic) vocal genre of irregular structure and expressive lyrical content particularly popular in Egypt in the 1930s.
muṭrib: a male, typically professional, singer of ṭarab.
muṭribah: a female, typically professional, singer of ṭarab.
muwashshaḥ: a precomposed, metric vocal genre.
nafas (literally, breath): ability to perform ṭarab music and to perform it well, for example, in the expression nafas Sharqī, or “Eastern breath.”
nashāz: bad intonation or being out of tune.
naghmah (plural, anghām): tune or melodic mode.
nāy: a type of reed-flute.
qudūd (singular, qad): strophic songs that use colloquial Arabic texts and are associated with Aleppo, Syria.
qadīm (literally, old): earlier ṭarab music, usually form the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
qaflah: a cadential pattern ending a musical phrase and usually followed by a pause.
qānūn: a type of plucked zither
qarār (literally, repose, or conclusion): tonic or final note.
qarārāt (plural of qarār): the low notes of a modal scale or composition, or on a musical instrument.
qaṣidāh (literally, poem): an often improvised vocal genre, both Sufi and secular, based on a poem in classical Arabic.
riqq: a small tambourine.
rub’ (literally, quarter; plural, arbā’): the quarter-tone increment within the theoretical scale; also loosely refers to the basic micro-tonal steps, namely those flattened or sharpened by approximately a quarter-tone each.
rūḥ (literally, soul, or spirit): locally based ability to feel ṭarab music or to perform it affectively, as in the expression rụh Sharqqiyyah, or “Eastern soul.”
sahrah: an evening gathering which music may be performed.
salṭanah: a creative ecstatic state typically experienced by performers, and usually linked to the melodic modes.
sama’ (literally, hearing): usually meaning to listen to music attentively.
samā’ (literally, listening): in Sufi tradition, listening to spiritual music, also the musical performance itself or in a broader sense, the ritual performance as a whole.
samā’i (from the Ottoman-Turkish saz ): a precomposed instrumental genre that has a rondo-like structure and follows a specific ten-beat pattern, except for the last khānah before the final taslim.
sammi’ (plural, sammī’āh): a peson who listens to ṭarab music attentively and reacts to it in an idiomatically appropriate ways.
shughl (literally, work): performing music, usually professionally, or as “work.”
ṭabaqah: pitch level or tessitura.
ṭablah: an Arab goblet-shaped hand drum.
taḥmīlah: a metric instrumental genre incorporating solo improvisations that alternate with refrain-like ensemble responses.
tajallī (roughly, revelation): a state of inspirational transformation typically felt by the performers.
takht (literally, platform): a small instrumental ensemble prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This term may also include the singer and chorus.
talbīs (literally, to dress up or custom fit): the percussionist’s deliberate repositioning of the beat so as to accommodate a metric idiosyncrasy within a composition, or to reestablish the metric track when a leading artist goes off beat.
taqāsīm (plural of taqsīm): instrumental improvisation as a genre. The singular taqsīm may similarly refer to the improvisatory genre or to a single improvisatory rendition, which is also known as taqsīmah.
ṭaqṭūqah: light strophic song in colloquial Arabic.
ṭarab: the traditional urban music, especially the qādīm, or older more ecstatically oriented repertoire; also the ecstatic feeling that the music produces.
tarannumāt (or tarnnum): specific words and word combinations added to song lyrics, particularly in the muwashshaḥāt.
tarjamah (literally, translation): instrumental accompaniment that “echoes” or para-phrases a leading musical passage.
taṣarruf: the taking of certain liberties when interpreting precomposed musical works.
taṣdīr: making well-calculated and ecstatically effective departures from the beat pattern.
taslīm: the refrain-like passage within a bashraf or samā’ī.
taṣwīr (literally, drawing): transposition from one pitch-level to another.
taṭrīb: engendering powerful ṭarab feeling, especially through the use of vocalizations and the stretching out of syllables.
tawrīq (from waraq, or leaf): accompanying in subtle ways, or merely providing ornate fillers.
tawshīḥ: a Sufi vocal genre usually of flexible metric quality and with alternations between florid vocal solos and choral responses.
turāth (literally, heritage): the traditional musical legacy especially the qadīm repertoire.
‘ūd: a non-fretted short-necked lute.
ughniyah (literally, song): the generic term for song, especially in the post-World-War-II decades.
‘urab (singular, ‘urbah): roughly, very small intervallic increments or microtonal inflections; also the tuning levers on the qānūn.
ustādh: a common title of respect used for addressing knowledgeable musicians, music teachers, and learned men in general.
waḥdah (literally, unit or one): a generic word for “beat pattern” or more specifically, a single-down-beat meter of a certain length.
waḥdajī: a musician with an excellent sense of rhythm.
waṣlah: a traditional medley with generic components that share the same melodic mode, typical of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Cairo.