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Techniques – Stroke combinations with new notation!

The richness of dutar music depends on the elaborating the melodic line not only by melodic ornaments as played by the left hand on the fretboard, but also by the rhythmic patterns strummed on the right hand. More often, it is a combination of both that gives us its manifold subtleties that seem to defy a simple transcription of the melody. As such effects are core to good dutar playing, it is necessary to be able to notate the gestures of both hands separately so we could better learn them.

I have therefore devised a tablature for the right hand, with an aim to make it visually intuitive. The notation aims to pack the all the necessary information within a note without recourse to extra symbols. Here are its basic elements:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 11.44.00 PM.png

The bottom for notes represent down-strokes by the four fingers (a = ring, m = middle, i = index, p = thumb) respectively, whilst the four top notes represent up-strokes of these four fingers. So, say, for the following example:

TMD - During ex1

(taken from Jean During, « Hand Made. Pour une anthropologie du geste musical », Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie [Online], 14 | 2001, uploaded 4 April 2012, accessed 8 November 2015. URL : http://ethnomusicologie.revues.org/1834)

In my notation, it would be notated on two lines, the top being the right hand (melody) and the bottom line left hand as follows:

TMD - During ex1trans

This melody, the beginning of Qoradali, can be played various ways, and being able to compare them on a purely gestural level will be of great benefit to the learner.

I shall first list Jean During’s transcriptions of the various possible ways of playing the melody:

A.  TMD - During Ex 2
B.  TMD - During ex 3
C.  TMD - During ex 4

to be followed by my transcriptions:

TMD - During Ex 2-4 trans

In this way, it is clear that the melody stays the same while the right hand gestures change constantly to give the melody variety. This is a principal way of variation in Uzbek dutar music and being able to compare them will greatly enhance learning progress.

Typical stroke patterns

We have covered the common single strokes in a previous post. Here are they represented in the notation:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 11.40.13 PM.png


Besides single stroke, there are also some common double stroke patterns as follows:

TMD - double strokes

Followed by triple strokes:

TMD - triple strokes

and quadruple strokes:

TMD - quad strokes

Which, when played fast, become a tremolo (or riz):

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 11.37.48 PM

If it is all a bit abstract, the following demonstration video should give you a much better idea of how they sound:


I acknowledge that the ideas in this post are mostly taken from two papers:


Maqom series – Buzruk

In this series, we will concentrate on getting our ears accustomed to the various “maqom" – mode/melodic type – used in the Tajik-Uzbek tradition. A piece will be picked within each mode to demonstrate its characteristic.

As the first post in the series, we will begin with Buzruk, which is traditionally the first maqom to be mentioned of the six that make up the Shashmaqom – the six “grand suites" in the indicated mode.

What’s the shashmaqom?

Each of these maqom consists of an instrumental section (mushkilot) consisting several pieces, followed by the more substantial sung section (nasr) which contains a large number of pieces in the titled mode and “subsidiary melodic types". Throughout the series, pieces from both the instrumental and sung sections will be adapted for the dutar.

Maqom Buzruk

For demonstrating Buzruk, I have chosen a short piece, “Buzruk maqomi", adapted by the master Turgun Alimatov (note 1) for the sato, the long-necked bowed lute. He took the “Sarahbor-i Buzruk", the first piece in the sung section, known for its seriousness and complex melody, and made a self-containing piece out of its opening section.

On a technical level, the Buzruk mode is akin to a pentatonic mode, with the main notes D, E, G, A, B with occasional excursions into F natural and C as neighouring notes to E and B respectively. Furthermore, there is also the concept of the “starting note", the tonic, which is the D in this case. It is in fact the first note you hear in the piece. Another noteworthy element is a “characteristic motif" of G and E that you hear throughout the piece. If you read music, you can see the transcription for a taste of it below.

Buzruk (Alimatov 2)-1

The opening up to rehearsal mark A constitute the first xat, the verse, followed by the hang, the refrain, between A and B. The second xat follows immediately at B, and the same hang returns at C. A full-blown sarahbor would normally contain many more xat and hang. This is hence a simplified version – which serves our purpose to outline the basic characteristics of this mode.

Playing it on the dutar

The melody of the piece is actually very arhythmic – there are many long-held notes and drawn-out ornaments disguised as “rhythmic" movements. In performance, the singer (and accompanying instruments playing the same melody) is supported by the frame drum doyra playing a simple rhythm demarcating each beat, alternatively with a low and high sound (bum-bak), thus keeping the pulse even when there is an empty downbeat. However, when playing solo on dutar, it is impossible to hold a note for long, nor is it possible to tap the pulse without a melody (except for special effects). Therefore, long notes have to be played with repeated strokes to keep it sounding. Where there ought to be rests, I leave it blank sometimes, or prolong the previous/following note to fill the void, and also to add rhythmic interest.

Tuning-wise, the dutar is tuned to G on the lower string and C on the upper string. Even though there is a B lower than this C in the original, tuning the string down to this note would make the piece unidiomatic to play and so the note will be skipped subtly without affecting the overall presentation.


And for the really interested…

The Turgun Alimatov recording of the piece is taken from this recording, which itself is adapted from the Sarahbor-i Buzruk on what ought to be the official 1965 recording of the Shashmaqom directed by Yunus Rajabiy, the entirety of which can be downloaded here or heard on Spotify:


According to Theodore Levin’s dissertation on the Shashmaqom in 1984, this performance ought to be the basis of the complete Shashmaqom transcription edited by Faizulla Karomatov and published  in 1969 and 1975. It differs subtly, especially in phrase length, from the commercial recording by Ilya Malayev, and from this rendition.


Pieces I’m learning – Dutor Bayot

This is a series where I shall post videos of pieces I have learnt along with a simple analysis of the piece, some background knowledge, as well as key points about the piece I noted whilst learning.

The first piece of the series is Dutor Bayot, probably one of the first pieces on the dutor that I have ever heard, and remains catchy for me for its brisk rhythm and simple melody.

  1. Structure:

Dutor Bayot A-1


Dutor Bayot B-1 + A 


Dutor Bayot C-1-1 + B + A


Dutor Bayot D-1+ B + A


  1. Background

The melody of this piece is adapted from the melody of Bayot, the sho’be (sub-branch) of the Navo maqom* in the Bukharan shashmaqom, mostly in sung pieces. Characteristic of this melody is the gradual widening of the notes used in the major-like scale, beginning with a 3rd (do-mi) to a fifth (do-so), with and the culmination point (the avj) at the do an octave apart.

Adopted for the dutor, the melody is played faster than any of the sung pieces, and often incorporates purely percussive strikes on the body of the instrument (clicking with finger nails or tapping with finger tip), giving an impression of virtuosity.

*A mode which is used a few pieces in the collection, e.g. Muhammasi Bayot in the instrumental section (mushkilot), and talqini-bayot, nasr-i bayot, and ufor-i bayot. In the Ferghana-Tashkent tradition, however, bayot is a full maqom with five parts: saraxbor, tarona, savt, talqincha and soqinoma, each adopting the melody to their own usul (“groove").

  1. Versions available
  • Guzal Muminova, Dotar of Transoxania, Mahoor, 2007 (reference version for my recording)
  • Abdorahim Hamidov, Asie centrale: Les maîtres du dotâr, AIMP & VDE Gallo, 1993
  • Sultonali Xudoyberdiev (Soltan-Ali Khodaverdiev), Ouzbékistan : L’art du dotâr, Ocora, 1997
  • Zokirjon Obidov, Dotâr – Iran, Central Asia & Anatolia, Mahoor, 2010
  1. Thoughts on learning the piece

The version I learnt is the one recorded by Guzal Muminova from the album Dotar of Transoxania released by Mahoor in 2007. She plays with a steadier rhythm (compared to other recordings) and compensates for the virtuosity by using tremolos (riz) on the right hand extensively.

As the melody itself is quite straightforward and somewhat repetitive, variety is to be achieved through using various different strokes on the right hand to give different colours, all the while respecting the groove of the piece (♪♪♬♪), with a special emphasis in bringing out the syncopating motif of the final semiquaver and quaver.

The first half of section C includes a tapping on the soundboard of the dutor, imitating the bass strike on the doira. It is recommended to tap with two fingers (m and a) near the centre of the body just up from the bridge, in order to get a rich, deep sound. The index finger will then perform the up/down stroke on the string. As the melody is “broken up", the left hand will need to add more vibrato to let the notes ring on.

Alternative version

Dutor Bayot youtube

Solving mysteries – Ajam Taronalari

“Central Asia: The Masters of Dotar” was definitely the album that introduced me to the fascinating world of dotars, and the 2 opening tracks happened to be pieces from the Uzbek dutar repertoire, played by Abdurahim Hamidov. As I get to know more Uzbek pieces, I got somewhat confused about the first track of this album. Titled “Girya”, it never the less doesn’t seem to correspond to other version of the piece that I know, which are characterised by its limping rhythm (4+5/8).  Try for yourself:

Abdurahim Hamidov: Girya / Asie – Centrale: Les Maitres du dotar

Abdurahim Hamidov/Shuhrat Razzaqov : Girya / Ouzbekistan – Instrumental Art Music

However, since many pieces of the same melody gets performed rather differently by different performers, I always thought that it is perhaps just me who haven’t worked out the mysteriously subtle resemblances.

Yesterday, however, I came across a virtuosic performance on Youtube by the group “Shukrona”, which features two renowned dutar players, Ilyas Arabov and Bekzod Safarov, as well as Farangiz Ziyayeva, the daughter of Malika Ziyayeva, the teacher of the two gentlemen and revered dutarist in Uzbekistan:

I suppose I can count this as “mystery solved”? That first track is most likely not “Girya” but “Ajam Taronalari”*. It also dawned on me that, during one of my lessons with Alisher Alimatov, I hummed him to opening to see if he could shed me any lights, and he said it sounded like Ajam. But since I wasn’t sure if I was humming it correctly (I didn’t have a recording on me), I didn’t follow up on the lead. Alas.

To make the occasion even happier, I managed to locate online a transcription of the piece for tanbur, which can be used just as well for the dutar. The transcription is part of a collection called “Instrumental solos” (Cholg’u Ijrochiligi) compiled by Rahmatilla Nosirov and published by the “Abdulla Qodiri” Tashkent State Institute of Culture, which can be downloaded here.  I have extracted the transcription for Ajam Taronalari, which can be downloaded here.

Happy learning!

*The mystery is only partly solved, as there are other pieces also called “Ajam taronalari” but they don’t sound like this piece. Will treat them separately in another post…hopefully.

Abdurahim Hamidov – Video Compendium Part 2: The Nomadic

This collection of pieces showcases the more virtuosic side of dutar playing, with rapidfire right hand strokes and also other “extended techniques” such as hitting the body of the instrument. Intensity is mainly derived from the fierceness of playing (rather than by melodic height as in the pieces in the last post). Even the title of the pieces sometimes allude to the physicality of playing: “Chertmak” means “to play (dutar)”; “Nolish” is the sliding motion on the left hand on the neck –hence the fleeing sound of some of the notes; and “Qo’shtori” means “twin string”, referring to the two strings of the dutar which are tuned on the same pitch – which is rare, but not unusual.

(comments for each piece to follow)

As bolaman (chertmak)








Dutor navasi


Abdurahim Hamidov – Video Compendium

It has been just over a year since the great Uzbek dutar master Abdurahim Hamidov passed away. Read a tribute by the Uzbek writer Hamid Ismailov here.

While he is no longer around, the past year saw a few more of his videos surfacing on the web. For my own easier reference – and of course for all you interested ones – I have compiled these videos into a two-part list. Besides the video itself, I shall try to add other related information, such as facts about the pieces themselves (if available), other interpretations of the same pieces in commercial recordings or online videos, and even my own (subjective/biased/not-necessarily correct) commentaries for interest sake.

The videos are not listed out in any particular order – except for my own implicit preference maybe.

The compendium will be in two parts – the Melodic and the Nomadic.

Part 1 – The Melodic

Pieces included here are taken from either the shashmaqom repertoire, or from the “semi-classical" repertoire which consist of songs written in the style of maqom whilst not belonging to its canon. These are typically more melodic, rising gradually from the lower register and culminating in the higher before returning to the opening register, with the musical intensity achieved by mainly by melodic means.

Tasnif-i Navo

Tasnif-i Navo is from the Maqom Navo – the first piece of the instrumental section (mushlikot), or in fact, the first piece of the whole of this maqom. Characteristic of the melody is its “dual-polar" of the notes F and G, and the dyad D-F. 

It remains one of my favourite piece – especially as a solo dutar piece. But it is no less beautiful played as an ensemble.

On a separate note, another master, Turgun Alimatov, “composed" his own version of the piece which is simply called “Navo", played on a sato. Whilst slightly different melodically, it is played on essentially the same scale with the same melodic characteristic as stated above, and more importantly, conveys a similar aura.

Other commercial recordings include one by Hamidov himself on Ouzbékistan: L’art du dotâr (Ocora C560111), as well as one by his student Gozal Muminova on Dotâr of Transoxania (Mahoor 229). Turgun Alimatov’s recording of Navo is found on Ouzbékistan: Turgun Alimatov (Ocora C560086) and can be heard here . A short version of it can be heard on Spotify: 

Nasr-i Segoh

Nasr-i Segoh is a piece from the Maqom Segoh, one of the pieces of the first sung section (nasr). This recording only contains a small clip from the beginning of the pieces. I have personally not seen / heard any version of this piece except that recorded by Turgun Alimatov, which can be heard on Ouzbékistan: Turgun Alimatov (Ocora C560086) (click here) or on Spotify: 


http://mcm.base-alexandrie.fr/UZ03Yasavi01.mp4 (embedding not working…)

(comments to come)


(comments to come)

Qaro ko’z

(comments to come)

Unknown Piece

(anyone knows what it is?)

Complete Alisher Navoi online

In reading Nathan Light’s dissertation on performance of Turkic poetry by Uyghur 12 muqam singers, he mentioned that he was only able to peruse 6 volumes of the complete edition of Alisher Navoi (Navoiy), the great poet from the Chagatay period whose ghazals are (seemingly) frequently sung to both Uzbek and Uyghur traditional musics.

Now, it seems that, in 2011, on the occasion of Navoi’s 570 birth anniversay, the Uzbek national library website has put the complete edition of Navoi, all 20 volumes of it, on a dedicated website. Although far from being able to read much if any of it, it will still be a useful resource for those interested. Here is the website.

(On a separate note, volumes of Navoi seems to be much easier to locate than those of Mashrab, a later poet – for his style see the poem “Sig’mamdur" quoted in the “Girya" post – any clues?)