分類:uzbek dutar

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:

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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.



To begin with, there are four types of ways that the fingers strum the strings:
i) a downstroke with the middle, ring and little (can also add index) fingers together (|)
ii) a downstroke with the thumb (>)
iii) an upstroke with the thumb (<)
iv) an upstroke with the index finger (^)


These strokes combine in different ways to form different rhythmic patterns called usuls (a term also common to Arabic and Persian music). Rhythmic patterns are repeated like a drum rhythm, whilst the left hand plays the melody. Thus, the dutar is a melody, accompaniment and rhtyhmic instrument in one go(!!). The first pattern I was taught was a simple one, to be used as an exercise for rhythmic steadiness:

| < | < | < | <

My teacher Razia said that it is most important to play this usul with a clock-like regularity. Surely a regular rhythm is required of the learning of all musics, but the percussive sound quality of the dutar means that the rhythmic quality is very audible and its exactitude is crucial for the playing to sound good.


Another usul I learnt is called the tanovar (or tanâvar), a form of dance.
A description by Nancy Rose Aktas about tanovar can be found here (as Part II of ‘Women’s Dances in Uzbekistan’, the third paragraph of the page. Just search ‘tanovar’). It goes like this:

| < ^ | < ^ | ^ | < ^ | < ^ | ^

a 3 + 3 + 2 pattern. It is important to play the first two downstrokes slight lower down to allow the thumb to play the upstroke. The third stroke needs to be played lighter as to let the index finger play the upstroke easily. As one learns to play this usul up to speed, the strokes would melt into one continuum with only the downstrokes emerging. Just think when these patterns combine with the mesmerizing melodies on the left hand, how fantastic a resultant sound we would get!



The Uzbek dutar is usually tuned in the four types of tunings: 4ths, 5ths, unison or octave. My semi-educated guess is that tunings in 4ths and 5ths are the commonest ones, with the latter two tunings used only occasionally.

Uzbek dutar belongs to the type of dutar that is ‘polyphonic’, which means that both strings are stopped when playing, as opposed to, for example the Torbat-e Jam dutar, in which only the first (higher) string is stopped, with the lower string providing a drone. One would think that the music played by the two types of dutar would be very different, given that one type is polyphonic and the other is monophonic. This is primarily because the word ‘polyphonic’ is somewhat misleading in this context.

The dutar is essentially a melodic instrument (what instrument – save percussion – isn’t melodic in music from this region?). What unites both types of dutars is that the melodic line is almost exclusively played on the high string, whilst the lower string provides accompaniment. This means that, the melody is played by moving up and down the neck only, without any string-crossing. This accompaniment is either the drone, or various ‘harmonizations’ of the melodic notes, depending on tradition. It appears that the harmonizations are, most the time, not composed into the melodies, but added for euphonic purpose. Of course, there are conventions as to what kind of harmonizations are agreeable and which ones less so (ie not used). This is what I learnt when I realised that a tune that my teacher played me, which I thought was familiar but whose harmonization I could not recognise, turned out to be a reharmonization of a piece I’d played him the day before when we first met. More about that later. The most important point I want to make here, is that in learning dutar music of any sort, what is essential is the melody. It is the melody which defines the music, far more than the harmonization. As a guitarist who learned pop songs mainly by their chord sequences, that necessitated a very different way of listening to the music. Choosing to play a song with the string tuned a 4th or a 5th apart then depends on which would facilitate better-sounding harmonizations.