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  • Lisa Lumina

L2 music mapping and song structures

Updated: Mar 20

When working on mapping out a song's verses/section, what I like to call paragraphs, there are some common pattens they can take. You can find examples of these listen in the "Egyptian Music Appreciation and Practice for Bellydancers" book and CD set I keep bringing up in class.


The more repetitious structures are: strophic, ABA, AABB, AABA, and Rondo. We use the A, B, C, etc to label sections just like labeling sections of a poem from English class. So a song in ABA means that one melody is played, another melody is played, and then the first melody is played again. Stropic form means a single melody repeats. This is common for certain folk songs. Rondo form is when a song has a refrain separated by various other verses, so it could be written as ABACADAE, etc. I prefer to give sections descriptive names, like "swirly flute section" or "kanoon on malfoof".


Try it with Leylet Hob: which sections repeat, or repeat with a slight variation? Can you find the call and responses? The transitional cues?


Not all songs follow a repeating pattern. Dr. Sawa calls these "multi-component" songs. This is the most common type when it comes to something like an entrance number, or other music composed specifically for raqs sharki. From the work we've done in this class, you can probably notice changes from one section to the next by now (especially if you have already taken the rhythms semester classes), but it is the subject of longer study to recognize all of the references found in these songs.

A song for a dancer often references different folk dances, with sections including orientalized saidi and khalejee being very popular in music from the 80s and 90s. I've even heard some modern renditions where a khalejee section was replaced with Iraqi rhythms and instrumentation, as popular demand has changed. So, even if you only ever want to dance raqs sharki, it is important to learn about as many folk dances as you can, if only to catch and translate those references in oriental dance music. (the following clip draws attention to the refferenced folk styles, but I do not endorse supporting this dancer).


I prefer to name the sections something that will spark my memory, or help me translate the sound into movement. Often I will use instruments and rhythms, along with descriptive terms, to name the sections. So instead of, for example, ABCBD, I might map a song with "introduction, sweepy violin section, call and response, sweepy violin, heavy maksoom". I also usually note any transitional bits.

If I am mapping the song for an improvisation, I might scribble out the "sentences", but won't tidy them up or do much more than trust myself to respond to them in the moment, and I'll make my improvisation plan around the "paragraphs". When I map a song for a choreography I will take better note of the phrases (sentences), to make it easier to keep track of where in the song I am during the choreography, and have a better idea of whether what I am envisioning will fit.


Listen to the song for next semester's choreography and review the music map we made. You can also re-write it into something that makes more sense for you (IE: rename sections, adjust how you note them). Listen so you can find and recognize where the repeats, transitions, phrases, sections, etc. are. This will make it much easier to learn the choreography starting next session!

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