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Abkhazhi Music

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This article is about folk music in Western Assai. For the real world partially-recognised state, see Abkhazia.
Abkhazhi Music
Abkhazhi Musicians.png
An Abkhazhi band in Mazhesh circa 5878 Ʋ
Music Theory
Other topics
List of folk musicians
Folk instruments

Abkhazhi (Emrit pronunciation: ɑp'k͡ʀɐʒi, Assai: akaʃi, Zhatsai: abkazhi) is a style and genre of music native to the Korat region of Western Assai.



Harmony, Melody and Tonality

Pitches of notes in the 16-Tone (Abkhazhi) and 12-Tone (Western Equal Temperament) systems of tuning. Note the parabolic relationship of pitches in Equal Temperament compared to the linear relationship in Abkhazhi.
A sine-wave generation of the 16-Tone system starting on 'A' (440hz).
A recording of a zh'Dadrak player playing a 16-Tone chromatic scale.
Main Articles: Harmony and Tonality in Abkhazhi, Tonality in Western Assai.

The 16-Tone System

Main Article: 16-Tone System.

Unlike traditional Western Harmony, tonality in Abkhazhi music is derived from a series of 16 (rather than 12) tones within the range of an octave (that is, the interval consisting of a fundamental pitch and the pitch of double its frequency), a system generally referred to as the 16-Tone or ablaykhaz system. In music theory and sound physics, what is heard as a single pitch is in fact a vibration of air which forms a sine wave, wherein the frequency of that wave determines pitch. Waves of slower frequency will have a lower pitch, and vice versa, with the layering of different pitches (that is, waves of different frequencies) producing intervals of different levels of consonance based on the level of overlap between those waves. This description of intervals is, however, oversimplified, but for the purposes of this article and its description of the Abkhazhi interval and tone system will suffice (for a more detailed article explaining pitch and intervals, please see the Pitch (music) and Interval (music) articles).

The 16-Tone System is derived from the rational division of the octave into 16 pitches based on exact numerical value, wherein the distance between each pitch is the same and the distance between each octave is consistently a ratio of 1:2 in terms of sine wave frequency. The 16 tones are produced from an initial division of the octave into 2, followed by a subsequent division of each half of the octave into 2 again, and then again, and again, until 16 tones are produced. This results in the production of a 16 tone series in which each note has a ratio difference of 16:17, or pitch difference of 27.5hz (within the octave A440 to A880) and is equidistant from the next ascending or descending note. These notes are given different functions and names within the Abkhazhi tradition, most of which are based on their traditional role within the system of Modes. Beginning with 'A' (440hz), every second tone is given a letter name (ie, 'B' is 495hz, 'C' is 550hz, and so one) and each middle tone is referred to as either a raised note (denoted by '+') or a lowered note (denoted by '-'). Thus, the tone of pitch 467.5hz, which is between 'A' (440hz) and 'B' (495hz) may be termed 'A raised' (A+) or 'B lowered' (B-). This process continues, so that a full 16-tone series is named thus:

The 16-Tone Ablaykhaz System
Note Name: A A+/B- B B+/C- C C+/D- D D+/E- E E+/F- F F+/G- G G+/H- H H+/A- A
Note Number: 1 1+/2- 2 2+/3- 3 3+/4- 4 4+/5- 5 5+/6- 6 6+/7- 7 7+/8- 8 8+/9-/1- 9/1
Pitch: 440hz 467.5hz 495hz 522.5hz 550hz 577.5hz 605hz 632.5hz 660hz 687.5hz 715hz 742.5hz 770hz 797.5hz 825hz 852.5hz 880hz
Interval Ratio with A (440hz): 1:1 16:17 8:9 16:19 4:5 16:21 8:11 16:23 2:3 16:25 8:13 16:27 4:7 16:29 8:15 16:31 1:2
Tone Type: Perfect Tone Shadow Tone Imperfect Tone Shadow Tone Pure Tone Shadow Tone Imperfect Tone Shadow Tone Perfect Tone Shadow Tone Imperfect Tone Shadow Tone Pure Tone Shadow Tone Imperfect Tone Shadow Tone Perfect Tone

At the bottom of each note on the table above is a description of tone type. This description is used in the building of harmony and modes in Abkhazhi music, and is used to refer to the interval quality of each note. The Abkhazhi system of note description is a movable one, meaning whatever note is chosen as the start of a Mode (see Abkhazhi Music#Modes) is denotated as note 1 and subsequent note numbers and types calculated from there. The 'Perfect Tones', consisting of notes 1, 5, and 9 (1 up an octave) have the respective interval ratios which are closest together, and therefore most consonant, out of any other intervals (being 1:1, 2:3, and 1:2 respectively). Chords built from or out of Perfect Tones are deemed to be more consonant, and thus desirable, in Abkhazhi harmony and melody writing. Following the Perfect Tones, the 'Pure Tones', consisting of notes 3 and 7, have the next closest interval ratios (4:5 and 4:7 respectively) and are used in the construction of more complex chords. They are, however, considered to be more dissonant than Perfect Tones. 'Imperfect Tones', consisting of notes 2, 4, 6, and 8 form all remaining non-raised/lowered tones, and are more dissonant than both the Perfect and Pure Tones. Finally, 'Shadow Tones' consist of all raised and/or lowered notes, and have the most dissonant interval ratios when played against note 1. These notes have particular rules regarding their use and are generally avoided (with some exceptions) in the production of what are termed 'Great Chords' (see Abkhazhi Music#Harmonisation).

Modes and Scales

Main Article: List of Abkhazhi Modes.

Abkhazhi Music is primarily composed through the use of Modes, or 'scales' - effectively systems of interval patterns forming a collection of notes which, when arranged in a melody or harmony, provide a distinct harmonic characteristic. A number of different so-called 'Fundamental Modes' exist in Abkhazhi Music, which themselves consist of clearly defined patterns of intervals. These Fundamental Modes may begin on any pitch, so long as their pattern is continued from that pitch, and are generally named according to their character and associated style in playing. Abkhazhi Musicians will generally improvise based off well-known Modes to provide music that supports the emotion held within a particular sung text or other performance, thus providing clear emotional associations with particular harmonies within Abkhazhi music. Good musicians of the Abkhazhi tradition will generally have an excellent theoretical and practical understanding of the Fundamental Modes and their technical performance on their respective instrument.

There are TBD common Fundamental Modes in Abkhazhi Music, which are listed below. Each mode consists of a pattern of Small (S), Middle (M), or Great (G) leaps (spanning the interval between 1, 2, and 3 tones respectively), and are given below beginning on the starting note 'A' (440hz). Theoretically, any number of Fundamental Modes are possible based on the unique distribution of intervals, however these listed below are the most frequently used Modes by modern and classical Abkhazhi performers.

The Basic Fundamental Modes
Name Translation Pattern Notation Sine-Wave Recording zh'Dadrak Recording Improvisation Sample
Hajakhaash 'Ecstasy', 'Joy' M, M, M, L, M, G, M, L, L
Sheshint'aar 'Despair', 'Sorrow' M, L, L, G, M, M, L, M, M

Intervals and Chords

Main Article: Harmony in Abkhazhi Music.

Harmonic and Melodic Progressions


Articulation and Expressive Techniques



Extended Techniques



Song Types

Song Structure

In Popular Culture

See Also