This study addresses the perception of Arabic improvised music. The modal musical system (maqāām) as well as the model par excellence of instantaneous musical exposition and composition——instrumental improvisation (taqsīīm)——are presented. The classical Arabic maqāām (plural maqāāmāāt) is defined in terms of other fundamental interactive elements. The role of modal perception in the mental organization of a taqsīīm performed on the ūūd was explored with tasks involving the identification of musical elements, the segmentation of the musical work, and verbal descriptions and performed melodic ““reductions”” of the segments. Strong differences in identifications and segmentations are found between listeners of European and Arabic cultural origins. Both groups make segmentations on the basis of salient surface features such as pauses and register changes, but Arab listeners make segmentations that are defined by subtle modal changes that often go unnoticed by the Europeans. However, not all of the Arab listeners agree on where such changes take place or even sometimes on which maqāāmāāt are being played. One major ambiguity in maqāām identification in the taqsīīm studied is discussed in detail. The melodic reductions of segments in a given maqāām reveal the nature of Arabic modes as involving not just a tuning system, but also essential melodico-rhythmic configurations that are emblematic of the maqāām. A music-analytic approach to the deployment of the maqāāmāāt within the form of the taqsīīm that is informed by the perceptual results is developed. This approach involves the factors that lead to implicit recognition of maqāāmāāt, including ambiguities in identification, and those that inform the hierarchical organization of the form on the basis of larger-scale movements among maqāāmāāt.

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