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A Review of

A Near Eastern Music Primer

by Mimi Spencer




This book contains sheet music for playing seven easy and medium-level Middle Eastern songs. The songs that have been selected for this book can all be played on traditional Western instruments such as pianos - they do not require instruments capable of playing quarter tones. The book also includes translations for the lyrics of many of the songs included. Near East Music Primer Book Cover



Fact Sheet


A Near Eastern Music Primer


Mimi Spencer






Sheet music, music education


StarStarStarStar for American Classic style of dancers
StarStar for Egyptian style of dancers
StarStarStarStar for musicians new to Middle Eastern music




This review is based on the revised second edition.

This book is designed to assist someone who may already have musical training in playing a Western instrument begin to explore working with Middle Eastern music. It can also serve as a resource for dancers in learning more about Middle Eastern songs often used for dance performances.

The book contains some information about the properties of Middle Eastern music that make it different from Western music. For example, it includes introductory information about the maqam, comments on how Western musical notation was adapted for the sheet music portion of the book, comments on transliteration and pronunciation of Arabic song lyrics, pronunciation of Turkish words, and a glossary of Near Eastern musical terms. All of this information is covered at a superficial introductory level. It serves as a starting point for understanding how Near Eastern music is structured, but people wishing to make serious study of Near Eastern music theory will need to look elsewhere for the level of depth they may be seeking.

Mimi has selected seven songs to include for in-depth study. The criteria she has used in making the selection is that each song must be playable on Western instruments such as the piano (i.e., use only semitones, no quarter tones), and that each song be widely-enough used by musicians and dancers to be of interst. For each song, she includes sheet music for the melody line, recommendations on which rhythm to play with it, lyrics in the source language, translation of the lyrics, identification of the country it comes from, comments about which maqam it is played in, and information about the composer.

Even a non-musician can benefit from the lyrics translation and historical notes about each song. This book can serve as an excellent resource for dancers who are interested in learning the commonly-used repertoire for the American Classic style of belly dance.



Songs Included


Song Title


Ayazein Arabic
Zeina Egyptian
Bir Demet Yasemen Turkish
Yeşilim Turkish
Rampi Turkish
Norits Karoon Yevav Armenian
Çapkin Çapkin Turkish


Is It Right for You?

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You are looking for sheet music for the songs it contains.
  • You are looking for translations of the lyrics in the songs it contains.
  • You would be interested in reading some introductory information about Middle Eastern music theory.
  • You don't have access to a musical instrument that can play quarter tones, and you'd like to learn to play some Middle Eastern songs that don't need them.

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • The songs it contains aren't ones that you're interested in.



What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked:

  • The information is well researched.
  • The background information provided for each song (composer, country of origin, maqam, lyrics and translation) is very valuable.
  • The information is presented in an accessible, easy-to-reference format.
  • Only songs that can be played on Western instruments such as piano and guitar are inclueed, which allows musicians who don't yet have access to Middle Eastern instruments to begin discovering music from the region.
  • The songs included are widely used for the American Classic style of belly dance and therefore are relevant to a large number of dancers and the musicians who play for them.

What I Didn't Like:

  • The book contains sheet music / translations for only 7 songs.
  • The discussion of maqam is much too superficial for my taste.




There are two types of people that are likely to find this book valuable:

  • Musicians who are just starting to learn how to play Middle Eastern songs on melody isntruments.
  • Dancers who embrace the American Classic style of belly dance that arose in the U.S. in the 1960's and 1970's.

Although its coverage of Near Eastern music theory is superficial and the sheet music / lyrics translations cover a small number of songs, the information contained in the book is well-researched and intelligently presented.



I have taken a couple of workshops on introduction to Middle Eastern music from Mimi Spencer, and found her to be very knowledgeable. I found the first such workshop so inspirational that I bought this book from her after it was over to help me retain some of what she taught. I regret that I didn't have the opportunity to seek more in-depth instruction from her on Middle Eastern music while she was alive.


To Buy It

Mary Ellen Books
P.O. Box 411562
San Francisco, CA 94141-1562

Telephone: (+1) (510) 654-DRUM
or (+1) (510) 654-3786

Web Site:


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