The fundamental building blocks of Zireen music, as with all kinds of music, are pitch, rhythm, and timbre. For purposes of illustration, the elements of Zireen music will be described with anglicized versions of words from the Yasaro language. Other Zireen languages tend to have similar concepts, although the words used to describe them are different.
Pitch and intervals
The basis for all intervals in Zireen music is the tilar (Yasaro: tílar), which is a tempered octave. All other intervals are constructed by subdividing the tilar into smaller parts (such as fifths, fourths, and thirds), according to a rough approximation of the harmonic series, or by stacking two or more of these basic intervals. "Superparticular" intervals (pitch ratios of the form n+1/n) are considered the most basic of the Zireen musical intervals. Note that although these intervals are expressed as pitch ratios, actual Zireen music almost invariably alters these ratios to produce a slight beating effect. This beating ranges from subtle to extreme, but it is almost always present, even in the octaves.
The basic musical intervals
The first division of the tilar produces a pair of intervals called napi (Yasaro: nhàpī), which correspond to the perfect fifth (3/2) and perfect fourth (4/3). The smaller of a pair of intervals is called a muri, or "shadow", of the larger interval (Yasaro: mùri). The major napi is divided into two pindu (pį́tu), which are the equivalent of the major and minor third, and the shadow napi is divided into two laira (lâira), which are 7-limit intervals: a "subminor third" (7/6) and a "supermajor second" (8/7). Further subdivisions are defined as follows:
- tondu (whole tones): 9/8 (tą̀tu), 10/9 (tą̀tu mùri).
- yombi (neutral seconds): 11/10 (ją́pi), 12/11 (ją́pi mùri).
- chulu (13-limit small steps): 13/12 (čùlu), 14/13 (čùlu mùri).
- kima (semitones): 15/14 (kíma), 16/15 (kíma mùri).
Tuning systems (nai)
The notation and tuning of Zireen music, especially instrumental music, is based on the tradition of music for the vila (Yasaro: vǐla), a kind of reed organ with an array of round buttons as a keyboard (similar to the arrangement of a button accordion). A particular arrangement of buttons is called a nai (Yasaro: nâi), and there are many different kinds of nai in Zireen music. As an illustration, nai seret (nâi sèret) is an arrangement of buttons associated with what we call meantone temperament, which is a historical tuning based on tempering out the small interval called a syntonic comma (which has a ratio of 81/80). In Zireen music, nai seret includes intervals down to the size of a shadow laira (supermajor second), which makes it a 7-limit temperament. In addition to 81/80, nai seret also tempers out 126/125 (or equivalently, 225/224). This tempering out of small intervals allows a limited set of buttons to represent a much larger set of theoretical intervals that differ from each other by only small amounts. The slight beating introduced by this detuning is generally considered as a desirable effect, but Zireen cultures vary as to how much beating is desirable. Here is a list of some of the more common nais, with a description of which small intervals are tempered out.
- nâi hanákī ("bug"): 27/25
- nâi jùluŋ ("father"): 16/15
- nâi kénet ("mavila"): 135/128
- nâi lę̀pa ("lemba"): 50/49, 525/512
- nâi mahǎli ("superpelog"): 49/48, 135/128
- nâi pilîna ("blacksmith"): 28/27, 49/48
- nâi sèret ("meantone"): 81/80, 126/125
- nâi sį̀kā ("keemun"): 49/48, 225/224
While a nai can theoretically include an unlimited number of pitches by extending the array of buttons in the vertical direction, actual music uses only a limited subset of these pitches, in arrangements called yemet (Yasaro: jémet). Yemets are categorized by the number of different steps of one size or another within the range of a tilar (tempered octave), as well as the variations in the scale pattern as a melody develops. For instance, a particular yemet might have one form when ascending, and a different one when descending, or a different pattern in each octave. A yemet typically has only two different sizes of steps, which are combined in specific numbers to reach an octave, like the diatonic scale of 5 whole steps and 2 half steps in Western music. Yemet kerasi, for instance (Yasaro: jémet kerâsi) is the Zireen equivalent of the pentatonic scale, with 2 large steps and 3 small steps per octave (abbreviated "2+3"); this yemet is typically associated with the button arrangement nai seret (meantone). Yemet veriko, on the other hand (jémet vèriką), is a bizarre scale associated with nai yulung, which has 3 large steps and 2 small steps (3+2).