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Lesson 2: Learning “Foag el-Nakhal”

Aim: How are melody, rhythm, and ornamentation used in an Iraqi folk song?
Summary: Students learn the refrain; compare and contrast the maqam and iqa’ used in “Foag el-Nakhal” with those used in “Foag el-Nakhal”; and explore vocal ornamentation.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide, rhythm instruments
Standards: National 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11
Vocabulary: ornamentation, improvisation, sequence

Layth Teaches “Foag el-Nakhal”

“Foag el-Nakhal” Demonstration

Iraqi Folk artist Layth teaches “Foag el-Nakhal” and the chobi dance.

Sing “Foag el-Nakhal”

  • Listen to “Foag el-Nakhal,” Track 66.
  • Notice that this time the improvised introduction is played on the violin, while the introduction in “Tal’a Min Beit Abouha” was sung.
  • Learn the words using “Foag el-Nakhal” pronunciation, Track 67, and the refrain using “Foag el-Nakhal” refrain, Track 68.
  • Listen again to the full song “Foag el-Nakhal,” Track 66, and join in singing the refrain.
  • Note that the melody is a sequence: It is the same phrase repeated three times, starting on different pitches.
    • Sing the first phrase slowly with the students, tracing the melodic contour with your fingers. Then sing the second phrase.
      • Is the second phrase lower or higher in pitch than the first phrase?
    • Sing the third phrase.
      • Is the third phrase lower or higher in pitch than the second phrase?
    • Sing the full refrain, tracing the shape of the melody with your hand as it descends.
  • Once your students have learned the refrain, they can also learn the verse and the chorus. Students can sing these parts on wordless syllables as well.

“Foag el-Nakhal”


Chorus / Verse 1:
Foag el-nakhal—foag
Yaba foag el-nakhal—foag
Madri lama’ khaddak, yaba madr-il gomar—foag
Wallah ma reedah—baleeni balwah

Refrain: La la la la …

Verse 2:
Ballah ya majral may
Yaba sallem ’alehom, ’alehom
Sa’ban el-forga ’alay
Yaba shtagna ilehom, ilehom
Wallah Ma Reedah—Baleeni Balwah


(Chorus / Verse 1)

(Repeat as needed.)



Chorus / Verse 1:
Above the palm trees
I don’t know if it’s your cheek shining or if
It’s the moon above. I swear I don’t want them.
They’re causing me pain.

Refrain: La la la la …

Verse 2:
Oh river, go say “Hi” to them for me
The separation is hard for me
I miss them.
I swear I don’t want them.
They’re causing me pain.


(Chorus / Verse 1)

(Repeat as needed.)

Discover the Maqam and Iqa’ for “Foag el-Nakhal”

  • The maqam for “Foag el-Nakhal” is maqam Hijaz.
  • Using maqam Hijaz, Track 69, listen to and then sing the maqam.
    • Is there a mood or character that you feel from this maqam?
    • Maqam Hijaz is felt in different ways. Some people feel that it is melancholy or a little sad. Others feel it is celebratory. And others see it as both!
    • Different people can hear the same thing and feel differently about it.
    • How does maqam Hijaz compare to maqam Ajam, which was used in “Tal’a Min Beit Abouha”?
  • The iqa’ for “Foag el-Nakhal” is iqa’ Maqsum. Use Track 70 to hear an example of iqa’ Maqsum. Explore the rhythm in any of the following ways:
    • Speak the rhythm using the syllables “dum” and “tak.”
    • Clap the rhythm, using the clapping technique explained in Lesson 1.
    • Play the rhythm on classroom percussion instruments or found objects, as explored in Lesson 1.
  • Using “Foag el-Nakhal,” Track 66, play the iqa’ by speaking, clapping, and playing rhythm instruments, and sing along with the refrain.

Explore Ornamentation in “Foag el-Nakhal”

In Iraqi folk music, singers and instrumentalists play the melody together in unison. Everyone also ornaments the melody—improvising in the moment and trying to surprise each other—creating a rich and constantly changing texture. There are two main ornaments that are used; musicians can vary these ornaments, and also invent their own.
  • Listen to Track 71, vocal ornamentation demonstration. Your students will hear the refrain from “Foag el-Nakhal” sung without ornaments and then with ornaments.
    • What is the same in the two versions? What is different?

Ornament 1

Ornament 1 is used to ornament a single pitch. Using Track 72, learn how to sing this ornament. Start slowly and then gradually speed up to see how fast your students can go.

To ornament any note, begin on the note, move up in pitch, return to the starting pitch, and finally move down in pitch.

Ornament 2

Ornament 2 is used in both descending and ascending passages, adding a note above or below each pitch in the melody. Use Track 73 to demonstrate this ornament in a descending melody. Once again, start slowly and speed up gradually.

To ornament any note, begin on the note, move up in pitch, skip down to the note below the starting pitch, and finally return to the original pitch.

Creative Extension

Exploring the Arabic Alphabet

Arabic has its own alphabet with 28 letters in it. It is written from right to left. In Explore the Arabic Language (PDF), your students will be able to trace several words that come from the two songs they are learning— including love, palm tree, and house—and draw pictures that illustrate the words.

Creative Extension

Discover Mesopotamia

The country of Iraq lies in the ancient region of Mesopotamia, often called the “cradle of civilization”; some of the world’s earliest forms of writing, math, science, law, and philosophy were created there. In Discover Mesopotamia (PDF), your students will learn about some of the innovations that came from the Mesopotamians.

Literacy Extension

The World Is Not a Rectangle

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter tells the story of Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi architect who used natural elements and the world’s curves to inspire her designs. Hadid did not confine herself or her work to societal expectations, possessing courage that is reflected in her original and innovative buildings found throughout the world. Celebrate the life and work of Zaha Hadid with this book!

Book cover for "The World Is Not A Rectangle" depicting a woman holding a bunch of maps

Musical Word Wall

Add the words ornamentation, improvisation, and sequence to the Musical Word Wall.

Don't Forget

Image Credits

“Tigris River” by rasoulali.

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