Vocal Styles from Around the World


Authored by Christiane Karam


Course Code: OVOIC-300

Next Semester Starts
June 26, 2023

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


The goal of this course is to broaden your global horizons and introduce you to various vocal traditions from around the world. While the scope of the course cannot encompass every single tradition and/or region of the globe, it will be instrumental in helping you recognize, appreciate, and execute basic vocal techniques and vocabularies from a wide array of traditions across all continents and apply these basic concepts to your own music. The sequence of regions was loosely based on the journey of the Roma people from South Asia all the way to Spain, and further extended into the connection of the Iberian peninsula with Latin America, as well as a loop around East Asia and the Pacific.

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By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Develop a strong foundation and knowledge in various styles from around the world
  • Understand more clearly the history and context around many vocal traditions from around the world and how they intersect
  • Recognize diverse vocal styles from many cultures and traditions around the world
  • Execute various vocal techniques from various regions around the world
  • Reflect on these concepts and techniques and practice integrating them into your own music and artistic vision
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: The Music of India

  • Ragas or Rag (Melody)
  • Carnatic and Hindustani Ragas
  • Tala (Meter)
  • Carnatic and Hindustani Talas
  • Improvisation
  • Different Styles/Forms of Vocal Music
  • Folk Traditions
  • Film Music
  • Assignment 1: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 2: The Music of Polynesia, Tuva, East Asia, Russia, Ukraine, and Scandinavia

  • The Music of Polynesia
  • The Music of Tuva
  • The Music of East and Southeast Asia (China, Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand)
  • The Music of Russia and Ukraine
  • The Music of Scandinavia (Sweden, Finland, and Iceland)
  • Assignment 2: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 3: The Music of the Caucasus

  • The Music of Armenia
  • The Music of Iran
  • The Music of Georgia
  • The Music of Kurdistan and Azerbaijan
  • Assignment 3: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 4: The Music of the Levant: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine

  • Phrasing and Ornamentation
  • The Maqam System (Hijaz, Bayati, and Rast)
  • Rhythms (Iqa’at)
  • Legends of Classical Arabic Music
  • Assignment 4: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 5: The Music of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula

  • The Music of the Arabian Peninsula
  • The Music of North Africa: Algeria and Morocco
  • The Music of East Africa
  • The Music of West Africa
  • The Music of South Africa
  • Assignment 5: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 6: The Music of the Balkans

  • The Music of Bulgaria
  • The Choral Tradition of Bulgaria
  • The Music of Greece
  • The Music of Turkey
  • Assignment 6: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 7: The Music of Poland, Hungary, Transylvania, and Romania

  • The Music of Poland
  • The Music of Hungary
  • The Music of Transylvania
  • The Music of Romania
  • Assignment 7: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 8: The Music of the Mediterranean

  • The Music of Southern Italy (Naples, Sardinia, Sicily, Calabria, and Puglia)
  • The Music of Central Italy
  • The Music of Northern Italy
  • The Music of France and Corsica
  • Assignment 8: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 9: The Music of Portugal and Spain

  • The Music of Portugal and Cabo Verde
  • The Music of Spain (Galicia, Basque Country, Catalonia, and Mallorca)
  • The Music of Spain (Andalusia)
  • Flamenco Rhythms (Palmas)
  • Assignment 9: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 10: The Music of the Central and Latin America

  • The Music of Mexico
  • The Music of the Caribbean
  • The Music of Colombia
  • The Music of Venezuela
  • The Music of Argentina
  • Assignment 10: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 11: The Music of Brazil

  • MPB (Música Popular Brasileira)
  • The Music of Bahia
  • The Masters: Antônio Carlos Jobim, Elis Regina, and Astrud Gilberto
  • The Masters: João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil
  • Assignment 11: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection

Lesson 12: Sacred Vocal Styles from Around the World

  • Byzantine Music and Gregorian Chant
  • Sufi Music (Turkey/Persia/Syria)
  • Qawwali Music (Pakistan)
  • Santeria (Cuba)
  • Assignment 12: Transcription, Performance, and Reflection


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements

Basic vocal training or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

Students should be able to:

  • Read Western European music notation
  • Transcribe music at a beginner level
  • Record a performance using a DAW or App

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Students are required to record video for some assignments. You can use your smartphone, digital camera, or webcam to do this. If you do not already have a preferred video software, you can use the built-in recorder tool within your assignment post.

Recommended Films

Software Requirements

  • Application that can change the speed of provided audio recordings without changing the pitch (examples include Amazing Slow Downer, VLC Player, and many DAWs)

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu for any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Christiane Karam

Author & Instructor

Born and raised in war-torn Beirut, Lebanon, Christiane Karam’s unique vocal style stems from her love for different musical traditions. She is the leader and founder of the award-winning ZilZALA Ensemble, which blends classical, traditional, and folk music from different regions of the Middle East and the Balkans with contemporary jazz. She has taught and performed around the world, and collaborated with the likes of Yanka Rupkina, Tigran Hamasyan, Hüsnü Şenlendirici, Javier Limon, the Assad Brothers, Binka Dobreva, Javier Limon, and Bobby McFerrin, at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Summerstage, Symphony Space, and Teatro National. She appeared in the 2009 PBS documentary film The Music Instinct: Science and Song, featuring Bobby McFerrin, Daniel Levitin, Oliver Sacks, Daniel Barenboim, and Yo-Yo Ma, and has also been featured on VH1.

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In addition to coaching and performing, Christiane is an award-winning songwriter and the founder and leader of both the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir and the Berklee Middle Eastern Festival. She is also the director of the Berklee Annual International Folk Festival. Her latest project, NAR, with the Christiane Karam Quintet, was released in January 2022 to rave reviews, and strives to explore human connection and the journey of healing darkness and separation, while celebrating the exuberance and depth of the vast array of musical traditions she comes from. She is also a published author. Her book Of Broken Pieces and Light Ahead, a mix of poetry and prose which speaks to the resilience of the human spirit, was released in May 2022.

Christiane is currently on the faculty of Berklee College of Music, where she continues her work of bringing awareness and positive social change through music and the arts. As a holistic practitioner, she is committed to promoting wellness and balance through various mind-body practices. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Vocal Styles from Around the World can be applied towards these associated programs:

Associated Degree Major


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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