Ancient Egyptian Lute and double Pipe players
Today’s harp, lyre, drum, tambourine, flute and reed instruments
are either similar to what they looked from earliest Arab civilization
or a variation of the Arabs’ early musical instruments. For example
the guitar and mandolin are sisters to the pear-shaped stringed instrument,
Arab poetry was perfected into musical expression. The modes continue
to influence our ballads and folk songs today. Arab weddings
and other occasions are still celebrated with impromptu versing and musical compositions.
Click here to listen to Samah-l Nuba Egyptian
clip courtesy of Wael Kakish of Kan Zaman
Instruments used are the "Mizmar" there are few
sizes depending on the Key (C, G, D or A), it's an outdoor
instrument (because it's too loud), mostly played at wedding
processions and other Festivities & events (Happy and
Sad ones), normally it is accompanied by a large drum called "Tabl" (also
called Dumbeq or Darabuka” that is struck by two pieces
of wood “Madhrab” and the “Daff” (also
called Riq). Recording from KAN ZAMAN website, “Egyptian
Claremont Colleges 2006 CD, Little Bridges Performance.
Baghdad Musical Theatre Group – 1920
Musicians in Aleppo from the 18th century
Some Arabic Music Instruments
The Oud (Ud)
The Oud is one of the most popular instruments in Arabic music. The
name derived from the Arabic for 'a thin strip of wood', and this
refers to the strips of wood used to make its curved body.
The neck of the Oud, which is short in comparison to the body, has
no frets and this contributes to its unique sound. It also allows
playing notes in any intonation, which makes it ideal for performing
Fouad Mohamad, Oud player (left)
and Helmi Charif, singer (right)
Click here to listen to the
Oud as played by Fouad Mohamad
Strings are generally made of nylon or gut, and are plucked with
a plectrum known as a risha (Arabic for feather). Modern strings
made of steel wound over nylon. The instrument is often intricately
Intricately decorated Oud – back
Intricately decorated Oud – side
The Oud used in the Arab world is slightly different to that found
in Turkey, Armenia and Greece.
The European lute is a descendant of the Oud, from which it takes
its name the Lute (al-oud).
There are different opinions on the origins of the Oud. Some researchers
claim that Noah was the first to use the instrument before the
flood. It is clear though that the Oud was found in the Egyptian
dated back to 3000 B.C. and was discovered in Iraq’s excavations
dating back to 2350 B.C. during the Acadian era.
Masters of the Oud: Muhammad El Qasabji (Egypt), Riyadh El Sunbati
(Egypt), Farid El Atrache (Lebanon/Egypt), Munir Bashir (Iraq), Simon
The Qanun (Qanoun or Kanun)
The qanun is a descendent of the old Egyptian harp. It is an integral
part of the Arabic music since the 10th century. The word qanun means
'law' in Arabic, and the word exists in English in the form of "canon." The
qanun was introduced to Europe by the 12th Century, becoming known
during the 14th to the 16th Century as a psaltery or zither. The
qanun also resembles a dulcimer.
The qanun has a trapezoid shape, flat board with 81 strings in groups
of three. The instrument is placed on the knees or table. Strings are
plucked with the finger or two plectra, each attached to the forefinger
on each hand.
The player initially sets the levers to create the scale of the starting
maqam. He then has to switch some levers back and forth with the left
hand while playing with the right hand to modulate to another maqam.
Masters of the Qanun: Muhammad El 'Aqqad (Egypt), Abraham Salman (Iraq).
The nay (Farsi for reed) is an open-ended flute made of cane. They
nay was known in the Middle Eastern from the ancient times. The nay
usually has 6 holes in the front for the fingers to play and 1 hole
underneath for the thumb. Nays come in different lengths with specific
The nay is blown using a unique lip technique called bilabial blowing,
with both upper and lower lip used to partially close the end of the
Although the Nay is a very simple instrument, yet is one of the most
difficult Arabic instruments to play. A fine player can produce a large
variety of liquid sounds. The Nay produces a warm sound.
Masters of the nay: Bassam Saba (Lebanon).
The Riq (or Daf)
The riq (or Daf) is a very ancient musical instrument that existed
in the Mesopotamia region more than 3000 years B.C. It is a small
tambourine traditionally covered with a goat or fish skin head, stretched
over a wooden frame inlaid with mother of pearl. The riq has five
sets of two pairs of brass cymbals spaced evenly around the frame.
The cymbals are what produce the beautiful jingle sound.
Since fish or goat skin heads are very sensitive to humidity and
can easily lose their tightness the riq players had to heat their
just before the performance. Since the riq skin could stretch again
after 5-10 minutes, proffessional riq players often had to own two
identical riqs, heating one while playing the other.
In the late 1980s, a mylar-headed, aluminum (or wooden) bodied instrument
was introduced and was adopted by a number of professional riq players.
The best tunable riq today is made by Kevork Kazanjian in Lebanon.
The sound of the riq sets the rhythm of much Arabic music.
Masters of the riq: Mohamed El 'Arabi (Egypt), 'Adel Shams Eddine
(Egypt), Hossam Ramzi (Egypt).
The Dumbek, dumbec, doumbec, doumbek, tabla, darabuka
The Dumbek has been known by the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations
more than 6000 years B.C. and it is believed by some to have been invented
before the chair.
Click here to listen to
played by Fouad Mohamad
The Dumbek is goblet shaped hand drum. The goblet drum may be played
while held under one arm or by placing it between the knees while seated.
It produces a resonant, low-sustain sound while played lightly with
the fingertips and palm. Some players move their fists in and out of
the bell to alter the tone.
Origin of the bagpipe
It is still not known when or where the bagpipe historically started,
although, many depictions of this object were found in ancient excavations
in Assyria (Iraq) and Egypt. Many researchers think that using an inflated
leather bag as an air reservoir for a wind instrument or other purposes
The very earliest depiction of a bagpipe is a stone carving that dates
back to 800 B.C. from an Assyrian palace in Nimrud (today’s Iraq)
and presently resting in the British Museum, of a warrior swimming
in a river and assisted by a (skin-float) probably an animal hide.
The bag is equipped with a blow-pipe through which the swimmer can
replace leaking air.
The other early depiction of a bagpipe used as a musical instrument
is a terra cotta figure currently residing in Berlin's “Staatliche
Museum.” from Alexandria (Egypt), and dates to the first century
B.C. The figure looks like a man using a mouth-blown pan-pipe with
a bag underneath providing air to the musical pipes.
It is either the Romans who should be credited for introducing the
bagpipes to Europe from North Africa, or the Crusaders who were returning
from Palestine, later the bagpipe became identified with the British
Helmi Charif and Fouad Mohamad performing folklore music
Click here to listen
to folklore songs
performed by Helmi Charif and Fouad Mohamad
Click here to listen to Mountains
of Lebanon folklore
songs as performed by Helmi Charif and Fouad
Click here to listen
to the Meejana and Ataba
by Helmi Charif and Fouad Mohamad
here to listen to "Having Fun"
Clip courtesy of Haytham Safia
From http://www.mikeouds.com/mp3/ andhttp://www.haythamsafia.com/main-eng.html Recording
from Haytham Safia Quartet, Promises CD Playing the Oud, Tablah
accompanied by other instruments.