al 'ud - the oud

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oud by Najib Shaheen
Oud by Najib Shaheen. Click to visit his site.
About the Oud

     The oud (also known as the ud is a musical instrument common to all Arab cultures. It is also an important part of the Turkish musical tradition and may have originated Persia, where it is known as the "barbat". It is a stringed instrument slightly smaller than a guitar, with eleven strings in six courses. Some Ouds may have more or fewer strings; 13 strings in 7 courses (popularized, I believe, by the Iraqi oud player Munir Bashir), or 10 strings in 5 courses. It is tuned differently in Arabic music than in Turkish; the Arab tuning is usually (low to high) C' (or D') F' or (G') A' D G c. The Turkish tuning is usually a whole step higher—D' (E') G' (A') B' E A d, with some players using all fourths (C#' F#' B' E A d). Occasionally, the lowest string will be placed next to the highest string. The oud is the ancestor of the European lute ("al 'ud" became "lute"), and ultimately of the guitar as well. Unlike the lute and guitar, however, the oud has no frets; this enables the musician to play the quarter-tones (in between the half-steps of a 12-note chromatic scale) necessary for most Arabic and Turkish music. Arabic music does sometimes use a stringed instrument with frets called a buzuq (saz is a similar Turkish instrument), but the frets are movable and can accomodate more than 12 tones to the octave.

Other Instruments

     Other important instruments in Arabic music are: the Qanun (Kanun, Qanoon, etc.), Ney (nay, nai, etc.), Darbouka (darabeka, darabuka), Riq, Tar, Bendir, and the violin.

Qanun is a type of zither plucked with a kind of finger-pick. It has levers for changing the tuning to different maqamat, and either sits in the player's lap or is held by a stand. The word means "rule" and is related to Greek word Kanon ("Canon" in english).

Ney is an end-blown flute made out of reed. It has a very beautiful sound and is quite difficult to learn. Some ney players I like are: Ali Jihad Racy (Lebanese), Kudsi Erguner (Turkish), Omar Faruk Tekbilek (Turkish/Egyptian), and Bassam Saba (Lebanese).

Darbouka is a goblet-shaped drum with a crisp, powerful bass tone and a clear, sharp rim sound (dialect differences account for a wide variety of pronunciations, and thus transliterations, including darabeka, and darabuka). It is also known as a tabla, not to be confused with the Indian instrument of the same name. A similar instrument is the zarb or doumbek, the primary distinction being that the latter are made of wood, while the Darbukka is made of ceramic or metal. The name doumbek is often mistakenly applied by Americans to the darbukka, but the distinction is important, as the real doumbek is not used in most Arabic music. Skin heads (usu. fish or goat) are traditional, but synthetic heads have become common.

Riq is a small frame drum with pairs of brass jingles arranged in 5 sets of two. In the classical style the jingles are not played with the fingers, but the cabaret style uses the jingles in a wide variety of ways. A goat- or fish-skin head is traditional, but synthetics are also used.

Tar and Bendir are larger frame drums without jingles. The primary difference is that the Bendir has a snare attached to the inside, which gives it a characteristic buzzing sound.

Violin is the same as the western violin, although it is tuned differently (G D G D). Simon Shaheen is a brilliant violinist, and an outstanding oud player as well.

Buzuq is a long-necked string instrument with microtonal frets and metal strings. It is played with a pick, and is related to the Greek Bouzouki and Turkish Saz. Ali Jihad Racy is an excellelent Buzuq player.

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Site last updated 3/2/11


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