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Musical Instruments Of Arabia

Updated on March 22, 2012

Musical Instruments of Arabia

by Alice Olsen

Traditional Arabic music is composed of intricate melodies and improvisations accompanied with various rhythmic patterns. Unlike Western music, Arabic music uses many more melodic scales, different than the familiar major and minor found in Western music. These scales utilize quarter steps as well as the more familiar half and whole steps. A quarter step falls in between two notes of a half step; for example the sound in between C and C#. To the Western ear this may sound like someone is singing or playing slightly out of tune when in fact the performer is demonstrating a much more focused degree of tuning. Most Arabic music has melodic lines that are doubled on several instruments at once. Harmony is not traditionally used.

Traditional instruments include the Ud. This pear shaped string instrument is often plucked with a feather. Al Ud came to Europe with the Crusaders and became the Lute (Al Ud.. Al Ut.. Lute) It is a popular solo instrument capable of virtuosic performances. Lack of frets allows the performer to play quarter steps as well as half and whole steps. The Ud has 6 pairs of strings tuned G, A, D, G, and C. Each pair is tuned either in unison or at an octave.

Another string instrument is the Rebab. It is a two string fiddle, played with a bow. In some styles the body is a rectangular box and in others it is a small wooden cylinder. In each case it has a skin stretched across the front. The bow is tightened using finger pressure and then is drawn across the strings. Different notes are made by pressing the strings against the neck, similar to playing a cello.

Wind instruments include the Mizmar (also called the Qarna) which is a loud double reed instrument, similar to the Renaissance Shawm. The player's lips cover the double reed where it is blown. Finger holes are covered in a way similar to playing a recorder.

The Mijwiz (also called Zummara) is made from two reed pipes bound together. The ends of the pipes are slit so that they form a reed that vibrates when blown. This is a similar sound making concept as a reed for a saxophone or clarinet.

A flute like instrument with a notched end is called the nay.

Percussion instruments include Zills (finger cymbals). Pairs of cymbals are attached to the thumb and middle finger of each hand and then they are played by clapping them together.

The Daff is a style of tambourine with heavy jingles. Players hold this instrument with it's surface facing away from their body (upright ). Both hands can be used to hit the skin and fingers can be used to play the jingles.

The Dumbac (also called Darabca or Tabla) is a goblet shaped drum. It is held across the knee and played with the hands. Several tones can be produced by hitting the center, the rim area or by inserting one hand inside the drum to change the pitch. Snapping, tapping and slapping the head of the instrument produce different types of sounds as well.

The Tar (a large round frame drum) is used to accompany dancing. In many dances, rows of dancers hold Tars, swinging them as they play together. Sometimes the inside of the Tar has small bells to add a jingle.


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    • misshill profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      Interest article and nice pictures, thanks for sharing.

    • alomusic profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Yes, I collected them when I lived in the Middle East. Glad you enjoyed the pictures.

    • profile image

      Gentle Shepherd 

      8 years ago

      Nice pictures! Do you own all these instruments?

    • alomusic profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thank you!

    • ananceleste profile image

      Anan Celeste 

      8 years ago from California

      Magnificent! I always wondered how this intruments looked like. I am a big fan of the music. Voted up!


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