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Instruments of Bellydance Music

Updated on March 28, 2017
Ilonagarden profile image

I took bellydance lessons and performed, then became interested in costume. The historical relationship of dance and culture is fascinating.

Listen: Modern yet Traditional

Instruments common to Middle Eastern Music

There are more than a few instruments that are unfamiliar to Western countries, at least in the forms they take in the middle East and surrounding regions. Some of these are very ancient in form, having been found in the tombs of Egypt. Many are those commonly found in country regions everywhere.

An overview of some of these instruments to familiarize us with the sounds of belly dance music.-

History of Musical Instruments in Mideastern Cultures

Quick Overview

Many of the instruments used today are direct descendants of those ancient instruments seen in archeological remnants of the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Sumerians.

The artists of these empires depicted musicians and their instruments in the wall paintings and carvings of temples, palaces, and tombs.

Sumerian Music

Sumerian Lyre

Sumerian Lyre
Sumerian Lyre

The Instruments of the Middle East

A few of the most common musical instruments

Wind instruments:

Ney, the Arabic flute



String instruments:

Oud, Arabic lute




Percussion instruments:

Darbuka, Bandir (Bendir), Daf -drums and tambourine-like instruments



Essay on Arabic instruments.

A Special Flute

Nay Flutes, Eqyptian Style, Set of 7

The flutes are an ancient form of wind instrument, the oud is a stringed instrument used throughout the Middle Eastern region, the Doumbek (or Tablah) is the percussion often used all by itself to accompany drum solo dances.

Exotic Intensity

Middle Eastern recordings remain the most challenging to American and European ears

Mel Bay Presents The Basics of Oud (Book and DVD)
Mel Bay Presents The Basics of Oud (Book and DVD)
Basic technique to get you started on learning to play one of the most loved of ancient lustes.

The Oud is a pear-shaped string instrument, much like lutes seen in Renaissance paintings, which are believed to derive from the Arabic ones.

About that Oud

A type of lute which has evolved over tie, the roots of this can be found in ancient Persia and Egypt. It is now one of the most popular and loved sounds, its form originally ranged from two to seven strings with varying depths to the pear shaped body.

Its music was attributed with healing and calming powers.

Now there are two main categories of construction, The Arabic and the Turkish. Turkish ouds are tuned higher with a more shrill sound, and Arabic instruments have a deeper sound from their larger proportions.

Ancient Egyptian Sounds

Music in Egypt

Egyptian musicians
Egyptian musicians


Ancient Instruments

Ancient Egyptian Instruments. In ancient Egyptian paintings, harps are often seen, along with a long necked string instrument and something called a sistrum. The sistrum was associated with dancing and is a "shaker" type of percussion. (It is shown at left).

Ancient Sumerian Instruments: reed pipes, vertical flutes, lyres, harps, kitharas, drums, clappers, sistrum (frame with rattling cross-bars)

Babylonians added oboes and lutes.

Because music is such an integral part of the human experience from prehistory to now, the origination of certain instruments, of rhythms, and the actual songs are sometimes lost to us, but historians do their best to piece together the evidence. We might guess that the forms of playing the music was passed down through the ages in some recognizable way in the country music of the regions - especially when played by the same instruments that are depicted in the temple and burial art.

The sistrum, used as a liturgical instrument in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church throughout the centuries, is still played with a specific dance. In this way we might even approach the experience that Egyptians may have had as depicted in pyramid paintings.

Many of the names for instruments have an Arabic source, but the sounds and the invention of them might predate that culture for millennium.

Zills,Tambourines, and Other Percussive Instruments - Add accents to a rhythm

The materials of an instrument lend a particular sound. Silver zills will have a different ring than those made of brass, for instance.

Ancient Tunes

Zills and Castenets

Instruments of the dancer

Zills are metal finger cymbals and are commonly played by performing belly dancers. Different metals produce somewhat different tones. Castanets are familiar to to those who listen to Flamenco music. Usually wooden, they are clappers which can produce a loud and rapid clacking sounds to the music.

"Castanets are percussion instrument (idiophone), used in Moorish, Ottoman, ancient Roman, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American music, and Irish Folk Music." "In the late Ottoman empire, köçeks not only danced but played percussion instruments, especially a type of castanet known as the çarpare, which in later times were replaced by metal cymbals called zills." - [1]

2 Pairs Pro Brass Fingers Cymbal Zills Belly Dancing
2 Pairs Pro Brass Fingers Cymbal Zills Belly Dancing
Brass finger cymbals should be in every belly dancers bag. Dancing accompanied by finger cymbals is to the belly dancer what castanets are to the Flamenco dancer.

Create A Beat

One of the most important of the dance accompaniments is a simple drum.

It is common to see performance with only a drum to provide the musical accompaniment.

Hand Drum



Also known as the "goblet drum" for its shape, this one is the Turkish version.

Music Albums - Vote For Your Favorite Selections

This list represents a wide range of music from the Middle Eastern regions, and covers many cultural interpretations of music. Whether you wish to hear sounds that feature one type of instrument or music to dance by, or love the songs of one ethnic type, grab a few of these digital albums for your collection and vote for the ones you think are the best.

Which Style Of Music Appeals To You?

If you could choose the music for a belly dancer, which style is top of your list?

See results

Middle Eastern Sounds with Jewish and Arabic Blend

The Music of the Arabs Book (Paperback) (Amadeus)
The Music of the Arabs Book (Paperback) (Amadeus)
Want to learn more about the Arabic form of Middle Eastern music? It is a fascinating topic. Arabic sounds have have a profound effect on the music of the entire region.

How did this sound to you? - -let me know

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    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 

      7 years ago from Pittsburgh

      I love belly dance and the music. Beautifully done.

    • Ilonagarden profile imageAUTHOR

      Ilona E 

      9 years ago from Ohio

      @LisaMarieGabriel: so glad you liked it!


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