Musical Instruments of the Arab World: A Sneak Peek

Travel to any place of the world. Apart from the variety in culture and people, you will also find that the musical tradition of different places vary significantly. The origin of music in many places are shrouded in mystery. However, many places across the world are popular for the unique and independent forms of music that they offer. The Arab world is a place worth mentioning in this context. A wide range of musical instruments trace their origins in the deserts, the oases, the villages and the modern cities of the Middle East. With time, they have gained immense popularity among the music loving audience around the world.

Popular Arabic Musical Instruments

Here’s a quick look at only a few of the wide range of instruments that are a part of the musical scene of the Middle East:

  • The Qanun
  • The Oud
  • The Riq
  • The Buzuq
  • The Nay


A Detailed Look

Here’s a detailed overview of some of these instruments, which are used primarily in the different countries of the Middle East before moving out in the wide world. These instruments usually have different types of uses and you can see them being played at several common ceremonies and festivals in the countries of the Arab world. With every passing day, the popularities of these instruments are rising significantly.

The Qanun: Have you ever seen the Egyptian harp or a dulcimer? Is their music known to you? If you have, then you can remain assured that the Qanun is not unknown to you. It consists of a trapezoid-shaped flat board over which 81 strings are attached. These strings are divided into groups of three. It has 24treble chords and each note has three chords. The strings are also attached to brass levers, which help to make small changes in the pitch.

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The Oud: Want to know the name of the most popular musical instrument in the Arab world? It’s surely the oud. The name refers to the thin strips of wood, which are used to make this oblong-shaped instrument. This instrument offers a unique sound, as it lacks the frets. Its strings come in five pairs and an additional string. However, the number of strings can add up to as many as 13.

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The Nay: The nay, also spelled as ney, is an Arabic version of the flute. It is a structure, which is also pretty close to that of the flute. It includes:

  • A hollow tubular structure
  • On the tube are six holes in the front
  • One hole is present underneath

While the six holes are for the four fingers to play on, the thumb is used to manage the tunes of the hole underneath. It looks really simple, but the nay is actually known to be one of the toughest Arabic musical instruments to play.

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The Riq: An Arabic instrument, which is also popular as daff, is a small tambourine used to provide beats to the music. Its depth is about 2.5 inches, while the diameter is about 8.5 inches long. It usually has a wooden frame and is covered with the skin of goat or fish. This skin of the riq needs to be heated before performance, so that it stretches properly. Besides, it also contains a few jingles, placed in pairs. This drum is known to produce clear and high-pitched sounds, which can make any audience sway to its tunes.

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The Buzuq: More of an Arabian mandolin, the Buzuq is a fretted lute, which offers a wide range of tunes. This musical instrument has been used in the Middle East over the years. It is known for the sweet, metallic resonance it can create.

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Although all these musical instruments have originated in the Arabian countries, they are now extremely popular across the globe. These have also inspired several modern-day musical instruments. These instruments have evolved with the passage of time. From the classical and the folk forms of music, for which these instruments were primarily used in the initial days, they have moved to other uses. You can now hear even pop and other forms of modern music being played on all these musical instruments from the Arab world.