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The Music Behind Our Dance Part Two: Instruments

By Amira Hamzar

(Originally published in Shimmy Magazine in 2010)

Percussion instruments include:

Dumbek: sometimes called a Tabla or Darbuka, this hourglass shaped drum is the heartbeat for all styles of Middle Eastern music.

Finger cymbals: called Zills in Turkish and Sagat or Zaghat in Arabic, these are usually played by the dancer they can also be played by a musician in the band. They consist of four small metal desks worn on the thumb and middle finger of each hand. When struct together, they provide a bell like a sound.

Def: also called Ad Duff or Tar, this Egyptian tambourine is a combination of frame drum and tambourine.

Bendir: Similar to the Def, this drama has strings inside to cause a buzzing reverberation.

Riqq: combining a frame drum with finger symbols, this is an Arabic tambourine that has symbols along the edge.

Mazhar: also called Muzhar, it is a much bigger tambourine that has several layers of symbols, very heavy, and therefore more difficult to play.

Davul: also called the Tapan or Tabla Beledi, this is the bass drum. Unlike the other drums, this has two drum heads and a shoulder strap. It is played with a club and switch.

Stringed instruments:

Oud: forerunner to the loot of medieval European music, the Oud or Ud is the ancient ancestor of a guitar. With a soulful and haunting sound, the Oud is narrower than the guitar, egg shaped, has a shorter neck, a big belly, and 11 strings.

Qanun: also spelled Kanoon, Khanoun or Kanun, this is a Turkish harp like instrument, with 72 strings, that is quite intricate to play. Ethereal sounding, the Qanun is played horizontally on a table, with metallic pick like rings worn on the fingers.

Kemanga: Also spelled Kemanja, this is the precursor to the European violin. This folk instrument is played upright with a bow, but today many oriental bands have replace the Kemanga with a violin.

Rebaba: Played with an Egyptian horse hair bow, it is a stick fiddle that has one to two strings.

Wind instruments:

Nay: also spelled Ney or an a I, this is a simple flute made from Niall Reeds that is about 2 feet long and produces a spiritual sound for both Arabic folk and Turkish music.

Mizmar: made of metal, this folk clarinet that is also called Zourn a or Ghait, was invented in Europe, and as a staple of Turkish music. Similar to the oboe, This is a double reed instrument that can be melodic or rhythmic like the drum.

Arghul: Also called Arghool, this is a single reed instrument that brings intensity to the music. Two pipes are bound together, the shorter is the melody while the longer has a droning sound.

Accordion: although first made in Austria around 1830, the European accordions were based on one of the first Chinese musical instruments. Once introduced to Egyptian music, they were modified to adapt to the quartered tones in Arabic music scale and the accordion is now a staple in Middle Eastern bands.

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