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Arabic Musical Instruments

The Oud: Classical Instrument of Arabic Music

The Oud is an short-necked, half pear-shaped, plucked lute of the Arab world, the direct ancestor of the European lute. The Oud's name derives from al-oud (branch of wood).

Design of the Oud

There are five pairs of strings on an oud, each pair tuned to the same pitch, and a single string which is also the thickest and known as the bamteli in Turkish. The most common way to tune the oud is to tune each string a fourth apart. The most common Turkish tuning with D being the highest open string is DAEBF#C#. There is also an Arabic variant of this tuning where the intervals stay the same but the pitch of each string is dropped down by a full step; CGDAEB. Some other tunings are CGDAGD, GDAEDA, DAEBAE, GDAEDA. "Known both from documentation and through oral tradition, it is considered the king, sultan or emir of musical instruments, 'the most perfect of those invented by the philosophers' (Ikhwan al-Safa: Rasa'il [Letters] (1957), i. 202).

Use of the Oud in Arabic Music and Other Musical Traditions

The Oud is the principal instrument of the Arab world, and is of secondary importance in Turkey (ud), Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It plays a lesser role in Greece (outi)." (Stanley Sadie: The New Grove Dictionary of Musical instruments, vol. 3, p. 687-688). It also plays an important role in north African countries, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Sudan.

Origin of the Oud in Ancient Egypt

The Oud is a chordophone. Arabic legend claims the Oud to be a very long lived instrument with an illustrious history. These legends attribute the invention of the Oud, in the 3rd century, to Lamak, the grandson of the first man- Adam. Modern musical historians place the inception of the Oud much later.

The ancestors to the Oud may go back to Pharaonic Egypt. At that time the body was carved from a solid piece of wood. This Egyptian chordophone was called the Nefer. The Persian invaders brought this instrument home and renamed it the Barbet. This solid bodied chordophone continued its eastward expansion into what is modern day Russia, China and Japan. In the fifth century, Persians traveled westward to the Arabian Peninsula to help in the rebuilding of the Ka'ba in Mecca. They brought the Barbat with them. There it became known as an Oud. In Arabic, al ud means 'the Wood.' Referring to this instrument as 'the Wood' reflects its delicate construction.

Evolution of the Oud in Muslim Spain (Andalusia)

The Oud underwent a number of changes during the Abbasid Caliphate, or Arab Golden Age. Reportable, the great Iraqi musician Zeriab was driven out of Baghdad and took the Oud with him to Spain. There, by the Moorish Period (711-1492), it finally evolved its characteristic stave body construction. At that time Spain was a great center of learning, science and art. It attracted influential persons from varied cultures. The music played on the Oud reflected the melding of the Greek, Persian, and Arabic cultures. The instrument and its sounds attracted the attention of eastern peoples in the area. Among the many Middle Eastern innovations brought to Europe by the returning Crusaders was the Oud. In Europe the Oud eventually evolved into the Troubadour's Lute.


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