Aug 122012

By Mark D.

How to Choose a Good Quality Oud

So you’re thinking about buying an oud – that’s great! Music can be a beautiful and intensely satisfying pursuit, and the oud is a particularly beautiful instrument.

A good oud will last a lifetime, too. So just as if you were buying a piano, or a car, you’ll want to know the important things to keep in mind when you’re doing your research and getting prepared to make the big decision.

The Oud

The Oud

An oud is a precision-crafted instrument made to exacting standards of quality – or at least, it should be. Good craftsmanship affects every part of the oud and is the prime determinant of how long your oud will continue to give expression to your music.

Check that when the strings are stretched tightly to tune, the neck doesn’t warp or bend. Check that the clearance of the strings above the neck (this clearance is called the action) is high enough to avoid buzzing strings, but low enough to enable quick, precise fingerwork. Do the tuning pegs fit snugly in their holes? Does the soundboard dip in the middle, or have ripples? Are all the joints tightly secure?

You’ll also want to consider the materials used in the construction of your oud. Different types of timber serve different purposes: some are best used in mechanical or cabinet components: ebony and rosewood fingerboards are common, for instance. Other types of wood are better suited to producing sound: spruce is frequently used in the soundboard.

Likewise, consider your choice of strings – an Iraqi oud is not built to handle the pressures of Turkish oud strings, for instance. Are you likely to use non-standard tunings often? Do you like the steel and/or nylon sound, or would you be better to spend a little more for some more traditional silk or gut strings?

There is no right answer to these questions, and you nobody will know which oud is best for you but you. Plan ahead – you’re going to be a much better player by the time you’ve exhausted this oud, if you ever do.

Try as many different instruments as you can! Learn what you like and why, and when you’re ready to make a purchase you’ll have a much better idea of what it is that you’re really looking for – and be better prepared to make a choice that brings you many years of musical education and enjoyment.

Feb 142012

By Mark D.

With a history that goes back thousands of years, the instruments played by Arabic musicians have developed over many generations, and across the different regions of the Arab peninsula, North Africa and Central Asia. Because they have evolved in such a wide variety of cultures, today there is a rich family of Arabic Musical instruments, often very closely related but each unique.

In this article, we will take a brief look at some of the most popular and important.


The Oud

The Oud – the most famous of Arabic music instruments

The oud, sometimes spelled ud, is probably the most famous Arabic musical instrument. It is a stringed instrument, with a timber, pear-shaped bowl as its body, and a short neck that bends back at right angles.

The oud has no frets, so it is ideal for playing the many subtly different pitches used in Arabic music. Like a guitar, it is played horizontally, resting on the knee, and is plucked and strummed with either the fingernails, or with a long thin plectrum called a risha.

Mythology traces the first oud back to Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam (who was the first human in the Islamic, Jewish and Christian traditions).


The ney (or nay), a long, thin flute, is one of the oldest musical instruments anywhere in the world still in use today, dating back to at least around 5,000 years. Because it has developed simultaneously in so many different places over such a long time, many different types of ney exist.

The ney is one of the oldest musical instruments still in use today.

The ney is one of the oldest musical instruments still in use today.

Until recently, neys were made from a length of hollow reed or cane, but modern neys can also be made from plastics and metals. Despite its relatively simple construction, with skilful breath control and deft fingers, the ney can be a very expressive and articulate instrument.


Descended from the Egyptian harp, the qanun (also called kanun; the English word ‘canon’ has the same origin) is first noted in tenth century Iran. At around a metre in length and with more than seventy strings, it is lain across the lap and plucked with two picks, or with the fingernails of both hands. With so many strings, the qanun’s tunings rely on intricate mathematics learned from the pre-Islamic Greeks.


As one of the oldest and most common Arabic percussive instruments, the riq often determines the rhythms and dynamics of a performance. It is a small wooden tambourine with pairs of brass cymbals, or sagaat, built into the frame, and a skin (traditionally goat or fish) stretched over it. The frame is often decorated with mother-of-pearl or ivory.

The riq

The riq

Unlike many other types of tambourine, the riq is moved up and down the player’s body, as well as being shaken and drummed, to accentuate the range of sounds that a talented musician can produce.