What instruments are used in Arabic music?

By | April 5, 2021

Arabic music draws its influence from a diverse cultural heritage, a concept illustrated by the dozens of instruments used. Arabic instruments fall into the typical categories of string, wind and percussion. But they have many characteristics, such as buzuq’s lively tone, which are specific to Arab culture.


Derived from the Arabic word meaning ‘a thin strip of wood’, Oud is a pear-shaped, fretless stringed instrument with a short neck. Oud usually has five pairs of strings and one bass string. With a warm timbre, tonal flexibility and a typically intricate design, Oud is one of the most popular Arabic instruments.


Buzuq is a string instrument with long, fretted neck and metal strings. Buzuq, used in the Levant and Iraq, is usually played as a solo instrument due to its light tones.


Nay is an open flute with a colorful and pulsating sound. Six holes extend the front of the nose with a hole in the back. Players use a lip technique called bilabial blowing to play naked, with both the upper and lower lip partially covering the top hole. Mijwiz is a reed flute that requires a technique called circular breathing where the airflow is inside an inner tube, keeping the sound consistent. The instrument consists of two identical stir tubes.


Often used for folk poetry, riq or daff, is a small wooden tambourine that is covered by either goat or fish. Five sets of two small cymbals each line the riq rim to produce a jingling sound.


Bendir is a funnel drum covered with goatskin that is often played in the Atlas Mountains. Two strings lead the bottom of the drum, giving a sharp, distorted sound.


Qanun, which means ‘law’ in Arabic, is a 26-string harp that resembles a ziter and a dulcimer. This instrument determines the pitch, or ‘law’, of the whole ensemble. The pitch is changed by stopping the strings with metal handles.