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Instruments You Might Not Know Have an Arab History

posted on: Dec 6, 2021

By: Dani Meyer/Arab America Contributing Writer             

There are lots of traditional Arab instruments that are still found in the Arab world today. But, what you might not know is that many modern instruments have their roots in these traditional Arab instruments! Here are six modern instruments that evolved from traditional Arab instruments.

1. Violin

While you may be familiar with the oud, an Arab instrument similar to a lute, you may not know that both the oud and the violin have their roots in the lute, an instrument that was common across Europe and the Arab World. Additionally, Middle Eastern rebabas were an early predecessor to the violin!

2. Clarinet

The modern clarinet has its roots in the early single-reed instruments used in the Middle East. A traditional Basque instrument, the alboka, is the precursor to the modern clarinet. The alboka may be descended from the Moroccan double hornpipe. The name “alboka” comes from the Arabic word “al-boq”, meaning “the trumpet” or “the horn”.

3. Guitar

Similarly to the violin, the modern guitar has its roots in the ouds commonly used in the Arab world. Many influences are cited as antecedents to the modern guitar. Although the development of the earliest “guitars” is lost in the history of medieval Spain, two instruments are commonly cited as their most influential predecessors: the European lute and its cousin, the four-string oud, which was brought to Iberia by the Moors in the 8th century.

4. Trumpet

The earliest trumpets date back to 1500 B.C. Found in various places all over the world, including Scandinavia, China, and Peru, ancient trumpets were also found in Tutankhamen’s grave. Trumpets were probably used as a military instrument in ancient Egypt. In fact, the oldest surviving metallic trumpets are the two trumpets that were discovered in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

5. Timpani

Residing in the percussion section of an orchestra, this instrument has its roots in the Arab world. The naqqara is a Middle Eastern drum that is the direct ancestor of the timpani. The word naqqara comes from the Arabic verb naqr – meaning “to strike” or “to beat.” Crusaders brought the naqqara to Europe in the 13th century.

6. Bagpipes

Yes, that’s right! While you’re probably most familiar with Scottish bagpipes, you may not know that bagpipes appear all over the world and have their roots in the Arab world! The mijwiz is a traditional instrument popular in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. The mijwiz is related to the arghoul, which is another instrument popular in Egypt and Palestine. These two instruments are the ancestor of Scottish bagpipes.

While there are many instruments the Arab world still uses today, these are 6 instruments that evolved from traditional Arab instruments! Do you play any of these instruments? Let us know in the comments!


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