Oud – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

What is Oud?

Oud, also known as the Arabic lute, is a traditional stringed instrument that is commonly used in Middle Eastern and North African music. It is a pear-shaped instrument with a short neck and a rounded back. The body of the oud is typically made from wood, and it has a soundboard made of cedar or spruce. The strings of the oud are typically made from nylon or gut, and they are plucked with a plectrum or a small piece of plastic.

History of Oud

The oud has a long and rich history that dates back to ancient Mesopotamia. It is believed to have originated in the Sumerian city of Ur around 2000 BC. The instrument spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa, becoming a popular instrument in the Arab world. The oud was later introduced to Europe during the Middle Ages, where it influenced the development of the lute and other stringed instruments.

Over the centuries, the oud has evolved and adapted to different musical styles and cultures. It has become an integral part of traditional Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Greek music, as well as modern genres such as jazz and fusion.

Construction of Oud

The construction of the oud is a meticulous process that requires skilled craftsmanship. The body of the oud is typically made from a single piece of wood, such as walnut, rosewood, or mahogany. The soundboard is made from a thin piece of cedar or spruce, which is carefully carved and shaped to enhance the instrument’s resonance.

The neck of the oud is usually made from a separate piece of wood and is attached to the body with a wooden joint. The neck is fretless, allowing the player to produce a wide range of microtones and glissandi. The strings of the oud are tied to tuning pegs at the top of the neck and are anchored to a tailpiece at the bottom of the body.

Playing Techniques of Oud

Playing the oud requires a unique set of techniques that differ from other stringed instruments. The player plucks the strings with a plectrum, known as a risha, which is typically made from plastic or tortoiseshell. The risha is held between the thumb and index finger, allowing the player to produce a crisp and percussive sound.

One of the most distinctive techniques used in oud playing is the use of quarter tones and microtones. By bending the strings and sliding the fingers along the neck, the player can produce a wide range of pitches that are not found in Western music. This technique gives the oud its signature sound and allows for expressive and emotive playing.

Types of Oud

There are several different types of oud that vary in size, shape, and tuning. The most common type of oud is the Arabic oud, which has a rounded back and a deep, resonant sound. The Turkish oud, on the other hand, has a slightly smaller body and a brighter, more treble-heavy tone.

Other variations of the oud include the Persian barbat, the Greek laouto, and the North African guembri. Each type of oud has its own unique characteristics and playing style, making it a versatile instrument that can be adapted to a wide range of musical genres.

Oud in Different Cultures

The oud plays a significant role in the music and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. It is often used in traditional Arabic, Turkish, and Persian music, where it is featured in solo performances and ensemble settings. The oud is also a popular instrument in Greek and Armenian music, where it is used to accompany folk songs and dances.

In recent years, the oud has gained popularity in Western music, particularly in jazz and fusion genres. Musicians such as Rabih Abou-Khalil, Anouar Brahem, and Dhafer Youssef have incorporated the oud into their compositions, blending traditional Middle Eastern sounds with modern Western influences.

Overall, the oud is a versatile and expressive instrument that has captivated audiences around the world with its haunting melodies and intricate playing techniques. Its rich history and cultural significance make it a cherished symbol of Middle Eastern music and heritage.