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For other uses, see Oud (disambiguation).
Front and rear views of an oud
String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.321-6
(Composite chordophone sounded with a plectrum)
Related instruments

The oud (/[unsupported input]d/; Arabic: عودʿūd, plural: أعواد, a‘wād; Armenian: ուդ, Assyrian:ܥܘܕ ūd, Greek: ούτι Hebrew: עוּד; Persian: بربط‎, barbat; Kurdish: ûd; Turkish: ud or ut;[1] Azeri: ud; Somali: cuud or kaban) is a pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Persian, Jewish, Byzantine, Azerbaijanian, Armenian, North African (Chaabi, Classical, and Spanish Andalusian), Somali and Middle Eastern music. Construction of the oud is similar to that of the lute.[2] The modern oud and the European lute both descend from a common ancestor via diverging paths. The oud is readily distinguished from the lute by its lack of frets and smaller neck. Alongside the lute, it is considered an ancestor of the guitar.[3]

Origin of name[edit]

The origin of the name oud (and its etymological cousin, lute) for the musical instrument is uncertain. The Arabic العود (al-ʿūd) literally denotes a thin piece of wood similar to the shape of a straw. It may refer to the wooden plectrum traditionally used for playing the oud, to the thin strips of wood used for the back, or to the wooden soundboard that distinguished it from similar instruments with skin-faced bodies.[4] Research by Eckhard Neubauer suggests that oud may simply be an Arabic borrowing from the Persian word rōd or rūd, which meant string, stringed instrument, or lute.[5][6]


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An oud being played

The oud was created during the early pharaonic era, and according to Farabi, the oud was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam. The legend tells that the grieving Lamech hung the body of his dead son from a tree. The first oud was inspired by the shape of his son's bleached skeleton.[7]

The oldest pictorial record of a lute dates back over 5000 years ago, on a cylinder seal from the Uruk period in northern Syria, Mesopotamia. Acquired by Dr. Dominique Collon, the artefact is currently housed at the British Museum.[8]

Syrian musicians in Aleppo with an oud, circa 1915.

The Turkic peoples had a similar instrument called the kopuz. This instrument was thought to have magical powers and was brought to wars and used in military bands. This is noted in the Göktürk monument inscriptions. The military band was later used by other Turkic state's armies and later by Europeans.[9] According to the musicologist Çinuçen Tanrıkorur, today's oud was derived from the kopuz by Turks near Central Asia and additional strings were added by them.[citation needed]

The oud has a particularly long tradition in Iraq,[7] where a saying goes that in its music lies the country’s soul.[7] A ninth-century Baghdad jurist praised the healing powers of the instrument, and the 19th-century writer Muhammad Shihab al-Din related that it "places the temperament in equilibrium" and "calms and revives hearts."[7] Following the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the secular Ba'athist regime in 2003, however, the increasing fervor of Islamic militants who consider secular music to be haraam (sinful) forced many oud players and teachers into hiding or exile.[7]


Somali oud player Nuruddin Ali Amaan.

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An oud tuned in the common "open strings" form

Modern-day ouds fall into two categories: Arabic and Turkish. This distinction is not based solely on geography since Turkish ouds can also be found in Greece and occasionally other parts of the Mediterranean, whereas Arabic ouds can be found in various locations all over the Arab world. The Arabic ouds, such as the Iraqi oud, Egyptian oud and Syrian oud, are normally grouped under the term 'Arabic oud' because of their similarities.[10]

Arabic ouds are normally larger than their Turkish counterpart, producing a fuller, deeper sound, whereas the sound of the Turkish oud is more taut and shrill, not least because the Turkish oud is tuned one whole step higher than the Arabic. Turkish ouds tend to be more lightly constructed than Arabic with an unfinished sound board, lower string action and with string courses placed closer together. Arabic ouds have a scale length of between 61cm and 62cm in comparison to the 58.5cm scale length for Turkish. [11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Güncel Türkçe Sözlük'te Söz Arama (Turkish)
  2. ^ Mottola, R.M. (Summer–Fall 2008). "Constructing the Middle Eastern Oud with Peter Kyvelos". American Lutherie (94, 95). 
  3. ^ Summerfield, Maurice J. (2003). The Classical Guitar, Its Evolution, Players and Personalities Since 1800 (5th ed.) Blaydon on Tyne: Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN 1-872639-46-1
  4. ^ During, Jean. "'Barbat'". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Douglas Alton Smith. A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance. p. 9. Lute Society of America (LSA), 2002. ISBN 0-9714071-0-X.
  6. ^ "Asian Music Tribal Music of India, 32, 1, Fall, 2000/ Winter, 2001". Utexas.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-23. [full citation needed]
  7. ^ a b c d e Erica Goode (May 1, 2008). "A Fabled Instrument, Suppressed in Iraq, Thrives in Exile". New York Times. 
  8. ^ Mitra Jahandideh, Shahab Khaefi, Ahanali Jahandideh, Masoud Khaefi, Using the Root Proportion to Design an Oud, Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Art, Tehran University, Tehran, IRAN 
  9. ^ Fuad Köprülü, Türk Edebiyatında İlk Mutasavvıflar (First Sufis in Turkish Literature), Ankara University Press, Ankara 1966, pp. 207, 209.; Gazimihal; Mahmud Ragıb, Ülkelerde Kopuz ve Tezeneli Sazlarımız, Ankara University Press, Ankara 1975, p. 64.; Musiki Sözlüğü (Dictionary of Music), M.E.B. İstanbul 1961, pp. 138, 259, 260.; Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments, New York 1940, p. 252.
  10. ^ What are is the difference between Arabic and Turkish ouds?
  11. ^ Types of oud

External links[edit]

Media related to Ouds at Wikimedia Commons