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For other uses, see Oud (disambiguation).
Oud - MIM PHX.jpg
An Oud
String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.321-6
(Composite chordophone sounded with a plectrum)
Related instruments

The oud ((/d/)) is a short-neck lute-type, pear-shaped stringed instrument (a chordophone in the Hornbostel-Sachs classification of instruments) with today 11 or 13 strings grouped in 5 or 6 courses, commonly used in Arabian, Greek, Turkish, Jewish, Byzantine, Azerbaijani, Armenian, North African (Chaabi, Classical, and Spanish Andalusian), Somali and Middle Eastern music.

In the first centuries of Arabian civilisation, the oud had 4 courses (one string per course - double-strings came later) only, tuned in successive fourths. These were called (for the lowest in pitch) the Bamm, then came (higher to highest in pitch) the Mathnā, the Mathlath and the Zīr. A fifth string (highest in pitch, lowest in its positioning in relation to other strings), called ḥād ("sharp"), was sometimes added for theoretical purposes, generally to complement the double octave.

The Modern tuning preserves the ancient succession of fourths, with adjunctions (lowest or highest courses) which may be tuned differently following regional or personal preferences.

The first mention of an actual fifth string is by 11th-century musician, singer and author Abū-l-Ḥasan Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn a-ṭ-Ṭaḥḥān in his compendium on music Ḥāwī al-Funūn wa Salwat al-Maḥzūn.

The first known complete description of the ‛ūd and its construction is found in the epistle Risāla fī-l-Luḥūn wa-n-Nagham by 9th-century Philosopher of the Arabs YaꜤqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī.[1] Kindī's description stands thus:

"[and the] length [of the ‛ūd] will be: thirty-six joint fingers - with good thick fingers - and the total will amount to three ashbār.[Notes 1] And its width: fifteen fingers. And its depth seven and a half fingers. And the measurement of the width of the bridge with the remainder behind: six fingers. Remains the length of the strings: thirty fingers and on these strings take place the division and the partition, because it is the sounding [or "the speaking"] length. This is why the width must be [of] fifteen fingers as it is the half of this length. Similarly for the depth, seven fingers and a half and this is the half of the width and the quarter of the length [of the strings]. And the neck must be one third of the length [of the speaking strings] and it is: ten fingers. Remains the vibrating body: twenty fingers. And that the back (soundbox) be well rounded and its "thinning"(kharţ) [must be done] towards the neck, as if it had been a round body drawn with a compass which was cut in two in order to extract two ‛ūds".[2]

The first description of the "modern" oud is by ibn a-ṭ-Ṭaḥḥān. It is very similar to the construction of modern lutes, and to the construction of Western lutes.[3] The modern oud stems most probably from the barbat[4] which, in turn, stems from the Indian lute-type vīnā. The oud, as a fundamental difference with the western lute, has no frets and a smaller neck. It is the direct ancestor of the European lute.[5] The oldest surviving oud is thought to be in Brussels, at the Museum of Musical Instruments.[6]

Names and etymology[edit]

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.[7] Henry George Farmer considers the similitude between al-ʿūd and al-ʿawda ("the return" – of bliss).[8]

Research by Eckhard Neubauer suggests that oud may be an Arabic borrowing from the Persian word rōd or rūd, which meant string, stringed instrument, or lute.[9][10]

Another researcher, archaeomusicologist Richard J. Dumbrill, suggests that rud came from the Sanskrit rudrī (रुद्री, meaning "string instrument") and transferred to Arabic through a Semitic language.[11]

Names for the instrument in different languages include Arabic: عود‎‎ ʿūd (Arabic pronunciation: [ʕu(ː)d, ʢuːd], plural: أعواد aʿwād), Armenian: ուդ, Syriac: ܥܘܕ ūd, Greek: ούτι oúti, Hebrew: עוּד‎‎ ud, Persian: بربط‎‎ barbat, Kurdish: ûd‎, Turkish: ud or ut,[12] Azeri: ud, and Somali: cuud or kaban.


An oud being played

According to Abū Ṭālib al-Mufaḍḍal (a-n-Naḥawī al-Lughawī) ibn Salma (9th century), who himself refers to Hishām ibn al-Kullā, the oud was invented by Lamech, the descendant of Adam and Cain.[13] Another hypothetical attribution says that its inventor was Mani.[5] Ibn a-ṭ-Ṭaḥḥān adds two possible mythical origins: the first involves the Devil, who would have lured the "People of David" into exchanging (at least part of) their instruments with the oud. He writes himself that this version is not credible. The second version attributes, as in many other cultures influenced by Greek philosophy, the invention of the oud to "Philosophers".[1] However, there are no historical corroborations for any of these assertions.

The oldest pictorial record of a oud is the short-necked lute-type vīnā around the 1st to 3rd centuries AD.[1][14] The site of origin of the oud seems to be India or Central Asia.[15]

Syrian musicians in Aleppo with an oud, circa 1915.

The ancestor of the oud, the barbat was in use in pre-Islamic Persia. Since the Safavid period, and perhaps because of the name shift from barbat to oud, the instrument gradually lost favor with musicians.[16]

The Turkic peoples had a similar instrument called the kopuz.[17] 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[citation needed]. The military band was later used by other Turkic state's armies and later by Europeans.[18][verification needed]

However, in both Turkey and Iran, as well as in Arabian countries, the main short-necked lute in use today is the oud.

The oud has a particularly long tradition in Iraq,[19] where a saying goes that in its music lies the country’s soul.[19] It lies at the core of the music of Modern Egypt and other Arabian countries. A ninth-century Baghdad jurist praised the healing powers of the instrument[citation needed], and the 19th-century writer Muhammad Shihab al-Din related that it "places the temperament in equilibrium" and "calms and revives hearts."[19][verification needed] Following the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the 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.[19][verification needed]


Somali oud player Nuruddin Ali Amaan.
An oud tuned in the common "open strings" form

Modern-day ouds fall into two categories: Arabian 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,[citation needed] whereas Arabian ouds can be found in various locations all over the Arab world. The Arabian ouds, such as the Iraqi oud, Egyptian oud and Syrian oud, are normally grouped under the term 'Arabian oud' because of their similarities, although local differences may occur, notably with the Iraki oud.[20] However, all these categories are very recent, and do not do justice to the variety of ouds made in the 19th century, and also today.[21]

Arabian 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 usually (and partly) tuned one whole step higher than the Arabian.[22] Turkish ouds tend to be more lightly constructed than Arabian with an unfinished sound board, lower string action and with string courses placed closer together. Arabian ouds have a scale length of between 61 cm and 62 cm in comparison to the 58.5 cm scale length for Turkish. There exists also a variety of electro-acoustic and electric ouds.[23]

The Cümbüş is a Turkish instrument that started as a hybrid of the oud and the banjo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The shibr (singular of ashbār) is a measurement unit which equals roughly 18-24 cm, depending on the hand. It equates to the measured length between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the auricular finger when stretched flat and in opposite directions. The shibr otherwise measures 12 fingers (36:3): a 'full' finger should be about 2 cm in width.


  1. ^ a b c Beyhom, Amine (2010). Théories de l'échelle et pratiques mélodiques chez les Arabes – Volume 1 : L'échelle générale et les genres – Tome 1 : Théories gréco-arabes de Kindī (IXe siècle) à Ṭūsī (XIIIe siècle). Paris: Geuthner. ISBN 978-2-7053-3840-4. 
  2. ^ Beyhom, Amine (2011). Paper for "The Oud from its Sumerian Origins to Modern Times", ICONEA Conference 2011 – 1–3 December 2011. "Two persistent misapprehensions about the ʿūd" (PDF). ICONEA 2011: 81–110 (85). 
  3. ^ Mottola, R.M. (Summer–Fall 2008). "Constructing the Middle Eastern Oud with Peter Kyvelos". American Lutherie (94, 95). 
  4. ^ "Encyclopaedia Iranica - Barbat". Iranicaonline.org. 1988-12-15. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  5. ^ a b Poché, Christian (2007). "ʿūd". The New Grove. 26: 26 – via Oxford Music Online. (oud; pl.: ʿīdān). Short-necked plucked lute of the Arab world, the direct ancestor of the European lute, whose name derives from al-ʿūd (“the lute”). Known both from documentation and through oral tradition, it is considered the king, sultan or emir of musical instruments, “the most perfect of those invented by the philosophers” (Ikhwān al-Safāʾ: Rasāʾil [Letters] (1957), i, 202). It is the principal instrument of the Arab world, Somalia and Djibouti, and is of secondary importance in Turkey (ut, a spelling used in the past but now superseded by ud), Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan (ud). It plays a lesser role in Greece (outi), where it has given rise to a long-necked model (laouto); the latter is used in rustic and folk contexts, while the ʿūd retains pre-eminently educated and urban associations. In eastern Africa it is known as udi; in recent decades it has also appeared in Mauritania and Tajikistan. [...] The emergence of the ʿūd on the stage of history is an equally complex matter. Two authors of the end of the 14th century (Abū al-Fidā, or Abulfedae, and Abū al-Walīd ibn Shihnāh) place it in the reign of the Sassanid King Sh[ā]pūr I (241–72). Ibn Shihnāh added that the development of the ʿūd was linked to the spread of Manicheism, and its invention to Manes himself, a plausible theory because the disciples of Manes encouraged musical accompaniments to their religious offices. Reaching China, their apostolate left traces of relations between West and East, seen in a short-necked lute similar to the ʿūd (Grünwedel, 1912). But the movement’s centre was in southern Iraq, whence the ʿūd was to spread towards the Arabian peninsula in the 7th century. However, the texts mentioning the introduction to Mecca of the short-necked lute as the ʿūd were all written in the 9th and 10th centuries. The ʿūd spread to the West by way of Andalusia 
  6. ^ "Alexandria to Brussels, 1839". oudmigrations. Retrieved 2016-04-15. 
  7. ^ During, Jean. "'Barbat'". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  8. ^ Farmer, Henry George (1939). "The Structure of the Arabian and Persian Lute in the Middle Ages". JRAS: 41–51 (49). 
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Asian Music Tribal Music of India, 32, 1, Fall, 2000/ Winter, 2001". Utexas.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-23. [full citation needed]
  11. ^ Dumbrill, Richard J. (1998). The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East. London: Tadema Press. p. 319. 
  12. ^ Güncel Türkçe Sözlük'te Söz Arama (Turkish)
  13. ^ ibn Salma, Abū Ṭālib al-Mufaḍḍal (a-n-Naḥawī al-Lughawī) (1984). Kitāb al-Malāhī wa Asmāʾihā min Qibal al-Mūsīqā. Cairo - Egypt: Al-Hay’a al-Miṣriyya al-ʿĀmma li-l-Kitāb. pp. 13–14. ذكر هشام بن الكلّى أنّ أول من عمل العود فضرب به رجل من بني قابيل، ويقال: قايين بن آدم، يقال له: لامك، وكان عمّر زمانا طويلاً، ولم يكن يولد لهُ، فتزوّج خمسين امرأة وتسرّى بمائتي سريّة [...] ثم ولد له غلام قبل أن يموت بعشر سنين، فاشتد فرحه، فلما أتت على الغلام خمس سنين مات، فجزع عليه جزعًا شديدًا، فأخذه فعلّقه على شجرة، فقال: لا تذهب صورته عن عيني حتى يتقطّع أشلاء أو أموت، فجعل لحمه يقع عن عظامه حتى بقيت الفخذ بالساق والقدم والأصابع، فأخذ عودًا فشقّه ورقّقه وجعل يؤلف بعضه على بعض، فجعل صدره على صورة الفخذ، والعنق على صورة الساق، والإبريق على قدر القدم، والملاوي كالأصابع، وعلّق عليه أوتارًا كالعروق، ثم جعل يضرب به ويبكي وينوح حتى عمي، فكان أول من ناح، وسمّى الذي اتّخذ: عودًا، لأنه اتُخذ من عود 
  14. ^ Karaikudi S., Subramanian (1985). "An introduction to the Vina". Asian Music. 16: 7–82 (10). We find representations of the nissāri vinas in sculptures, paintings, terracotta figures, and coins in various parts of India […]. The lute type vina [...] is represented in Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Pawaya (Gupta period), Ajanta paitings (300-500 A.D.) [...]. These varieties are plucked by the right hand and played by the left hand 
  15. ^ Picken, Laurence (1955). "The origin of the short lute". The Galpin Society Journal. 8: 32–42 (40). With the evidence as yet available, it is reasonable to place the site of origin of the short lute in Central Asia, perhaps among Iranised Turco-Mongols, within the area of the ancient first-century kingdom of the Kusanas. This conclusion must not be taken to exclude the possibility that short lutes first appeared somewhat earlier and somewhat further to the West-in Parthia, for example; but at present the evidence of the Kusana reliefs is the only evidence of their existence in the first century. [...] The lutes of the Kusanas would seem to be the first representations of undoubted short ovoid lutes; and Fu Hsüan’s essay, one of the first texts in any language devoted to a short lute, though not to an ovoid lute. 
  16. ^ Lawergren, Bo (2001). "Iran". The New Grove: 521–546 (534). 
  17. ^ Chabrier, Jean-Claude (2008). "ʿŪd". Encyclopedia of Islam: 534. The ḳabūs (al-Ḥid̲j̲āz), ḳabbūṣ (ʿUmān), ḳanbūṣ (Ḥaḍramawt), ḳupūz or ḳūpūz (Turkey) is a very old instrument. Ewliyā Čelebi [q.v.] says that the ḳūpūz was invented by a vizier of Meḥemmed II (d. 886/1481) named Aḥmed Pas̲h̲a Hersek Og̲h̲lu. He describes it as being a hollow instrument, smaller than the s̲h̲as̲h̲tār, and mounted with three strings (Travels, i/2, 235). On the other hand, Ibn G̲h̲aybī says that the ḳūpūz rūmī had five double strings. The instrument is no longer used by the Turks, although it has survived under the name of kobza, koboz, in Poland, Russia, and the Balkans, but here it is the lute proper and not a barbaṭ type 
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ a b c d Erica Goode (May 1, 2008). "A Fabled Instrument, Suppressed in Iraq, Thrives in Exile". New York Times. 
  20. ^ "Types of Ouds : The Ultimate Oud Buyers' Guide Part 1 - Oud for Guitarists". Oud for Guitarists. 2013-09-17. Retrieved 2017-01-27. 
  21. ^ "The journeys of Ottoman ouds". oudmigrations. 2016-03-08. Retrieved 2016-04-26. 
  22. ^ "OUD CAFE - Stringing & Tuning". www.oudcafe.com. Retrieved 2017-01-27. 
  23. ^ Types of oud

Further reading[edit]

  • Rebuffa, David. Il Liuto, L'Epos, (Palermo, 2012), pp. 22–34.

External links[edit]