»   Encyclopedic Dictionary »   Music Index »

Musical Instruments for Ethnic Music

Percussion, String, and Wind Instruments

Keep up with a FREE subscription to the BABA YAGA newsletter.


Darbuka (Darabuka, Derbakki): see Tabla.

Def: Turkish Frame Drum.

Doholla: It looks like a large tabla but in concert with other instruments it is a support instrument, not a soloist.

"Think of it as the Rhythm guitar of dumbeks... The Doholla can be played exactly like a derbakki [tabla] but it is not played like that in performance; you must regard the doholla as a down beat drum that holds the beat for the derbakki, meaning no embellishments, no rolls or syncopations. The main job of a doholla player is to hold a really good solid beat for the derbakki and the riqq to play freely...otherwise it becomes too distracting of a drum .. it is always appreciated to have a sensitive doholla player who can hold the beat and hold themselves back from playing extra things that can cause distraction." -- MidEast Percussion Tribe on

Here's Raquy and Rami in a doholla and tabla duet; Rami, on the left, provides a solid rhythmic base for Raquy's wild solo moments.  

Frame Drum: "Frame drums are one of the most ancient types of musical instruments. A frame drum has a drumhead width greater than its depth. They are usually round, made of wood with animal skin and sometimes metal rings or plates incorporated into the drum to provide jingle... Frame drums originated in the ancient Middle East, India, and Rome, and reached medieval Europe through Islamic culture. " -- Wikipedia.

Examples cited: Bodhran from Ireland, Daf from Turkey, Duff from India, Mazhar from Egypt, Riq, Tambourine, Timbrel.

Mazhar (or Mizhar, Muzhar): A mazhar is like a giant riqq.

"A large, heavy tambourine used in Arabic music. The mazhar's frame is generally made out of wood. The instrument's brass jingles are quite large (4-5 inches in diameter). It is played with a shaking technique that gives it a raucous sound. Its single head is considerably thicker than that of the riq, its smaller cousin." -- Wikipedia

The Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy is a notable performer of the mazhar.

Riqq (or Reque, Rique, Riq): Percussion instrument: Tambourine with two or more layers of cymbals.

Tabla: Matt Stonehouse of Fingers of Fury says that terms for these drums will vary depending on the area: Doumbek (USA), Darbuka (Turkey), Tablah (Egypt), Sombati (Egypt). Generically, long tall drum with skin or skin substitute on one end and a hollow body. Frequently used in music performed for dancers. The 'dum' and 'tek' used so often in rhythm diagrams are rough imitations of the sound of this drum.

Zilli def: Turkish Frame Drum with small cymbals around the outside.

Zills (or Sagat): Metal finger cymbals, frequently played by dancers while dancing. The zills are attached to finger tips using elastic. More on Zills at  


Arghul (or Arghoul): Double pipe flute whose soft drone sounds remarkably like a gentle bagpipe.

Bagpipes: "In the Celtic world of the British Isles, there are two main types, The Irish (Uillean or Elbow) and the Scottish (Great Highland or Small Border)...The Great Highland (Bagpipe) is probably the most prolific bagpipe worldwide today, due in no small part to the vast extent of the British Empire in the 19th century... The range of tones which can be produced from the eight small holes in the chanter is limited to only nine, spanning an octave and a tone or second... The limited scale and melodic possibilities, as well as the ever-present drones, give the music both haunting and mesmerizing characteristics. The Uillean (elbow) pipes of the Irish tradition are quite a different matter... The Highland chanter is always open at the end and thus the melody is continuous. The Irish chanter operates principally in a closed fashion, making it possible to stop the sound, often imperceptibly. This allows for a vastly different fingering technique which can produce a wide variety of melodic and ornamental effects... The range of the Irish chanter is two full octaves, and with the addition of several keys, can be played chromatically; that is sounding all the black and white notes of the keyboard. The pipes can be pitched in a variety of keys, based on the tonic 'concert' D, or the 'flat sets' in C#, C, B or B flat.The lower the pitch of the pipes becomes, the quieter and sweeter is the tone that results.— David Papazian, Bagpipes, Web,

Kawala (or Kavala): Cane flute used in Arabic and Turkish music. Higher pitch than the ney.

Mizmar (or Zurna): a piercing tone, the butt of many a bad joke, but it certainly commands attention!

Nay (or Ney): reed flute used in Turkish, Arabic and Persian music. The simplest of materials, the most eloquent of sounds. Frequently used in Whirling Dervish rituals. "Ney is not an ordinary instrument; it is a mediator that contacts you with divinity, so it needs attention and respect. Wish you strong breath." —


Online Encyclopedia of Tunings.

Middle East Atlas of Plucked Instruments.

Baglama Saz: the lady's oud.

Bazouki or bouzouki: String instrument with frets. Greek lute. Hard to envision Greek music without the rapid strumming of a bazouki. Provides an uplifting, mischievous influence. Interestingly enough, in the mid 20th century, the bouzouki started to be incorporated into Irish music.

Cumbus: think of a cross between an oud and a banjo. Got it? A Turkish invention that comes in several sizes and string configurations.

Oud: String instrument. Arabic lute, no frets, played with a plectrum, not the fingers.

Occidental Woman in an Oriental Mood for Oud here on

Qanun (or Kanoon, Qanoon): Arabic, Turkish, Greek zither.

From Wikipedia: "The instrument also has special latches for each course, called mandals. These small levers, which can be raised or lowered quickly by the performer while the instrument is being played, serve to change the pitch of a particular course slightly by altering the string lengths... While Armenian kanuns employ half-tones and Arabic kanuns quarter-tones, typical Turkish kanuns divide the equal-tempered semitone of 100 cents into 6 equal parts, yielding 72 equal divisions (or commas) of the octave. Not all pitches of 72-tone equal temperament are available on the Turkish kanun, however, since kanun makers only affix mandals for intervals that are demanded by performers. Some kanun makers choose to divide the semitone of the lower registers into 7 parts instead for microtonal subtlety at the expense of octave equivalences. Hundreds of mandal configurations are at the player's disposal when performing on an ordinary Turkish kanun."

Rebeb (or ebap, rabab, Rababa, rababah, or al-rababa): String instrument with one to three strings and played with a bow.

From Wikipedia: "The bowed variety often has a spike at the bottom to rest on the ground, and is thus called a spike fiddle in certain areas, but plucked versions like the kabuli rebab (sometimes referred to as the robab or rubab) also exist. Furthermore, besides the spike fiddle variant, there also exists a variant with a pear-shaped body... The rebab, though valued for its voice-like tone, has a very limited range (little over an octave), and was gradually replaced throughout much of the Arab world by the violin and kemenche. It is related to the Iraqi instrument the Joza, which has four strings."

Santoor: String instrument: Similar to a Qanoon but played with small mallets.

From Wikipedia: The santoor is a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer often made of walnut, with seventy two strings. The special-shaped mallets (mezrab) are lightweight and are held between the index and middle fingers. A typical santoor has two sets of bridges, providing a range of three octaves. The Indian santoor is more rectangular and can have more strings than the Persian counterpart, which generally has 72 strings.

Father and son Kumar and Rahul Sahmar in concert.

Saz (or baglama): The most common stringed folk instrument in Turkey.

From Wikipedia: "The terms baglama and saz are used somewhat interchangeably in Turkey... Like the Western lute and the Middle-Eastern oud, it has a deep round back, but a much longer neck. It can be played with a plectrum or with a finger picking style known as selpe... In the music of Greece the name baglamas is given to a treble bouzouki, a related instrument."

Violin: A Western instrument now widely incorporated into Arabic and Indian music. Its fretless fingerboard allows microtonal music to be incorporated into its repertoire.


Keep up with a FREE subscription to the BABA YAGA newsletter.
Maura Enright, Proprietor
©2012 - 2015 by Maura Enright
© means the content is copyrighted. Your links to this content are much appreciated.