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Armenian Instruments and Music

Armenian Instruments and Music

by: Maral Najarian

This page gives some insight about some of the major instruments in Armenian and Middle-Eastern Music.

Here are some related sites:

  • Here is the Music and Dance Page on Hye Etch

    Philly Kef Band

    Here is Dr. Ara DerMarderosian's Armenian Song Book for beginner piano.

  • Here are some links on

  • Here is Stepan Fronjian's website, songwriter and former member of the Five Fingers band.

  • View and Hear Armenian Music in this Songbook

  • Here is the Homepage for Narek find Armenian books, CDs and films on the web.

    One very common instrument in Armenian Music and also Arabic music is the Oud (pictured left). This ancestor of the Lute has 12 strings (2 for each note). The Oud is, in fact, the ancestor of most of the guitars in the West. It's been dated to be around 2,000 years old and has not changed much over time. Ouds are very commonly used in various types of music in the middle-east including Arabic, Armenian, and Turkish music.

    Here is a wonderful video of John Bilezikjian and John Berberian-two virtuoso oudists- playing 2 ouds together at an oudoor picnic while the listeners dance away!

    Also another string instrument used in the middle east, especially in Turkey, is the Saz. (pictured right) It resembles a narrow oud with a very long neck.

    As stated previously, the Oud is the ancestor of the western lute and similarly the Saz is the ancestor of the Bouzouki (pictured left). This is the most popular and beloved guitar of Greece, but its use is not limited there. It has also been occasionally used in middle eastern and even Armenian music.

    An Armenian Composer, Sayat Nova, who live hundreds of years ago, used to play some of his serenadal compositions on the Kemence , a commonly used middle eastern instrument in Armenia and Turkey. The 3 stringed violin like instrument is played with a bow. Unlike a violin, it is played vertically on the knee.

    The Duduk is woodwind instrument which is commonly used in both Armenia and Turkey. It is made from the bark of the apricot tree and is estimated to be about 3,000 years old. It has a thumbhole, 7 fingerholes. It's sound resembles a mystical clarinet. This instrument has become very popular in recent days, appearing in movies such as Gladiator and Passion of the Christ. One of the most well known duduk players, who has appeared in blockbuster soundtracks playing this ancient instrument is Armenia's own Givan Gasparian. This video is a clip from one of Yanni's live concerts, featuring Pedro Eustache on the Duduk, Samvel Yervinyan & Armen Movsessian on Violins.

    The Tar is an instrument which is used in the music of Azerbaijan, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, and other areas near the Caucasus region. It is one of the most common and beloved instruments especially in Azerbaijan and Iran.

    Another wind instrument popular in Armenia is the zourna. Whenever I hear this instrument it reminds me of a bagpipe,because the timbres are so similar. This instrument is much smaller though. In ancient times the zourna was used to notify people in the village that the wedding was about to take place. If you ever heard a zourna live, you'd know why. The sound is so sharp, it cuts through any noise!

    Another instrument used in Armenian Music and also Arabic music is the Kanun. This instrument is also very very old. It is played on the lap and plucked with thimble like pics which are placed on the fingers. It resembles very much the inside of the early pianos of the west. It is triangular in shape and produces a timbre very close to the harpsichord. The tones though are much more sophistocated. This is one of my favorite instruments. This video features Abdullah Chhadeh and his skillful taksim.

    Both the Kanun and the Oud contain tones not present in the western world. In one chromatic scale, the West contains about 12 tones including sharps and flats. Legend states the inventor of this scale, so they say, based it on Christianity. The twelve tone chromatic scale symbolizes the twelve apostles of Christ. A triad or chord (which contains 3 notes played at the same time) symbolizes the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit).

    In contrast, Armenian Chromatic Scale, similar to the Arab scale, contains well over 20. If I am correct about 26. The Indian scale or Raga is fairly broad also. It contains 22 tones. Those who have been exposed to Western music all their lives may reply after hearing a middle eastern or Indian piece by saying, "Hey that's out of tune!" Their ears may be used to hearing half tones, instead of the quarter or semi-tones.
    Derived from the middle eastern Chromatic Scale are many, many different specific Middle Eastern Scales,or modes.

    The drum of Armenian Music and the middle eastern world is called the Doumbeg, tumpook, or tableh . It resembles an hourglass in shape and can produce many sounds depending on how it is hit. There are no sticks involved when playing this instrument. The bare hands are used. Hitting a doumbeg towards the edge as opposed to the middle can make it sound hollow or rubbery. You can even hit a few notes depending on how you play it. There are so many noises you can make with a doumbeg I can't even begin to explain them. Here is a video of Souhail Kaspar jamming on a doumbeg.

    Because of this property of the doumbeg, authentic Middle-Eastern rhythm cannot be notated, as you can see and hear in the video above. It is too sophistocated to fit the pattern of Western notation. In fact most of authentic middle-eastern music cannot be notated because of the presence of semi-tones and quarter tones. This is why most of our Music is passed on by oral tradition. This leaves room for lots of melodic embellishment. You can definitly see this when a middle-eastern band plays.

    Most of the modern Armenian Music today includes harmony. Authentic Armenian music though, focuses more on melody. Therefore the Origional Armenian Music was usually monophonic, with no distinct base chords.

    If you have any questions, or information on any other instruments or musical styles used by Armenians, please email me. I'd be very interested to hear from you.

    If any of your questions refer to modes or scales, my brother Meroujan may be able to help you more.

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