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  • Lisa Lumina

L2: Blown instruments

This is intended as a source of review for students, or as an orientation. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all MENAHT instruments, but it is a good foundation list of instruments for raqs sharki dancers to be able to recognize in their music. For a more comprehensive list of Middle Eastern instruments, go here. As you learn to identify the sounds of each instrument, practice interpreting their textures. Over time, you will develop certain associations, or moves that "feel right for this sound" to you. Look also at the how the musicians play, their faces and their hands, for information about the feeling and ideas about how fast/slow or sharp/smooth you might want to move. Studying taxeem (solo improvisation on a melodic instrument) is also a key skill as you progress in your dancing.

Blown instruments are closest to the human voice which, being capable of religious praising, puts them at the top of the musician's hierarchy.

The Nai is the Arabic flute, made from bamboo reed. Each one is tuned to a different maqam, so the musician will have to switch instruments to modulate or change songs; they come in a set of 7. They have 7 holes, one of which is on the back. They produce a breathy and moving sound. It may also be spelled/pronounced ney. Remember, there are a lot of different dialects across the MENAHT area, which is part of why there are so many correct spellings for different words and names.

The Arghul a double clarinet with one long bamboo tube to play a drone note, and a shorter one to play the melody. This instrument is popular for Sa’idi style music as well as in Palestine.

The mizmar is a conical double reed instrument similar to the oboe and is strongly associated with Upper Egypt (South of Cairo and north of Nubia, AKA the Saidi region. It is at a higher elevation compared with Cairo and the Nile's delta at the Mediterranean). A family of musicians might all play the mizmar, with the oldest or most skilled getting to do the fancy notes, and the youngest or least skilled playing the drone. Mizmar is also played often with dancing horses, who are trained from a young age to get used to the sound (and volume) of the instrument. The horses themselves are sometimes famous. It is very loud. In Turkey they call it a Zurna.

The mijwiz, is popular in Lebanese music (they might also use mizmar) It also has two reeds, but they are equal length and much shorter than an arghul. It has a buzzing sound, and makes me want to dabke.

The Clarinet mostly found in Greek and Turkish music, along with the bouzouki and a drum kit. Greek style music might accompany an American bellydance performance, thanks to the prevalence of Greek clubs that employed dancers. Below the example of the band there is Greek dancer and a Turkish dancer performing to it, one dancing to a composed song and one to a takeem.

The Accordion is a Western instrument that was re-tuned to play Arabic maqamat. It is now very popular for beledi music and raks sharki in general. It is also used in Rom music. It is nice to use squishy torso moves to go with the squishing instrument, but as usual this is not a rule.

The Saxaphone is one of the instruments, like trumpet, guitar, or accordion, that has been modified to play quarter tones. It was particularly popular in the 70s-90s.

To learn about different types of string instruments, click over to this post. For the percussion instruments, click here.

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