Also:       ‘ūd      al-‘ūd      al-‘ūd al-sharqī      oud      

Title: Classical Music of Egypt--Maqam Kurd; Sayyid M. M. Husayn, ‘ūd. Label: King Record Co. Format: CD. Catalogue#: KICC 5170. Track: 3.

Contextual Associations

The ‘ūd is a plucked bowl-lute chordophone of considerable antiquity originating in the Arab world but now found not only throughout the Middle East (including Turkish- and Persian-speaking regions) but also in predominantly Muslim communities along the east coast of Africa and as far east as the Indonesian archipelago. Considered a symbol of high musical culture throughout the Middle East, it is both a solo and an ensemble instrument used in instrumental performance and to accompany singing in a variety of Middle Eastern art/classical, religious, folk, and urban popular music traditions. The ‘ūd pictured here—a high-end student model made in Cairo, Egypt, by the maker Maurice Shehata—possesses all the design features of a fine-quality professional ‘ūd


The pear-shaped resonator of the lute (detail #1) is constructed from several slats or ribs of thinly-shaved wood bent and joined together to create a deep, vessel-like shell (front and side views are seen in gallery #2) that is closed with a thin, flat board of softwood (possibly cedar) serving as the instrument’s soundboard. The soundboard is perforated with one large and two small soundholes, and is strengthened on its bottom side with struts running from side-to-side (parts of these struts can be seen through the soundholes in gallery #1). The relatively short neck is securely attached to the top end of the resonator, has a fretless fingerboard, and terminates with a sharply turned-back open peg box that is joined to the back side of its top end. This model can accommodate six double-course strings (although it is currently strung with five double- and one single-course strings), knotted at their bottom end to the tension bridge (detail #2), which is glued to the soundboard, and at their top end they are wound around laterally-mounted tuning pegs (detail #3). At the pegbox-end of the neck the strings pass over a wood nut with twelve notches cut in it to organize the strings into their six double courses (detail #3). The vibrating length of the strings (their length between the bridge and the nut) is 24 inches. Silver wound copper strings are used for the three lower-pitched courses of strings on this instrument, and nylon for the remaining courses. A thin plastic strip (about .5 inch wide and 4-inches long; not pictured) is used as the plectrum (risha) for this instrument; traditionally, the quill of an eagle’s feather is used.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The ‘ūd is typically played while seated with the side of the instrument’s resonator resting on the player’s right thigh and part of the back touching his chest. The soundboard is facing out and the neck pointed off to the player’s left horizontally or tilted slightly upwards or downwards. The strings are plucked with a risha (pick) held in the player's right hand, and are stopped against the fretless fingerboard with the fingertips of the left hand. The tuning of ‘uds is not standardized across its vast area of distribution. Part of the reason for this is that, historically, and to a degree even today, models of ‘ud are found with varying numbers of courses (four-, five-, and six-course instruments). Perhaps it is safest to say that on six-course instruments the single-course is tuned to the lowest pitch with the interval of a P4 found between consecutive double-course strings above it. The ‘ūd is primarily a melodic instrument, its player rendering composed music or improvisations set in melodic modes called maqamat (sing., maqam) in the Arabic tradition. The scales of maqamat utilize intervals not found in the Western equal-temperament system, which in part can explain why most ‘ūds do not have frets (although it doesn’t explain why they don’t have movable frets). ‘Ūd technique involves the production of delicate ornamentations, including glissandos and vibratos.


The ‘ūd is known to have existed in major Middle Eastern cultural centers as early as the 7th century CE. It is considered the precursor to European Medieval and Renaissance lutes, having been introduced to the Iberian Peninsula during the Moorish occupation. Cultural contacts resulting from trade over the great Silk Route through Central Asia facilitated its introduction to China and elsewhere in East Asia (the Chinese pipa and Japanese biwa are considered descendants of the 'ud). The expansion of Arabic trade routes down the eastern coast of Africa and to Southeast Asia, and along with it the spread of Islam to those regions, facilitated its introduction into the musical lives of peoples living around the rim of the Indian Ocean. At various times during its history it has undergone design modifications, mostly in terms of the number of strings and how they are grouped into courses. Given its vast range of distribution and historic depth it should not be surprising that further differences in terms of its size, manufacture, and musical uses exist today.

Bibliographic Citations

Bates, Eliot. 2011. Music in Turkey: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hassan, Scheherazade Qassim. 2002. "Musical Instruments in the Arab World." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 6. The Middle East. ed. Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. New York: Routledge, pp. 401-423.

Marcus, Scott L. 2007. Music in Egypt: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Poché, Christian. 1984. “‘Ūd.” NGDMI v.3: pp. 687-693.

Touma, Habib Hassan. 1996. The Music of the Arabs. trans. Laurie Schwartz. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: North Africa

Nation: Egypt

Formation: Arab

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.321 chordophone--necked bowl lute: the handle is attached to or carved from the resonator, like a neck

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - joined

Resonator design, chordophone: bowl with wood soundboard

String courses: single, double at unison

Vibrational length: tension bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: multiple (by pressure stopping against fretless fingerboard)


31.9 in. length 15 in. width at widest point of soundboard

Primary Materials

string - wire-wound synthetic
string - synthetic

Entry Author

Roger Vetter