Also:       mizmār      sa’īdī mizmār      

Title: (title in Arabic)--Mazmar Sayde Ala Hak; (performers’ names in Arabic), mizmār. Label: (in Arabic). Format: CD. Catalogue#: (in Arabic). Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The mizmār is an Egyptian double-reed aerophone used in professional outdoors shawm-and-drum ensemble called mizmār wa tābl baladī, which consists of a few mizmār combined with a few drums. Such ensembles are hired to enliven rural and urban gatherings such as weddings and saint’s-day festivals, and to accompany traditional horse dancing (raqs al -khyal, a venerable Arab tradition). They are also included in government sponsored folk ensembles and can often these days be heard at tourism sites. Only males play the instrument, and they are often hereditary musicians. Instruments nearly identical in design to the mizmār are found distributed throughout northern Africa, southwestern Asia, and southeastern Europe under a variety of names.


This mizmār, most accurately called a sa’īdī mizmār, consists of three sections: the body, the pirouette, and the staple/reed. The body is made out of a solid block of apricot wood turned on a lathe. It has a mostly cylindrical bore that flares dramatically at its bell end, seven fingerholes, one thumbhole (see first detail image), and several smaller holes near the bell end that are never covered but contribute to the overall shaping of the instruments timbre or sound quality. The tubular pirouette with a conical bore drilled through its center is also made from turned wood and is over 4.5 inches long; only the top ¾-inch, which has a wider diameter than the rest of this component, is visible when the instrument is assembled, the rest slides snuggly into the bore of the body. Into the hole at the top of the pirouette is inserted the staple/reed unit. It consists of a tapering brass tube about 1.5 inches long at the top end of which a reed, made from a plant stalk, is tied. Halfway down the staple a small metal disc is soldered on, and below this there is cotton thread wound around the staple to a thickness that allows for a snug fit when this end of the staple is inserted into the top of the pirouette. (The second, third and fourth detail images show the three sections disassembled, the staple inserted into the pirouette, and the pirouette inserted into the bore of the body.)

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The usually standing player holds the body of the mizmār with both hands so that the reed is entirely inserted into the mouth cavity and the lips press against the top of the pirouette. The thumb and first three fingers of one hand operate the thumbhole and the top three fingerholes; the four fingers of the other hand are used to cover the bottom four fingerholes, leaving the thumb to help support the instrument. With all fingerholes covered, this mizmār produces approximately a G4; it has a range of about two octaves. The mizmār is a melodic instrument, its player rendering existing tunes 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. An extremely strong airstream is required to make the reed speak, which contributes to the robust sound and high dynamic level of the instrument. The cyclic breathing technique can be applied by players when rendering particularly long phrases.


The origins of the mizmār are lost to history, but it is very likely that instruments like it existed in parts of the Near East in pre-Muslim times. Instruments of this type are known to have been introduced to areas of the world outside of northern Africa and southwestern Asia as Islam spread starting in the late first millennium CE, eventually reaching as far afield as India, China, and Indonesia. 

Bibliographic Citations

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. “Mizmār.” NGDMI v.2: 668-669.

Saleh, Magda. 2002. "Dance in Egypt." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 6. The Middle East. ed. Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. New York: Routledge, pp. 623-633.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: North Africa

Nation: Egypt

Formation: Arab

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

422.112.2 aerophone--single conical-bore reedpipe with double (or quadruple) reed: the pipe has a reed (usually a flattened stem) of paired lamellae which periodically open and close, controlling the flow of air; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - conical with flaring open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: exposed concussion (multiple) reed

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


15.7 in. length

Primary Materials

reed - cane
cord - cotton

Entry Author

Roger Vetter