String Instruments

The Role of the Kanun in the Middle Eastern Music


The kanun is a crucial instrument in the Middle Eastern music scene, providing a unique sound that is instantly recognizable. Its origins can be traced back to ancient times, and this stringed instrument has played a pivotal role in shaping the music of the region ever since.

What is the Kanun?

The kanun, also known as qanun or kanoon, is a stringed instrument that is played by plucking the strings stretched over a flat, trapezoid-shaped soundboard. It is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, spreading throughout the Middle East and eventually reaching Europe, where it evolved into the modern-day harp.

The kanun is an essential part of many Middle Eastern musical traditions, including Arabic, Turkish, and Persian music. It has also been used in classical music settings, with famous composers such as Maurice Ravel and Béla Bartók incorporating it into their works.

How is the Kanun Played?

The kanun is played by plucking the strings with the fingers or with specialized plectrums known as risha. The performer sits in front of the instrument, which is usually placed on a stand or on the lap of the player. The strings are arranged in groups of three or four, which are then tuned in unison or octaves. The musician can play a range of notes by pressing down on the strings with the fingertips, altering the tension and therefore the pitch of the strings.

The Role of the Kanun in Middle Eastern Music

The kanun is a vital instrument in Middle Eastern music, providing a unique sound that is instantly recognizable. It is often used to provide a melodic backdrop to songs or to accompany other instruments, such as the oud or the ney. Its distinctive sound is especially well-suited to improvisation, allowing skilled players to create intricate and delicate melodies on the fly.

The kanun has played an essential role in the development of Middle Eastern music, helping to shape the sound and structure of many traditional songs and compositions. Its influence can be heard in a wide range of musical genres, from classical Arabic and Turkish music to modern pop and rock.

Final Thoughts

The kanun is a fascinating instrument with a rich history and a unique sound that has played a pivotal role in the development of Middle Eastern music. Its versatility and melodic potential have made it an indispensable part of the region’s musical heritage, and it continues to inspire musicians and composers around the world.

Whether you are a fan of traditional Middle Eastern music or just appreciate the beauty of the kanun’s sound, there is no denying the impact this wonderful instrument has had on the music world. So next time you hear a beautiful melody in a piece of Middle Eastern music, take a moment to appreciate the kanun and its role in creating such a fantastic sound.


Check out Boma Music’s Kanuns.