Frescoes &
Art of Book
Music Instruments

By Maral Maljian & other sources

Blul (Syrink) (Image)

It is a single flute whose aperture is round, not closed or shaped in any way, except that its diameter is slightly less at the mouthpiece than at the bell. It is made of ebony. . . an instrument of the Kurdish shepherds. From Turkish Armenia."

Dap (Daf)

Another precussion instrument is the dap. A medium to large sized frame drum (Frame Drums are the musicologist's term for a class of percussion instruments constructed of a shallow cylindrical frame over which a skin is stretched and may or may not have jingles). The dap has no jingles similar to the Duff. It is used mainly in classical music and folk music and can also be spelled Daf or Def.

Dhol (Image)

The Dhol is the national percussion instrument of Armenia, used nowadays in almost every genre of traditional Armenian music. It is a versatile drum, very similar to the tom-tom of a standard drum set in shape. The shell is usually made of pear or apricot wood and is approximately 12 to 14 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep. Both ends of the cylinder are covered in sheep or goatskin and are adjustable for tension using rope lacing and small pulleys. A dhol is capable of producing a very wide range timbres and volume suitable for use in almost any setting.

Doumbek (Drum)

The drum of Armenian Music and the middle eastern world is called the Doumbek or sometimes called the Tumpook. Armenians from Anatolia (Eastern Turkey) used a copper or brass Dumbek  Traditionally they are made of clay with a fish-skin head that is glued and/or laced on. The Doumbek 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 doumbek 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 doumbek I can't even begin to explain them. Because of this property of the doumbek, authentic Armenian Rythm cannot be notated. It is too sophistocated to fit the pattern of Western notation. In fact most of authentic Armenian 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 an Armenian band plays.


Armenians consider the duduk to be their national instrument. The Duduk is a flute like instrument which is identical in both Armenia and Turkey. It looks like a straight tree branch and is estimated to be about 3,000 years old. It has a thumbhole, 8 fingerholes, and a very large double reed. This oboe's shaft is made from the wood of Apricot tree, Armenia's emblem tree. Its double, very wide (2,5 cm) tonghe is made from a piece of flattened reed; a flexible wood binding allows its tunning. The instrument is played with the technique of circular breathing - particulary for the drones (dam). Its extreme expressiveness comes from the art of breathing, the subtle fingering and the pursing of the lips. No other double reed instrument has the unique timber of the duduk, with its velvety sound. It's sound resembles an ethereal clarinet. Whenever I hear a duduk, the sound reminds me of a bagpipe, because the timbres are so similar. This instrument is much smaller though. This is the same instrument used by Djivan Gasparyan and other master duduk players in numerous highly acclaimed recordings. Like the zurna, they are handcrafted from solid apricot wood, with a large, durable, and removable double reed. This instrument may also be referred to as a Mey. The name mey musn't be confused with the Arabic instrument Ney, which is also a blown instrument from the middle east. 

Kamanche (kemancha) (Image)

In Persian the word means "small bow". It is a four/three-string spike-fiddle. Goussan-troubadours, like Sayat Nova in the XVIIIth Century, were particulary fond of it. It is made of a catfish sound-board on an apricot or walnut tree wood sound-box. Contrary to the violin, it is the string that goes towards the bow, when the musician turn the instrument on the spikle. The kamanche is held by the neck with the left hand and bowed with the right. Traditionally used as a solo instrument for both singing and dancing, as well as listening. A popular instrument used by the Armenian ashoughs (troubadours).

Kanoon (Qanun)

Another instrument used in Armenian Music and also Arabic music is the Kanoon. This instrument is also very very old. A plucked instrument not unlike the zither, whose 30 strings may be varied in pitch by the use of small bridges. Its sounding box is half-covered in wood, half in a heavy skin like a drum. It has twenty-three strings all of gut. 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. 

Both the Kanoon 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. 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.


One very common instrument in Armenian Music and also Arabic music is the Oud. 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.

Saz (Image)

Another string instrument used in the middle east, especially in Turkey, is the Saz. It resembles very much the lute. The old Armenian guitar, with three strings, a small oval sounding box and an unusually long neck. The Oud is the ancestor of the lute and similarly the Saz is the ancestor of the Greek Bouzouki.


From the mountainous highlands of Armenia comes the Shvee, the shepherd's pipe. Popular with mountain people and folk musicians, the shvee is now found in professional ensembles throughout Armenia. This versatile flute can produce two octaves of the chromatic scale, and is capable of soft, recorder-like tones as well as powerful birdlike shrillness. Speaking of birds, this is the flute used by Djivan Gasparyan and others to perform the famous bird call solo so popular in Armenia, in which many different bird calls are reproduced with uncanny accuracy. Has 6 fingerholes and one thumb hole and is made from defect free reed cane.

Tar (Image)

The Tar is a double-bellied guitar. It has six strings and is held and played like the guitar. The material used to make this instrument is similar to all other guitars.

. Zurna (Zourna) (Image)

The Zurna is a double reed instrument with a piercing tone. Very popular in Armenia as a folk instrument, it can be heard at weddings, parties, and celebrations of all types. The zurna is made from apricot or pear wood. They are hand finished, and have a removable reed.  

Dance - Continue >

Some photos and text courtesy of  "Percussion East" 
Web site: www.threebirds.com/percussion/home.htm

Updated 27 July, 2000 ..
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