Most traditional musical instruments are linked to
certain funun. The structure of the instrument always
meets the requirements of the specific fann, or the
musical genre. These instruments were not made to
be used in all funun. By contrast, the instruments
of European music, e.g. the violin or the piano are
not tied to specific genres, but serve as a universal
means to express the musical ideas of the composer.
Omani traditional instruments, however, betray throughout
their construction and possibilities of performance
not only their origin - even when they do not originate
in Oman - but also the genres in which they find their
Traditional Omani funun include
the following three string instruments:
The tanbura is one of
the most important string instruments presently used
in the Sultanate. It hasn't changed over thousands of
years on its journey through different cultures and
it is easy to follow the historical traces which prove
this. This instrument appeared for the first time in
the Sumerian civilization in 2700BC.Then
it moved through the Arab Peninsula to the Pharaohs
and then, through the Nubians, to Africa, where it assumed
a strong position among other instruments. Furthermore,
other smaller or larger forms of it emerged.
The number of the tanbura strings is 5 + 1, so the
tanbura player cannot produce more than five different
tones. The sixth and lowest string is positioned beside
the first (seen from the top) and produces the suboctave
of the highest tone. The absolute pitch is subject
to the tuning employed. The melodic work of a tanbura
is always based on the pentatonic scale which is prevalent
in Africa, particularly in Greater Nubia.
The tanbura is characterized
by a way of playing which did not change over the centuries.
That is because the instrument does not have a neck
by which it is held. So the strings, which are also
called khiyut (thread), the plural of khait in Arabic,
are free - i.e. the player cannot shorten the string
to change its tone.
The strings are beaten by a horn which is usually
made from the end of a bull's horn. It can be seen
in ancient paintings and reliefs that the tanbura
player always places his left hand behind the strings.
He beats all the strings simultaneously with the horn
in his right hand, whereas the left hand has the task
of muting all the strings except the string that plays
the melody. In order to be able to mute six strings
with five fingers, the sixth (suboctave) string is
positioned close to the first. Therefore, the player
can reach both of these with his thumb. This way of
playing is the reason for producing non-tonal sounds
accompanying the melody. The muting of the strings
creates a rhythmical rather than a melodic sound,
which is a unique way of playing.
There is a clear African
trait in this instrument. The tanbura is played in a
genre that takes the name of the instrument called a
fann at-tanbura or sometimes the nuban. This latter
name confirms the African provenance as the language
used is Swahili and the topics deal with many memories
of the time of the African colonies. The musical forms
of the tanbura follow the scientific classification
called funun of traditional healing which were gradually
changed into 'entertainment funun'. Since the modern
Sultanate of Oman now provides sufficient professional
medical care for its citizens, the use of medicine men
and their rites is no longer practised.
The rababa is one of
the instruments that are rarely used in the Sultanate.
It is on its way to becoming extinct,
although it cannot be ignored as it was, albeit for
a short time, one of the most important ancient instruments
of Oman's traditional music.
The rababa in general
is considered 'the mother of all the string instruments'
in the whole world. The first scientific evidence of
string instruments using a bow was made by the Arab
scholar and philosopher, Abu Nasr Mohammed bin Tarkhan
al-Farabi who died in Damascus in 950 AD. It is used
in Arab countries in different sizes and forms, as well
as with different numbers of strings. There can be one,
two and four-string versions of the rababa.
The Omani rababa contains one string only and is
called rababit ash-shair. The one-string type is used
not only in Oman, but also in most other Arab countries
such as the Arabian Gulf countries, Jordan and Lebanon.
The name implies 'the function of the instrument',
that is: helping the poet to recite his poetry. Therefore,
one string is enough because a poet does not need
a wide melodic ambitus like a singer for example.
The poet usually uses only four or five tones that
can easily be produced on one string on the neck of
the rababa without changing position of the left hand.
All the types of rababa are played in a vertical
position - i.e. the instrument is put on the player's
thigh and not on the shoulder like the Western violin.
It is worth mentioning that Moroccan players use the
violin in a vertical position like the familiar playing
of the rababa.
The rababa has no frets. The instrumentalist is therefore
not confined to fixed steps of a scale. The poet can
determine the intervallic structure of the tetrachord
on which his melody is based, as he wishes. This is
a typical Arabic trait in Omani music - tetrachords
with typical Arabic intervals, including three-quarter
tones taken from the Arabic musical scales; the maqamat.
This proves the Omani-Arab link.
The ud is considered
the most important Arab instrument and is called 'The
Prince of Instruments'. It is easy to use, but not to
master. 'Use' means simple playing, while mastering
is the art itself which needs effort and special talent.
ud is the symbol of Arab music in general because it
has accompanied the history of Arab music since its
very start. It was necessary and essential for any researcher
or philosopher who wanted to deal with Arab music and
at all times, it was, and still is, equally important
for the composer and singer.
The modern ud with its short neck has not changed
from that seen in ancient manuscripts. The importance
of the ud comes from the fact that it contains a large
melodic range (ambitus) of two octaves because it
contains five or six strings. As the strings are tuned
in fourths, the player can, even without changing
the movement of the left hand, from its 'first' or
'primary position', obtain two complete octaves. And,
as the ud does not have any frets that determine its
intervallic structure (like the guitar), it can produce
tones that include all Arabic and non-Arabic intervals.
By using the 'side tones' that are in between the
basic tones, the player can produce all the tones
of the Arabic musical octaves which are theoretically
divided into 24 quartertones. The genres in which
the ud is employed are marked by the following characteristics:
" Emphasis of the Arabic lyric through the use
of the three-quarter tones.
" Use of a wide melodic range
" Emphasis on the virtuosity of the player though
the potentials of the instrument.
There is not much evidence of the ud in traditional
Omani music. It occurs in vocal genres like as-sot
in its two types: shami and arabi. It can also be
seen in the bara of Dhofar, although it does not play
a dominant role in this genre. The ud is, however,
beginning to assume a more important status in the
Sultanate than it has in the past.