Melodic Instruments

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 use.

b. Wind Instruments

1. Mizmar

The mizmar belongs to the double-reed wooden wind instruments. It is cylindrical in form and is known by various names such as the naghghar, surnai or sirnai. Playing the mizmar requires considerable skill because the double reed needs high blowing power. Furthermore, the player should have the ability to perform with uninterrupted blowing. This technique dates back to ancient civilizations: it is found depicted on ancient Greek vases. In this case, the player stores the air in his mouth and breathes through his nose. Thus both of the player's cheeks are inflated with the stored air, and while breathing, he pushes the air from his mouth into the instrument so that the sound can continue without interruption. Using this technique, an experienced mizmar player can play continuously for several hours.

The lewa is the most important musical genre which employs the mizmar. The mizmar is the only melodic instrument beside a complete set of rhythmic instruments that usually consists of musundi lewa (standing or sitting) as well as tabl rahmani and another kasir. The tanak also has its fixed place in this genre.

This genre again shows many signs of African origin, be it the typically African dance movement or the pentatonic scale. Swahili language is used not only for the text, but also in the names of parts of the lewa genre, such as lewa itself, the sabata, the bum, and the sudani.

The use of the mizmar is not confined to the lewa genre: it can also be seen in the sairawan and the kunzak genres as well.

2. Zamr

The zamr is a wooden instrument made from bamboo. Alternative names are aba al-maqrun and sometimes gifti. The zamr consists of two parallel pipes of equal length and size, fitted together. The sound is produced in both pipes by blowing into them simultaneously. Each pipe has one reed that is cut into the body of the pipe. In the Sultanate of Oman there are several types of the zamr namely with five, six or seven holes, although the five-hole type is the most frequently used. The player of the zamr is often accompanied by many rhythmic instruments usually from the rahmani class, such as the kasir, the ranna, the rahmani and the rahmani tawil. The zamr is also accompanied by singing as is seen in the zamr genre.

This instrument is widely used in many Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Therefore, the Arab character is heard in its simple melodies, which usually include the three-quarter tone intervals typical of Arab scales and agnas.

3. Qasaba

The qasaba is a pipe made from bamboo, wood or metal. It is characterized by its lack of mouthpiece for blowing, and is cylindrical in form and open at both ends. It has six holes in the front and one in the back. The sound is produced by blowing sideways into one of its two openings. The qasaba is similar to the nai to produce three-quarter tones.

The qasaba is the main melodic instrument in Dhofar and is mostly used in the sharh and the bara genres. A well-known qasaba player is Awad bin Guma bin Taufiq of Salalah.

4. Habban

The habban is not really a traditional instrument: in Oman it has only recently been used. It is found in the cities such as Muscat, Salalah and Sohar. It is not confined to a special art, but is used in many different genres. The habban is a skin bagpipe so it is sometimes called the girba, meaning 'bag'. It has several pipes, most of them producing a fixed drone or Bordun and one, the 'melodic pipe' playing the melody. The impression of polyphony is created by the continuous drone of the Bordun pipes. The player blows air into the qirba where it is stored and from there, pushed into the melodic pipes so that the sound continues without interruption. The habban is similar to the Scottish bagpipe but is different to those used in Bahrain, Qatar and Iraq where it has a pair of double pipes for the melody, but no Bordun pipes.

This site is designed and maintained by Oman Electronic Network.
Copyright © 2002 Ministry of Information. All rights reserved.
Copyright of all photographs belongs to the Ministry of Information from whom permission must
be sought for use in any other format, i.e. whether this be in a printed or electronic form, or in a retrieval system