Gilded Serpent presents...

Egyptian Percussion Instruments

Percussion Instruments

by Dr. George Dimitri Sawa
posted July 9, 2011

From the medieval era to our own time, Arabic music has been predominantly rhythmic. For this reason, much effort has been spent to write a theory of Arabic rhythms. The first to write his theory was the singer, composer, and lutenist Ishaq al-Maswsili (d. 850). He was followed by the philosopher al-Kindi (d.after 870) who used Ishaq al-Mawsili’s writings and blended them with Greek theories which were translated into Arabic in Baghdad. However, because al-Kindi was not a practicing musician, his writings were imprecise. Al-Farabi (d. 950) was both a philosopher and a practitioner, consequently, his writings were more precise. He used the writings of Ishaq (the practitioner) with those of al-Kindi and added the works of scholars in Arabic humanities, which encompassed the fields of poetics, prosody, grammar, philology, and added many branches of mathematics. Safi al-Din (d. 1294) used the theories of al-Farabi but added a wonderful notation system which he borrowed from the circle system of Arabic poetry.

 I have revived and used this system in my booklet Egyptian Music Appreciation and Practice for Bellydancers to notate 20 rhythms used in Egyptian dance music. Because Arabic music is so predominantly rhythmic, percussion instruments play a crucial role in it. This article high-lights the percussion instruments used in Egyptian dance, namely, Bellydance, folk, therapeutic and ceremonial dances.

There are four main groups of percussion instruments:

  1. Finger Cymbals,
  2. Tambourine,
  3. Darabukka,
  4. and Tabl Baladi (the double-headed drum).

The Cymbals

 Known in Egypt as sagat and in Turkey as zills, they are sets of four metal finger cymbals of various sizes. The smaller sets are used by Bellydancers, while tura and kas (the larger ones) are used in folk music, zar and other religious rituals (and colorful sales people in the street to attract attention to their products).

sagat

The Tambourine Family

The Duff is a goat-skin tambourine without jingles, used in  popular and folk music, zar, as well as other religious rituals.
The Tar isa large tambourine with a head made of goat-skin, without jingles, used in  popular and folk music, zar, and other religious rituals.
The Mazhar, also known as Bandir, is a large tambourine with a head made of the skin of goat, cow, or donkey, and it has five sets of four heavy brass jingles. It is used in popular and folk music, zar, and other religious rituals.
The Riqq is a small tambourine with a head made of fish or goat skin;  it has five sets of four brass jingles and is used in classical, popular, folk music and dance.

The Darabukka Family

The Darabukka, known also as tabla, is a clay, single-headed drum with a head of Nile fish-skin or a goat-skin head, used in classical, popular, as well as folk music and zar rituals. The body is conical at the head, while the base is cylindrical.
The Doholla is a larger-size darabukka with a head made of donkey-skin, used in popular and folk music as well as zar rituals.

Doholla

The Double-Headed Drum

The Tabl Baladi is a wooden Upper Egyptian double-headed drum with goat-skin heads; it is beaten with two sticks, one thin and one thick, and is used in folk music. (The name also applies to an instrumental ensemble used in Upper Egypt consisting of the Tabl Baladi and three Mizmars.)

Today, all percussion instruments use plastic instead of animal skins. They do not need to be heated to tune them like the animal skin instruments, but their plastic-made sound can never come close to the beauty of the animal skin ones.

tabl beledi

Sources:
George Dimitri Sawa. Egyptian Music Appreciation and Practice for Bellydancers.
George Dimitri Sawa. The Art of the Early Egyptian Qanun, vols. 1 and 2.
George Dimitri Sawa. Music Performance Practice in the Early Abbasid Era 132-320 AH/750-932 AD. Ottawa: The Institute of Mediaeval Music, 2004.
George Dimitri Sawa. Rhythmic Theories and Practices in Arabic Writings to 339AH/950CE. Annotated Translations and Commentaries. Ottawa: The Institute of Mediaeval Music, 2009.

http://www.georgedimitrisawa.com/buy_music.html
Please also see the Gilded Serpent Musical Instrument Tour

use the comment box

Have a comment? Use or comment section at the bottom of this page or Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?

  • Recreating Ritual, Enhancing our daily lives with drumming and dancing
    The rhythmic patterns and dance movements of this tradition, steeped in antiquity, steeped in women’s ancestry, rekindle a natural and sacred state of well being.
  • A Drummer’s Advice to Beginning Dancers
    "…Know your rhythms! I have drummed for bellydance classes where the instructor not only couldn’t clap baladi but didn’t even know what it was…"
  • Dancing to Live Drumming
    The Drum can express all human emotions: joy, sorrow, elation, and grief.
  • Permits, IDs, Licensing, Foreign Dancers in Cairo,
    It dawned on me that some dodgy nightclub manager, whom I didn’t know personally, had complete control over my passport and my freedom to leave! So, I had no alternative other than to end my contract in order to get my passport back which also meant halting the lengthy paper process.

  • Dancing with Tigers, In China with Fleurs d’Egypte
    We had no idea what to expect of the actual location. However, with ticket and costumes in hand, we rode the wave. Arriving late at night, we were ushered to our rooms and straight to bed to sleep off our jet lag. We had no concept of the overwhelming size of the park and over-the-top eye-candy awaiting us the next morning!
  • Becoming the Object of Your Own Fantasy, "Perfumes of Araby" in the 1970s, Part 1
    The Belly dance scene in 1970s Los Angeles: It is difficult to spotlight succinctly even one portion of a vibrant, vast and quickly growing community of Middle Eastern dancers, their enthusiasts, and the ethnic communities, musicians, festivals and supper clubs that supported the dance arts. The abundance of inspiration in that era was almost beyond understanding; yet once upon a time before the Internet, music, imagery and information was less readily available.
  • Inaugural "Art of the Belly" Festival Rings in Spring in Style, Bellydance comes to Ocean City, Maryland
    Inside the hotel, waves of positive energy radiated all around. People were not just glad to be at this festival, they were honored. If you were from Maryland, this was your belly dance festival. Dancers were representing both themselves and the elements of various fusions. They wanted this to be done right.

  • Maria, Nadika, Naiya-Hayal, Onyx Moon, Oreet, Raks Al Khalil, Raks Terayz, Raks the Casbah, Reda Darwish, Ruby, Sabiba, Sassafras, Shimmy Amour, Tatseena’s Troupe, Terry, Titanya, Troupe Aneena, Yolanda, Zahara
  • Dancer Cancer, Part One: "Hopping on One Foot
    Still, I was confident that there would be no further problem and that I was letting my vanity get the best of me. By wanting to look good, I had caused all my own discomfort, I reassured myself. He said I would have the biopsy report in a few days and to call my referral doctor to hear what the UC San Francisco laboratory report said.
  • Dancing on the Roof of the World, Community Festival in Tajikistan .
    After all my many travels to Tajikistan, filled with the frantic bustle of dance lessons, rehearsals, teaching, doing trip logistics, hunting for traditional bits and bobs for costuming, and getting fitted for stage costumes, I finally decided to try being a more-or-less normal tourist in one of my favorite places on Earth, the Pamir mountains of Badakhshan, eastern Tajikistan.
  • Serpent Tour 2011 Journal- London, Madrid and Marrakech! NEW VIDEO UPDATE-7-8-11
    An experimental travel blog. Let see how it goes! The plan is to update this page frequently.

   |       |    1 Comment

  1. No Gravatar
    Elias Abboud

    Nov 29, 2013 - 08:11:59

    Hi I want to ask if you guys are selling tabl. If you are selling can you guys show me pictures the price of the tabl. That would great of you guys.

Click and type in the comment box to add to this discussion. If you want to see an avatar for yourself, set up an avatar at http://www.Gravatar.com

 

Gilded Serpent

MaryEllen Donald