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Author: Subject: If the Oud is the "King of Arab Instruments", Why Do You Barely Hear it in "Typical" Arabic Music?
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[*] posted on 10-19-2019 at 11:18 AM
If the Oud is the "King of Arab Instruments", Why Do You Barely Hear it in "Typical" Arabic Music?


Note: I'm basing my idea of "typical" Arabic music on what I heard in TV, movies, etc. growing up in the Middle East.

I love the oud as much as anyone else, but does anyone else feel like it's somewhat ignored or limited in recent Arabic music (recent being the last several decades)? I'm not talking about ensembles led by e.g. Naseer Shamma or Marcel Khalife, which are aimed at showcasing the oud; I'm talking about what you may have heard from, say, Umm Kulthum or Fairuz or songs from some popular Arab TV Drama.

When I think of what instruments I heard growing up as well as now, I think of things like the violin, accordion, qanun, nay, and even the buzuq. The oud is either drowned out by the other instruments, or is not there at all. The only times I can think of hearing an oud clearly were if there was a sad scene in a show and there would be a solo oud playing something in Saba maybe. Even then, it was still common to hear a violin take this role, as well.

Just listen at this performance of Sama'i Bayati:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nurh5m9fgnU

There's one oud and about 6,000 other instruments. The only times you can hear the oud well are when it plays some small fills in between everyone else's passages. Any other time, it's there, but very difficult to hear.

Or listen to the theme songs for a couple of popular TV shows:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRZqJz8FZk4

Bunch of violins and what sounds like a buzuq.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2gZlqbPdCU

Once again, more violins, and a whole qanun solo starting around 55 seconds.

So, what gives? Does the oud's sound not blend well with other instruments? Does it not match the expectations of what people want in Arabic music? Am I (hopefully) completely wrong about all of this? Would love to hear you all's thoughts.
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danieletarab
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[*] posted on 10-19-2019 at 12:16 PM


Intresting post!
I think that arabic composers give to the oud the same role that piano has in western classic music. You don't have piano in the orchestra basically, but all the music played by an orchestra has been likely composed on a piano. We can say the same thing of the oud.
All the musicians in a western orchestra, whatever instrument they play, can play piano as a complementary (and mandatory) instrument. Similar thing happens with the oud.
Piano, in classical music, is the basic instrument for solo recitals or for playing along with a singer. Same thing with the oud.
It seems that either the piano and the oud are thought to be the only instruments that can substitute an entire ensemble on their own, and the instruments on which the entire musical system has been based, but their "voices" are not considered to be important in the overall sound of an ensemble.
I personally don't like arabic orchestras; I am more into small, traditional Takht (Oud, ney, qanun, riqq and maybe violin).
And yes, I agree with you; most of the time the only thing you can hear in arabic music is very loud violins, violins and more violins again!!!
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[*] posted on 10-22-2019 at 10:50 AM


When I was a young 17 year old oud player, I was playing with a band that played modern 90s arabic music at weddings and such. One keyboardist told me I'm good but I should quit oud and focus on playing keyboard, because the oud is "abstract." I'm glad I didn't listen to him, but the oud never felt at home with that music.

Fact is, I feel the oud lost it's prominent role in popular arabic music ensemble in the 1940s or so. Even Farid, the "King of the Oud," 90% of his songs didn't feature his oud playing in the 40s to the 70s.

Your question... why is this the case? I'n not totally sure. Probably just keeping things simple and clean. Adding oud to a recording session complicates things. Ever since violins became the standard backup instrument, all others have been relegated to solos. But I think the oud sounds awesome when played with the string section for classic arabic music. And if the recording is done properly you can hear it just fine.
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[*] posted on 10-22-2019 at 04:21 PM


Hmm... I guess a comparison to the piano is good, but even then, you still hear the piano way more in western music than you hear the oud in Arabic music.

And true Badra, it does seem like having violins be the primary backup and then everything else be solo makes things simpler. But even then, there seem to be more qanun, nay, or accordion solos and oud is just nowhere to be found in most ensembles. Or even if it is there, it doesn't get an important role.

I guess maybe it's because the oud plays mostly in a middle register, and also its sound is not that sharp or bright, so it doesn't cut through a bunch of instruments like other plucked instruments (e.g. buzuq or qanun) could. I guess one solution is have a whole oud section, but I don't think that sounds too great, either.
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majnuunNavid
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[*] posted on 10-23-2019 at 02:25 AM


I think the Oud is the king of instruments in the Arab world because of the ability to play different keys, the versatility of melody and rhythm, and the ability for a composer or artist to sing and play at the same time.

In the pre-modern, pre-industrial time periods I can easily see this as the kind of instruments in the Arab world.

But compared to modern tastes and standards the oud is overshadowed by instruments of catchier, flashier instruments like keyboard. Not to bash Omar Souleyman, but the whole thing is a two man show with voice and keyboard. The keyboard does everything. Easy to get up and dance to for the monkeys in the room. I listen to one of his songs too on my driving playlist.

People are drawn to brighter and brighter sounds and louder instruments. The Oud can't compete with that.





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[*] posted on 10-23-2019 at 02:29 AM


The points you make in your first post are exactly why I became disillusioned with the Oud in Persian music. The Oud is pretty useless. There are some combinations I find work very well, but otherwise the Oud gets drowned out, and even if it is prominent doesn't add much because of its limitations in actually sounding how Iranian music should sound.



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[*] posted on 10-23-2019 at 07:39 AM


The acoustic guitar has the same range as the oud and it can be heard prominently in performances and recordings of so many different genres of music. In general the sound of the average oud is both quieter and more diffuse than the louder more concentrated guitar sound. But that can be remedied. That's what microphones are for. I don't think anything about the nature of oud explains its mis-handling in large ensembles. I think the real root of the under-mixing of oud is......the under-mixing of oud. I think this is because of an imbalance of power. The oud players generally don't get to say what they want and need. And when they do speak up they are ignored. And it isn't always club owners or record executives or film producers who are responsible. Incompetent sound tech people are often the culprit. Is the oud harder to mic well than a violin? Yes. Is it much harder? No.
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[*] posted on 10-23-2019 at 08:16 AM


Interesting thoughts, Navid. I guess the same factors that draw us to the oud are also the ones which may repel modern ears from it.

And Jody, I mostly agree with you, except your comparison to the acoustic guitar. Its range is theoretically similar to the oud, but I would say there are proportionally many less oud players who can play accurately up the cc string than there are guitar players who can play up the e string, or up the fretboard in general. In addition, since the role of the acoustic guitar is often just rhythm, it can a fill a role that the oud can't.
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[*] posted on 10-23-2019 at 09:13 AM


In defense of the oud, it is still very popular in "traditional" Arab music. As is the ney and qanoon. And the oud is the first instrument that comes to mind when thinking of traditional Arab music. Popular Arabic music, that is on TV etc, is a different animal. So is popular music anywhere in the world. You don't see traditional instruments being played.
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[*] posted on 10-24-2019 at 06:45 AM


To me itís a combination of a few things. First is the sound engineering/ placement of the oud in the orchestra. If the singer is also playing the oud in the performance, it usually shows up in the song, not always super noticeable, but you can here it clearly if you listen closely. I would assume this is because the singers voice obviously needs to be captured in a way where you can here it clearly even with the whole orchestra, and in this case the same effect is passed on to the oud. Otherwise, the sound of the oud gets drowned out due to sheer numbers- you canít expect an oud to out power 20 violins etc. If you listen to chamber music, which was more common in the arab world at the turn of the century and early part of the 1900s, and where there was one of each instrument, the oud blends fine with the other instruments. As to why there isnít an oud section in the orchestras, itís probably because there was no standardization of ouds and so a much larger variety of sound. You can see in Nasser Shammaís beit al oud sections of oud , plus alto , bass ouds etc. To me it doesnít really sound great, perhaps it has to do with the double stringed nature of the oud? Itís difficult enough getting the strings on one oud perfectly tuned, let alone a whole orchestra!
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[*] posted on 10-24-2019 at 01:18 PM


Quote: Originally posted by JassimbinMater  
Otherwise, the sound of the oud gets drowned out due to sheer numbers- you canít expect an oud to out power 20 violins etc. !


Why does everyone (?) commenting on this topic think it's normal and reasonable for one human voice to hold its own against 20 violins but unreasonable to expect an oud to do the same thing? The voice is heard without the singer shouting because of the right microphone placed in the right place and turned up to the right volume. The same thing can be done with the oud. But the sound man or event producer or whoever is in charge, has to *care* about getting it right.
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[*] posted on 10-24-2019 at 03:20 PM


Quote: Originally posted by Badra  
In defense of the oud, it is still very popular in "traditional" Arab music. As is the ney and qanoon. And the oud is the first instrument that comes to mind when thinking of traditional Arab music. Popular Arabic music, that is on TV etc, is a different animal. So is popular music anywhere in the world. You don't see traditional instruments being played.


Exactly my thoughts. And more to the point: the most important instrument in Arabic music has always been the voice. The oud is popular, but isn't popular because the oud is the featured instrument, it's popular because it is the instrument that accompanies the voice the best.

There are a number of things going on here, but a big one I think is that there is a big difference between a solo feature and an ensemble sound.
Here's an analogy: it is very difficult to pick out the second alto sax part in a big band arrangement. He's playing just as loud as the first alto and the bari sax, but because his part is in the middle, it is naturally harder to hear as a distinct part. Similarly with the second violin part in an orchestra. But, it would be very noticeable if you removed it. Same with the oud. Not being able to "hear" the oud as a separate part very well doesn't mean it's not doing its job from an ensemble perspective. In fact, this is one of the most annoying things about playing in an ensemble with an amateur oud playeróthey think they should hear themselves like they do in their bedroom where they're the only instrument. It takes skill and practice to listen to a middle part effectively. The solution is not simply to try to play louder than everyone else. The job of everyone is to support the singer. The oud will almost always tend to be secondary because of this.

That said, there are a bunch of other things going on: poor taste in arrangers/leaders who create a huge ensemble that drowns out the oud with a dozen violins, poor production skills that mean that the oud is not miked/mixed/eq'd properly to maintain as much individuality as possible. Most of the classic recordings don't have great quality and the primary thing they were doing was capturing the voice. You can barely hear the percussion on a lot of the classic recordings! In old recordings without bass, it's easier to hear the oud, since it's the low instrument. Once you add bass, it gets very difficult to pick out the oud in many cases.

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[*] posted on 10-24-2019 at 11:26 PM


Quote: Originally posted by Jody Stecher  
Quote: Originally posted by JassimbinMater  
Otherwise, the sound of the oud gets drowned out due to sheer numbers- you canít expect an oud to out power 20 violins etc. !


Why does everyone (?) commenting on this topic think it's normal and reasonable for one human voice to hold its own against 20 violins but unreasonable to expect an oud to do the same thing? The voice is heard without the singer shouting because of the right microphone placed in the right place and turned up to the right volume. The same thing can be done with the oud. But the sound man or event producer or whoever is in charge, has to *care* about getting it right.


I quite clearly wrote in the same post that you *can* hear the oud when the singer is playing the oud because the microphone is already placed near it to capture the voice properly, and the comparison with the violins was in cases where the oud is not placed/micíd in that way, I suggest reading a more closely.

And this was primarily in regards to songs from at least several decades ago, no doubt that with advances in sound engineering there should be no problem bringing out the sound of the oud if desired.
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[*] posted on 12-7-2019 at 03:18 PM


Great discussion. I wanted to add that I was attracted to the oud for exactly the reason it gets lost in the trees: its full and low midrangey sound. When I tried to use it in the studio in recorded compositions it either saturated the spectrum and prevented other instruments from having voice or it ended up pushed to the background.

It's a tricky instrument to record. Piano has a lot more punch and its high notes are very clear. Oud has a charming woolly thickness around every note that makes it strong and "phat" as a solo instrument but difficult to incorporate unless it's electronically processed beyond recognition.
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[*] posted on 12-8-2019 at 12:31 AM


Quote: Originally posted by fernandraynaud  
Great discussion. I wanted to add that I was attracted to the oud for exactly the reason it gets lost in the trees: its full and low midrangey sound. When I tried to use it in the studio in recorded compositions it either saturated the spectrum and prevented other instruments from having voice or it ended up pushed to the background.

It's a tricky instrument to record. Piano has a lot more punch and its high notes are very clear. Oud has a charming woolly thickness around every note that makes it strong and "phat" as a solo instrument but difficult to incorporate unless it's electronically processed beyond recognition.


I've often tried to get the Oud to do things it can't and I've recently come to think that one shouldn't burden an instrument beyond its capabilities.

Which makes this come down to WHY the Oud in the first place?
My answer is that the Oud is likely ideal to be accompanied by one or two drums and the human voice. And that's it. The best Oud albums/recordings are ones that are raw, solo, or accompanied sparsely.

But there are recordings that prove otherwise.. like Simon Shaheen's fantasie for oud and string quartet... I think that was done well from an audio perspective.

Why are we putting orchestras and Ouds together?? I think we're just jacking off... Like my cover of Purple Haze and Your body is a wonderland by John Mayer... I was just jacking off...




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fernandraynaud
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[*] posted on 12-8-2019 at 06:06 AM


Yet jacking off has a discreet charm of its own ...
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