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Author: Subject: Question on the history of Oud strings
FilipHolm
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[*] posted on 1-9-2020 at 05:41 PM
Question on the history of Oud strings


Hi!
I mentioned in an earlier post that I study religion and history and am particularly interested in music (aside from being an Oud player myself).
I've been working on a script about music in the Islamic world and obviously the Oud turns up a lot in that discussion. But what has been bothering me is the question of strings.
As the story goes, there were four strings before Ziryab (or al-Kindi or who knows really) added a fifth string, which by the time of Safi Al-Din Urmawi had become the norm.
The strings being called (from lowest): Bamm, Mathlath, Mathna, Zir and Hadd.
My question regards which string is which? I originally thought that the fifth string that was added was a lower string, but "hadd" is obviously higher than zir.
So what are the equivalents on a modern Oud? Would bamm correspond to the F string (according to Arabic tuning) and Hadd be the high C? Or was Hadd even higher than the modern C string and Bamm would be more equivalent to the A string?
If the latter is the case, when was the Hadd string removed and when was the lower F added?

As you can tell, I'm very confused but I hope you understand my questions. Can any of you enlighten me on this subject?
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Jody Stecher
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[*] posted on 1-9-2020 at 08:58 PM


Good questions! I have no reliable answer but I can tell you what I've heard. I heard it so long ago I can't remember who or where.
What I heard is that the original four courses were tuned in fourths just like they are now. Bamm was a lower fifth course added below. If the original 4 were (low to high) A d g c, the new course was G, an octave below the second course. But looking at the tuning of string instruments from other places gives me a different idea. Suppose the original four were (again low to high) tuned G d g c and the new string was placed between G and D and was tuned to A. All the world has string tunings where there is a gap of a major 2nd between adjacent strings. I have no evidence for my theory. It's not even a theory, just a vague idea.
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al-Halabi
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[*] posted on 1-10-2020 at 04:23 PM


Medieval sources refer to two distinct types of fifth string that were added to the oud with four strings tuned in fourths. Al-Farabi added a fifth string named al-hadd. It was a fourth higher than the zir and made it possible to obtain the range of a double octave. The fifth string of Ziryab was different: it was reportedly added between the mathlath and the mathna strings, and explanations for it don't make clear its musical purpose. (See George Sawa's 'An Arabic Musical and Socio-Cultural Glossary of Kitab al-Aghani' for the kind of extra-musical explanations that were offered for it.) Al-Farabi's oud tuned in straight fourths is like the present-day Turkish oud minus the sixth bass string. Some Arab oud players tuned their instruments in straight fourths.

In the absence of ways to express absolute pitches, musical sources deal with the tuning of strings in relative terms, and pitches are identified by particular frets on the oud, fingering, and the traditional names used for the notes. The fixed pitches of the oud strings in use today, such as c for the first string (d in the case of Turkish tuning) are a modern convention.
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FilipHolm
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[*] posted on 1-12-2020 at 02:29 PM


Thanks for your answers!
Do any of you know when the frets of the Oud was removed (if we accept the idea that it ever had any)? Or what that process looked like?
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al-Halabi
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[*] posted on 1-12-2020 at 04:18 PM


There is no reason to doubt that the medieval oud was fretted; the evidence on this is abundant and explicit. I think that these two older threads, to which I contributed at the time, would answer your questions about fretted ouds and the abandonment of frets (which took place beginning in the 16th century):


http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=2961#pid193...

http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=5104#pid330...
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FilipHolm
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[*] posted on 1-13-2020 at 05:07 AM


Quote: Originally posted by al-Halabi  
There is no reason to doubt that the medieval oud was fretted; the evidence on this is abundant and explicit. I think that these two older threads, to which I contributed at the time, would answer your questions about fretted ouds and the abandonment of frets (which took place beginning in the 16th century):


http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=2961#pid193...

[url]http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=5104#pid33098
[/url]

Very interesting stuff! But given the fact that some early depictions of Ouds from the middle ages appear to be fretless, would you suggest that practice may have varied even in the early period? Or were ALL Ouds fretted pre-16th century?
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