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Classical Sprouts: Music Of The Middle East


The term "Middle East" refers to a wide range of countries: from Iran to Egypt, Middle Eastern countries span parts of Asia, Africa and even a little bit of Europe.

So, as you might imagine, this geographic region is home to many different music-making traditions.

There are several musical characteristics that are shared widely throughout the music of the Middle East, though.

One common stylistic element of traditional Middle Eastern music is monophony, meaning the music only has one melody.

Arabic music in particular also gains a unique sound from its use of eight different scales called maqams, each meant to sound like a different mood or emotion.

Arabic music frequently incorporates microtones, too; these are notes that are closer together than the ones we see on a piano keyboard.

The Middle East is also home to many great instruments and musicians.

The oud, for example, is a little bit like a guitar, but because it doesn't have any frets, players aren't limited to the 12 chromatic pitches.

Rahim AlHaj is a well-known oud virtuoso originally from Baghdad, Iraq.

The darbuka, an instrument that's been around for thousands of years, is a goblet-shaped drum with two distinct sounds - one that's low and resonant and another that's high and short.

Umm Kulthum is another famous musician from the Middle East, and she's even known as "The Voice of Egypt"!

For forty years, Kulthum would have concerts on the first Thursday of every month that people could listen to live on the radio.

Sometimes her concerts would last up to five hours!

This song from the musical The Band's Visit refers to Umm Kulthum's radio broadcast!

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Classical Sprouts is produced by Emily Duncan Wilson. Kacie Brown is the digital content manager.

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Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.
Emily Duncan Wilson produces the Classical Sprouts podcast.