The oud is a fretless stringed instrument with a short neck and pear form. Generally, it has 11 strings arranged in 6 courses. But some variants have 5 or 7 courses, with 10 or 13 strings, respectively. Unlike the lute, the oud does not have frets and has a thinner neck. In Arabic, the word ‘oud’ means ‘from wood’. The instrument is predominantly played in West Asian and North African countries. It includes Egypt, Syria, Israel, Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, Somalia, Yemen, Arabia, and Iran.

Multiple theories have been proposed for the origin of the Arabic name oud. One non-academic author stated his belief that oud means “from wood” and “stick” in Arabic. One hypothesis is that the oud evolved from the Persian barbat or barbud, a lute that Marcel-Dubois identified to be of Central Asian origin. The earliest pictorial depiction of the barbat comes from ancient northern Bactria in the 1st century BC. And it is the oldest proof of the barbat’s existence. A Gandhara sculpture from the 2nd-4th century AD has evidence of a version of the Barba. It might have been introduced by the Kushan nobility and its influence can be seen in Gandharan art. Modern-day ouds fall into three categories: Arabian, Turkish, and Persian, the latter is also known as barbat.

Sound of Oud

The sound of the Arabian oud is fuller and deeper than that of the Turkish and Persian ouds, but the Turkish oud’s sound is more tight and sharp. The Turkish oud is generally (and partly) tuned one whole step higher than the Arabian. Turkish ouds are lighter in construction than Arabian ouds, with an unfinished soundboard, lower string action, and tighter string courses. Turkish ouds also have a “brighter timbre” and they are higher tuned. In comparison to Turkish ouds, which have a scale length of 58.5 cm, Arabian ouds have a scale length of 61 cm to 62 cm. There are also electro-acoustic and electric ouds available. The contemporary Persian Barbat is similar to the oud, but it has a smaller body, a longer neck, a slightly higher fingerboard, and a different tone than the oud.

The sound of the Oud vibrates within its hollow body. It has a rounded back that is encased in a soundboard. That consists of a flat sheet of wood and a backside made up of 15-25 strips of wood. The rosette is usually the open side of the rear part. The pear-shaped body and fretless neck are the two most distinguishing characteristics of this musical instrument. The body of this instrument contains 1-3 sound holes that are generally covered with purfling. However, this ornamentation has no negative influence on the sound quality. The body of an oud resembles a large gourd and is constructed up of a complicated system of thin wood staves. The instrument’s upper part, on the other hand, is made of lightwood.

Techniques to tune the oud

Within the different oud traditions, there are various techniques to tune the oud. A popular older pattern of tuning the strings among people playing the oud in the Arabic tradition is (low pitch to high): D2 G2 A2 D3 G3 C4 on single string courses or D2, G2 G2, A2 A2, D3 D3, G3 G3, C4 C4 for a two-string course. The “Bolahenk” tuning (low pitch to high) is prevalent in Turkish tradition: C#2 F#2 B2 E3 A3 D4 on instruments with single-string courses or C#2, F#2 F#2, B2 B2, E3 E3, A3 A3, D4 D4 on instruments with two string courses. In the Bolahenk system, the C2 and F2 are actually tuned 1/4 of a tone higher than a conventional c or f.