The Duduk, a woodwind instrument, originated about a thousand years ago in what we know now as Armenia. Performances often present it in pairs. While the first player performs the melody, the second player plays a constant drone tone called “dum,”. The sound of the two instruments combined provides a deeper, more haunting sound.

The Duduk’s origins trace with certainty to the reign of Armenian king Tigran the Great (95-55 B.C.E.). Archaeologists also date some records back to 1000 B.C. The ancient flute aulos made of reed boasts the title of being the Duduk’s ancestor and appears in a number of ancient Armenian manuscripts.

The Duduk is, in fact, the only truly Armenian instrument that has survived throughout history. As such, it serves as a symbol of Armenian national identity. The ability of the instrument to articulate the dialectic and mood of the Armenian language always presents itself as a difficult challenge for a player. At the same time, it’s considered to be the instrument’s most valuable asset.

The modern version of the Duduk emerged in the first half of the twentieth century. Vardan Bouni improved the instrument from the 1920s to the 1930s. Three additional major designs of the instrument appeared later on: in A (f#-b’), in Bb (gc’), and in D/piccolo/ (h-e flat’). Each Duduk has a range of an octave and a fourth or third.  

Measures and construction of the Duduk

The instrument’s length ranges from 28 to 40 cm. The most popular “A-Duduk” is 35.5 cm long and 2.2 cm in diameter. Internal diameter remains constant at 1.2 cm, slightly widening at the end to accommodate the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece, sliced from reed, stretches 10.5 cm tall and is flattened at the proximal end.

There are currently seven different designs of the instrument: G, A, B, H, C, D, Es, and E. Each of these is the german name for the note that is produced when all of the finger holes are opened. The A-Duduk can tune to play any pitch between F-sharp and B-natural. The sound of each type differs slightly.

The Duduk was first used in classical modern music in 1975 by Armenian composer Avet Terteryan (1929-1995). The piece was his third Symphony, and the Duduk played along the Zurna and a symphonic orchestra. This composition is still very popular today, and many orchestras play it regularly. The soundtrack of the great Armenian duduk-ist Vache Hovsepian was used by composer Peter Gabriele for the film “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988). Since then, the number of films in which the Duduk appears has expanded significantly, with films such as “Gladiator,” “Troy,” “Yevgeny Onegin,” “Ararat,” and several others.

In 2005, UNESCO recognized (and in 2008, inscribed) the Armenian Duduk and its music as a Masterpiece of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,