Elbphilharmonie Explains: The kanun

The kanun can have up to 84 strings. Salah Eddin Maraqa of the ensemble Sarband presents his special instrument.

The Kanun began to play an important role in Arab music in the 10th century. It was first brought to Europe in the 12th century, where it is said to have been the main instrument used by the Moors. The kanun is regarded as the predecessor of the European zither.

Special points: The strings can be shortened or lengthened further by turning small levers, which produces microtones.

Short and snappy: A profile of the kanun

Name: Kanun  

Origin: Middle East (Iran, Armenia, Greece, North Africa)

Family of instruments: Stringed instrument (box zither)

Material: The kanun consists of a trapeziform wooden board with elaborate decoration, across which 63 to 84 strings are stretched.

Playing technique: The strings are plucked or struck with the help of two plectrums that the player sticks on his index fingers like thimbles. The plectrums themselves are generally made of horn or tortoiseshell (taken from tortoises or turtles that were already dead!). At the lower end of the trapeziform instrument there is a bridge mounted on animal hide, which lends the kanun its characteristic sound.

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