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The violin is the smallest member of the strings family and is able to play the highest notes. There are more violins than any other type of instrument in an orchestra, sometimes numbering more than 30. The instrument’s sound is high, bright and sweet.
The piano comes in two basic types – the upright and the grand. It is now one of the most popular instruments. It has a keyboard with 88 keys and sound is produced by small hammers striking strings. The hammers are controlled mechanically and strike the strings when the player's hands press the keys.
Throughout history, flutes have been made from lots of materials, such as wood, and the earliest examples were made from bear bone with holes in! Today flutes are made from silver, gold or some other type of metal. The flute can make a shrill, piercing noise as well as being able to sing like a bird.
The oud is the cornerstone of Arab music, whether in concerts, on the radio or at home. It is suitable for both solo and ensemble playing and is an essential part of the traditional Arab ensemble – the takht. It is a short necked, fretless lute, with a body shaped like half a pear.
The qanun has played a key role in Arab music since the tenth century. It is a flat instrument with a body shaped like a trapezoid, with 26 triple courses of strings made from nylon and metal wound silk. To make music, the player rests the qanun on his knees or on a table, and plucks the strings.
The clarinet is a long slender tube, usually made from African hardwood, with metal keys to press. The bottom of the clarinet is shaped like a bell. It is played with a reed, which is a very thin piece of wood that vibrates when you blow through it.
The double bass is the biggest member of the string family. It plays a very deep sound, and its rumbly voice keeps the strings section of an orchestra together. It is also used in jazz, rock and roll, country and folk music ensembles. It is played standing on its end on a spike which rests on the floor.
Percussion instruments play a very important role as they help keep the rhythm and timing. For this reason, many kinds of percussion instruments can be found in Arab music. Examples include the riq, tar and tablah.
The French horn is easy to spot because of its circular shape, and it consists of a very long brass tube, which curls round and round. Originally made from hollowed-out animals' horns, the horn was used for signaling and during hunts. There are usually four French horns in an orchestra.
The nay is an open-ended, obliquely end blown flute made of reed, and in fact the word ‘nay’ derived from the Farsi for ‘reed’. Exhibiting a breathy tone, the instrument has a wide range of almost two and a half octaves and is still the most popular and commonly used instrument in Arab music.
The oboe is made of wood with metal keys, and played by blowing a double reed (two pieces of reed joined together). It looks like a clarinet, except for the mouthpiece. The oboe makes a beautiful sound, clear and penetrating, and when an orchestra tunes up it acts as the guide for the other instruments.
The Kaman is a Western violin with altered tuning and playing technique. It has become almost indispensable to the traditional Arab music ensemble, the takht. The instrument in the Arab tradition is customarily tuned to G, d, g and d’.
Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece. The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax in 1846. He wanted to create an instrument that would be the most powerful of the woodwinds, and the most adaptive of the brass—filling the gap between the two sections.
The trombone is a powerful and unique instrument. Its name derives from the Italian word ‘tromba’ (trumpet) and the suffix ‘-one’ meaning large. Trombonists make different notes by changing the shape of their lips, altering how hard they blow and by moving the slide.
The trumpet is the highest brass instrument and makes a very loud, strong sound that can be heard above the rest of the orchestra. It has been around for a very long time. People have been playing trumpet-like instruments made of conch-shell, horn, wood or metal, for thousands of years.
This may look like a violin, but the viola has a larger body and longer strings. Its voice is in the middle of the range of stringed instruments and makes a deeper, richer sound. There are 10-14 violas in an orchestra and they have two important jobs to do: to play harmonies and also play solo pieces.
The cello looks like a violin and a viola - but bigger. It makes a wide range of beautiful sounds, from warm low notes to rich high notes, and is regarded as being the closest sounding instrument to the human voice. There are 8 - 12 cellos in an orchestra.
The percussion family is the biggest in the orchestra. Anything that can be hit is called percussion. Even a saucepan or a bottle! Tuned percussion play notes and unturned percussion just make sounds. They are the rhythm section of the orchestra and help the orchestra to stay together.
Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, using both tonality and rhythm. Singers often perform in a group of other musicians, such as in a choir of singers with different voice ranges, or in an ensemble with instrumentalists.