Ahmed Mukhtar

Oud Master, Composer and Teacher


A concise history of the Oud

The oldest known of the Oud comes from ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) during the Acadian period 2359-2159, recorded on cylindrical seals. They are now in the British Museum in London. Also comes from Egypt during the18th Family period 1500 B.C. (1390-1580) Oud Old3
Oud literally means “wood” The explanation for this name is simple: relatively late-not until the end of the sixth century-the Arabs of the Hijaz adopted the wooden-faced lute from the city of Hirah, in Iraq, in place of the old skin-faced instrument known in pre-Islamic times by the names “mizhar” and used in different sizes. In pre-Islamic times, Hirah was considered the centre for literature as well as, of course, for music. Here is where is the famous Persian King Bahram Ghur (430-438) received his education. It is possible that the Oud was influenced by the four strings Persian Lute “bar-bat” it is also feasible, however, that the term bar-bat at that time was merely a synonym for Oud.
In the ninth century, the Arabs philosopher “Al-Kandi ” further developed the lute form a four- stringed instrument to a five-stringed instrument and the great singer and Oud player “Ziryab” executed this practically. Up until the fifteenth century, the Arabs differentiated between the Oud “qadim” the old Oud that was strung with four strings tuned in fourths, and the Oud “kamil”, the “complete” Oud that had five strings.

The additional fifth string, inserted by plucking the string of the Oud with wooded plectrum customary up until then , Zryab began to use the quill of an eagle feather, as is still common throughout the Arabian world today, be that as it may, those at the beginning stages of learning, nowadays use a feather like plectrum made of plastic.


Dear Mukhtar,

A quick update for your site.

This oldest lute dates further back than what you say.

We have found one dating from the Uruk Period, that is about 3500-3200 BC.

It is represented on a seal cylinder. We have it at the BM. The Early avoidance of the Oud history

As ever

Pro. Richard Dumbrill

from British Museum



This seal was acquired by Dominique Collon on behalf of the British Museum, in 1996. It dates from the Uruk period, 3500 to 3200 BC. However, the seal is a palimpsest, having been reworked from an older one. It has also been contended that it was not a lute but a paddle that the woman was holding. The position of the hands tend to confirm that this was a lute. The importance for a lute represented at such an early period implies that the Sumerians were aware of the usage of ratios in the division of the strings since the frets, or position of the strings on the neck of the instrument implies that knowledge. There is suggestion that the neck of the lute was divided into 60 units of length, (fingers) with a first fret position at 50/60th of the length, the second fret at 40/60th and a third fret at 30/60th of the length. Should the free string produce a fundamental ‘c’, then the first fret would give an ‘e’ flat, the second fret a ‘g’ and the third fret the octave ‘c”. These notes would provide the essential division for the production of both anhemitonic pentatonic and diatonic scales. This would constitute the first example of frets, or of fret divisions over 5000 years ago, at least.

Bibliopgraphy: Dumbrill, R.J., (2005) The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East, p.321


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