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See also Qanun (disambiguation)
Classification String
Hornbostel-Sachs classification 30*
Related instruments

The qanún or kanun (Arabic: قانون qānūn, plural قوانين qawānīn; Azerbaijani: Qanun; Turkish: kanun; Armenian: քանոն qānon; Greek κανών 'measuring rod; rule' akin to καννα 'cane') is a string instrument found in Near Eastern traditional music based on Maqamat. It is basically a zither with a narrow trapezoidal soundboard. Nylon or PVC strings are stretched over a single bridge poised on fish-skins on one end, attached to tuning pegs at the other end.

Kanuns used in Turkey have 26 courses of strings, with three strings per course. It is played on the lap by plucking the strings with two tortoise-shell picks, one in each hand, or by the fingernails, and has a range of three and a half octaves, from A2 to E6. The dimensions of Turkish kanuns are typically 95 to 100 cm (37-39") long, 38 to 40 cm (15-16") wide and 4 to 6 cm (1.5-2.3") high.[1] The instrument also has special latches for each course, called mandals. These small levers, which can be raised or lowered quickly by the performer while the instrument is being played, serve to change the pitch of a particular course slightly by altering the string lengths.

Arab kanun performer in Jerusalem, 1859. Thomson, p. 577.

While Armenian kanuns employ half-tones and Arabic kanuns quarter-tones, typical Turkish kanuns divide the equal-tempered semitone of 100 cents into 6 equal parts, yielding 72 equal divisions (or commas) of the octave. Not all pitches of 72-tone equal temperament are available on the Turkish kanun, however, since kanun makers only affix mandals for intervals that are demanded by performers. Some kanun makers choose to divide the semitone of the lower registers into 7 parts instead for microtonal subtlety at the expense of octave equivalences. Hundreds of mandal configurations are at the player's disposal when performing on an ordinary Turkish kanun.

The kanun is a descendant of the old Egyptian harp, and is related to the psaltery, dulcimer and zither. Among others, Ruhi Ayangil, Erol Deran, Halil Karaduman, and Begoña Olavide are present-day exponents of this instrument.

Typical Turkish kanun with 79-tone mandal configuration by Ozan Yarman

A 79-tone tuning for the kanun was recently proposed and applied to a Turkish kanun by Ozan Yarman and has been acclaimed by Turkish masters of the instrument.[2]


Ancient Egyptian Harps

To the left and below are depictions of the ancient Egyptian harp. Two of its notable features are its size and lack of pillar. Since lots of the harps depicted in ancient Egyptian pictorial sources are quite large, and lacking the support of a pillar, it probably suggests that they were very loosely strung and, with such long strings, likely in the bass range. The HARPA web site contains a summary of an article featured in their newsletter on the Egyptian harp, an excerpt of which follows: "Egypt can be considered the largest harp culture of all times. The arched harp, the archetypal music instrument of Ancient Egypt, existed from the Old Kingdom into the Greek-Roman era. In the Old Kingdom, the arched harp had a shovel-shaped form. It stood upright on the floor, with the player kneeling behind it. This harp was the Old Kingdom's only stringed instrument (ca. 2575-2134 BC), and it survived even as newer types appeared during the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2040-1640 BC). The shovel-shaped harp was called benet, as has been deciphered from the hieroglyphics that accompany illustrations of harps. The expression benet was also used as a general term for harp as other types of harp appeared on the scene."

(HARPA No. 31 from summer of '99 contains an article on the Old and New Kingdoms by Dr Lise Manniche, the first of three about harps and harp playing in ancient Egypt.)


Egypt procession: , with harp


  1. ^ Randolph, Paul. "The Kanun". Türk Mûsikî Retrieved 2008-06-07.  
  2. ^ Yarman, Ozan (2007). 79-tone Tuning & Theory For Turkish Maqam Music As A Solution To The Non-Conformance Between Current Model And Practice. Istanbul Technical University: Institute of Social Sciences. Retrieved 2008-06-07.  

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