The Arabic String Section

10:19 pm Arabic Music, Music, Music Theory

This question comes up fairly regularly: Are Arabic violins tuned differently?

The answer is yes. Here are answers to the most common string section questions.

1- Arabic Violin tuning: There is a fairly standard tuning for Arabic violin GDGD as opposed to GDAE for western style violin.

2- Viola tuning? Violas are tuned CGDG but I have also heard of a couple other tunings for violas. Western tuning, of course, is CGDA

3-Cello? All strings are an octave below corresponding viola strings (CGDG)

4- Bass? Don’t know the standard but I’ve seen DGDG.

5- Should a string player who is just beginning to play Arabic music switch to Arabic tuning. Couldn’t they just play the notes in western tuning. Yes they should. While it is possible to play the notes in the alternate tuning, the resonance of the instrument is different. Furthermore, from string players who’ve done the switch after trying to play in western tuning, the fingering of some maqams is a lot more cumbersome in western tuning, and Arabic tuning lends itself to playing Arabic music.

6- Doesn’t switching to Arabic tuning make reading harder? I suppose it does until one gets used to it. Rumor has it the extra challenge makes one a better reader in both idioms.

7- Should a musician who plays both Arabic and western tunings tune the same instrument back and forth? Common wisdom has it that this is not a good idea. Most string players will have an instrument for each tuning. Two reasons are given: 1- Not good for the instrument. 2- The string that’s being retuned never settles in either tuning. From the experience with oud, I know that retuning is problematic in that strings often want to go back to the previous tuning. I suppose the same is true for violin.

8- Other than tuning and the different modes, are there more differences between playing Arabic compared to western strings. Oh yes. Both for playing in a section and for playing solo. Many differences. Wait a few days until the post on violinists in the repertoire series and pick up some recordings. Actually, already listening to recordings from previous repertoire posts will make clear just how different.

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