When I was a six years old, I saw the cartoon about the cricket that played the violin and the ant that worked. The recorded tunes supposedly played by the cricket were wonderful. I have loved the violin since then and I decided I wanted to be like the cricket myself. Today, as a student at the Institute of Music I have chosen to introduce you to a traditional musical instrument from my country that is the ancestor of the violin.

I am pleased to be able to give you some details about this stringed instrument. The rabab is a bowed stringed instrument that belongs to the family of chordophones. It has a total length of 53 cm. This instrument existed from the pre-Islamic period almost everywhere in the world, from India, Spain, Morocco and Algeria to Egypt and Tunisia, albeit in various shapes and for different uses. The rabab has been played in Tunisia for serious classical music since the 11th century. It was used to accompany the naoubet (Tunisian musical style) in which it improvised and followed the singing. The rabab is the pivotal element in the traditional Tunisian orchestra called the tacht that includes the tar (tambourine), the ud (lute) and the naqara (pair of Read More
When I was a six years old, I saw the cartoon about the cricket that played the violin and the ant that worked. The recorded tunes supposedly played by the cricket were wonderful. I have loved the violin since then and I decided I wanted to be like the cricket myself. Today, as a student at the Institute of Music I have chosen to introduce you to a traditional musical instrument from my country that is the ancestor of the violin.

I am pleased to be able to give you some details about this stringed instrument. The rabab is a bowed stringed instrument that belongs to the family of chordophones. It has a total length of 53 cm. This instrument existed from the pre-Islamic period almost everywhere in the world, from India, Spain, Morocco and Algeria to Egypt and Tunisia, albeit in various shapes and for different uses. The rabab has been played in Tunisia for serious classical music since the 11th century. It was used to accompany the naoubet (Tunisian musical style) in which it improvised and followed the singing. The rabab is the pivotal element in the traditional Tunisian orchestra called the tacht that includes the tar (tambourine), the ud (lute) and the naqara (pair of small kettledrums).

Let us look at the technical specifications of the rabab. The instrument is made of a walnut or cedar soundbox that looks like an elongated half pear joined together along its length. The top has an upper part covered with a thin sheet of hammered cooper, decorated with three small rosettes. The lower part is covered with goat skin. The instrument also has a peg box, two sheep gut strings that are attached at the bottom of the instrument and pass over a 4 to 5 cm reed bridge. The bow is very curved and made of horse hair. The rabab has a low range and music is written for it in the key of F. It has an strange nasal tone and plays long, sustained and harmonically rich notes. In Tunisia, the instrument is tuned in fifths (G-D).

The rabab player sits with crossed legs and places the rabab on his right knee obliquely across his body, with the peg box resting against his left shoulder. He holds one of the ends of the bow between his right index and middle finger. He places his thumb underneath the strands and uses pressure to control the tension of the bow. Unfortunately, the rabab has not been part of Tunisian orchestras for a considerable period of time. It has been replaced by the violin’s clearer sound that suits voices better. It is a real loss when our traditional instruments are abandoned since they mirror our traditions and culture. And now, my wish is to meet a new generation of Tunisians who play the rabab as well as the cricket played his violin.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Rabab (Fiddle)

Rabab (fiddle)

The Arab and Mediterranean Center Tunisia

Wood, goat skin, sheep gut, reed. Bow: horse hair
Le : 53 cm
© The Arab and Mediterranean Center Tunisia


This rabab is made of a walnut soundbox in an elongated oval shape. The top has an upper part covered in thin cooper sheet that is chiselled and decorated with three small rosettes. The lower part is covered with goat skin. The neck also has two large keys to hold two sheep gut strings that pass over a reed bridge. Fingering is obtained by laterally hooking the string which does not have any direct contract with the fretboard. The bow is very curved and is made of horse hair. The rabab has a low range and its music is written in the key of F. It has an strange nasal tone and gives richly harmonic sounds. It is tuned in fifths (G-D).
This rabab is made of a walnut soundbox in an elongated oval shape. The top has an upper part covered in thin cooper sheet that is chiselled and decorated with three small rosettes. The lower part is covered with goat skin. The neck also has two large keys to hold two sheep gut strings that pass over a reed bridge. Fingering is obtained by laterally hooking the string which does not have any direct contract with the fretboard. The bow is very curved and is made of horse hair. The rabab has a low range and its music is written in the key of F. It has an strange nasal tone and gives richly harmonic sounds. It is tuned in fifths (G-D).

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Rabab: Audio

Rabab: Audio

Canadian Heritage Information Network
Canadian Heritage Information Network, Centre des recherches et études andalouses, Centre des musiques arabes et méditerranéennes Ennejma Ezzahra, Musée de la musique, Laboratoire de recherche des musiques du monde, Musée acadien de l'Université de Moncton, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Musée d'art et d'archéologie de l'Université d'Antananarivo, Musée ethnographique Alexandre Sènou Adande, Musée national du Mali, St. Boniface Museum, Lycée de langues étrangères Alexandre Dumas, Museum of the Romanian Peasant

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand that music is an expression in all cultures
  • Understand that the relationship between personal feelings and music transcends borders and cultures
  • Develop respect for music from a variety of cultural contexts
  • Examine traditional music practices in selected Francophone countries
  • Demonstrate geographical awareness by identifying Francophone countries
  • Be aware of the musical contributions of various cultural groups in their own community
  • Understand that all world music can be organized within a standard classification system

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