The modern oud is sibling to the European lute (“al oud” in Arabic translates as “the lute” in English) and as such, is cousin to the mandolin and may also be distant kin to the banjo. The oud tradition stretches across the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, and into Central Asia.
I learned this tune from the late virtuoso Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian. Al’s playing and his Middle East Ensemble were renowned in Arabic, Turkish, and Amenian communities in the US, as well as at folk festivals and concert halls throughout New England until his untimely passing in 2006.
Al’s own version can be downloaded here >
My simpler clawhammer version is here >
As with most Arabic music, the melody is a starting place for improvisation. Al’s recording starts with an extended improvisation (called a taxim) on a “gypsy minor” or “double harmonic” minor scale: (A Bb C# D E F G# A). While the chords may imply that the tune is in D-minor, the melodic material centers around this scale, and comes to rest on A. Following his improvised taxim, Al launches into this beautiful driving melody, which uses the same scale.
Arabic music is often performed in what musicologists call “heterophonic” texture: i.e. all instruments are playing some version of the melody, but none are exactly the same—somewhat like drunks singing at midnight, and exactly like musicians at the best old-time jams. In Al’s band, the violin, accordion, and oud all play simultaneous variations, as a fiddle, banjo, and mandolin might in an old time session. Accordingly, this piece works great in a string band. Enjoy.
A downloadable tab in .pdf format is here >
Friday, August 23, 2013 @2:35:29 PM
Finally some form for my content. Not having the gumption of our marvelous interlocutor, Tom Faux, nor for that matter the chops, I have frequently noodled around in minor-ish, vaguely eastern sounding modes, building very inexpertly on the approach Indian musicians use when exploring a raga. Doing so is very satisfying in no small part because such playing lends itself very well to OT banjo, particularly gut/nylon strung, skin head openbacks. While this kind of musical wandering satisfies me partially, I hated to make sounds completely cut off from a musical tradition. Tom, thankfully, is addressing that want in this series of articles. I am certain he will diverge healthy from the swath of modal music that extends from Morocco through the middle east, into central Asia and the sub-continent (how about some ngoni? kora? gamelan? shamisen?] and I can't wait for the next edition. Cheers and I look forward to what is to come.
Friday, August 23, 2013 @8:42:48 PM
Thanks for your interesting article and resources for playing this excellent tune! I've always been a fan of taking a traditional idea and giving it a new twist, so this tune was an instant hit. Your banjo version sounds great and the tab is nicely done too; it is neat and clean, and really makes sense with your recording. The theoretical explanation in your comments is both entertaining and clear, and I particularly enjoyed your descriptive examples of heterophony! Like Stivini, I am looking forward to your next entry.
Sunday, August 25, 2013 @7:40:43 AM
Your article reminded me of the difference between art and craft. Art pushes at our boundaries, making us think in new ways. You have expanded clawhammer banjo beyond the traditional craft of Old Time music. You have also reminded us--in a most beautiful way, to look beyond our own cultural experiences to the richness of music of other cultures. Thank you.
Friday, September 6, 2013 @10:57:04 AM
Tom Faux "Em are some big words for a banjo player" C. M. J. F. Breen BS NPR
Monday, September 9, 2013 @2:46:46 PM
You have no idea how surprised and excited I am...to have this lesson/tab and hear your rendition, excellent work!
An Armenian-American Clawhammer Player
Monday, September 9, 2013 @5:07:51 PM
Thank you, I have purchased Alan Bardezbanian’s version and I LOVE yours :-)
If I may ask a question: What would I have to do to transpose this to the gDGBD (was it so?) tuning that will be pre-installed on my Cello Banjo when it arrives within then next 16 hours?
Monday, September 9, 2013 @5:10:07 PM
And now I realize this is going to be a series, wow, that’s too cool. Looking forward to it. Thank you!
Monday, September 9, 2013 @5:58:02 PM
I'm jealous of your cello banjo! Easier than transposing would be to retune the banjo to either double C (drop your 4th string a whole step to E, raise your second string a half step to C) or Double D (same thing, capo 2nd fret, and don't forget to raise the 5th string accordingly.)
Monday, September 9, 2013 @7:26:48 PM
Thank you, Tom, very friendly. I’ve clipped this to the folder where I have the stuff with the song and PDF, etc. :-)
Monday, September 9, 2013 @8:53:24 PM
Thanks very much, Tom! A lovely addition to the practice. Is your mention of double C tuning a variation, or would you be dropping the 4th string to C also?
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 @4:35:32 AM
Thanks for the note vonfeyuderblark, I lost my mind for a minute there.
Yes, drop the D to C (not E.)
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 @6:57:21 AM
Cello banjo would sound great in Double-C tuning. Every chance I've had to play one the store had a no-returning policy. C'mon, store, it's a banjo, it was born to be retuned!
Tom, I look forward to the series, thank you so much for sharing this music with us! I love playing Cathy Moore's rendition of the Turkish tune "Rampi Rampi" (incidentally played out of Double-C), so I'm eager to add some interesting and fun new tunes to my repertoire!
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 @7:35:30 AM
loved this post. Looking forward to future installments. Thankyou!
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 @8:50:04 AM
This is awesome, thank you for sharing. I've been playing clawhammer for about a year and am excited to try out some tunes that sound totally different from the rest of what I've been learning. Thank you!
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 @8:56:40 AM
Great playing, great recording, great transcription.
Your technical explanations are also clear and very understandable.
And anyone who helps to expand the role of banjo into new territories is my kind of musician.
Friday, September 13, 2013 @8:41:51 AM
Lovely stuff. I look forward to more. In the recording it sounds like the instrument is tuned to aDADE, but the tab appears to be written as if in played in "a" from the gCGCD tuning. Is the transposition of the tab off by a whole step?
Friday, September 13, 2013 @12:25:23 PM
Sonofhop, many thanks for catching the transposition problem. I've corrected it, try the updated and accurate version.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 @6:44:14 PM
Yep. That looks like what I hear. Nice work.
Monday, October 7, 2013 @4:29:24 PM
Letting this run in a loop … <3
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