Barbat (lute)

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The barbat (Persian: بربط‎) or barbud was a lute of possibly Central Asian origin.[1] Many instruments such as the Arabic oud are derived from the barbat. Today's Persian Barbat is almost the same thing as today's oud with slight differences as it has a smaller body, longer neck with a slightly raised fingerboard.

Today's Persian Barbat
Hossein Behroozinia renowned Iranian musician holding a Persian Barbat


The barbat is one of the oldest instruments in the world, and it is likely originated in Central Asia.[1] The earliest image of the barbat dates back to the 1st century BC from ancient northern Bactria,[1] while a more "clear cut" depiction of the barbat from Gandhara sculpture dates to the 2nd-4th centuries AD.[1] According to Encyclopedia Iranica, this type of instrument could have been introduced by the Kushans and was later adopted by the Persians.[1] By the 7th century, the barbat was adopted by the Arabs into its current form, called the oud.[1] After the tanbur, it is the oldest string instrument in Iran.

The instrument was abolished in Safavid period for an unknown reason (perhaps due to religious fanaticism), even until recent decades.

It is likely that the earliest ouds were carved from a solid piece of wood. By the time of the Moorish period in Spain, the body was in its characteristic staved wood vaulted back design. In fact, this staved wood may be the namesake for the oud as the word means "wood" or "flexible stick," and the top was made of wood, as opposed to the skin of the earlier lutes, and the vaulted back that provided the model for the European lute and mandolin was constructed from many steam-bent "flexible sticks" unlike the Persian barbat, which was carved out of a single piece of wood and may have been the original model for the oud. Also, as one can see in the images, after the barbat was taken to the Arab world, the body became larger and the neck got shorter.

Holding the barbat[edit]

The barbat is held similar to a guitar, but care must be taken to have the face vertical so that it is not visible to the player, and to support the weight with the thigh and right arm so that the left hand is free to move around the fingerboard. Note the idiosyncratic manner of holding the mizrab (Turkish) or risha (Arabic, lit. "feather") or pick; although it seems awkward it is in reality easier than a conventional flatpick and gives the "right" tonal shading to the plucked note.

In all matters of holding and playing it is recommended that the player use only the muscles needed for any musical task and to relax as much as possible, using only as much force as is necessary. This will allow one to play longer, easier and to put the effort into creativity rather than mechanics. In the past many players sat cross-legged on a rug, but now most perform sitting, often using a classical guitarist's footrest under the right foot to help hold the barbat.

Basic fingering[edit]

Two methods of left hand fingering are in current usage. The older, more traditional Classical Arabic approach uses all four fingers for stopping the strings, one for each semitone much as a guitarist; alternatively, some play with a style more akin to baglama (or saz) or sitar technique, using the first and second fingers for as much as possible, with less use of the third and little use of the fourth fingers. Hakki Obadia taught a mixed fingering system that uses finger 1 for several notes, finger 2 for some but not all strings and finger 3, not using finger 4.

One other facet of left hand usage is the employment of the fingernail to help stop the string, giving a clearer tone and more pronounced ornaments than use of the fleshy tips alone. This is common to several other fretless instrument, among them the sarod, shamisen and san-xien.

Right hand-the misrap or risha[edit]

As mentioned the right hand employs a special method for holding the quill-inspired pick called risha in Arabic and mizrab in Turkish. The long flexible pick puts the wrist at a particular angle and adds a certain tonal color to the sound. The traditional material was an eagle quill, but this is not practical; plastic makes a more durable and standard material for the risha. Players have used things like collar stays, plastic pieces from hardware stores, cut-up plastic bottles ( this worked better with the old heavyweight containers), and of course the Turkish manufactured models. These come in a thin, more-or-less pointed tip style made of lighter gauge translucent plastic and a round tip model made of heavier white opaque stock. The thinner ones are lovely sounding and play very delicately with subtle nuances; the heavier ones play very loud.

Variations can be obtained by cutting a new tip on the thinner ones a bit further back where the plastic is a little thicker, adding volume to the attack. The rounded ones can be cut to a pointer shape and thinned a fraction with fine sandpaper adding nuance to the heavier attack produced by this pick. Both kinds are made double-ended from the factory, so one end can be left original and the other end customized, the player using the appropriate end for the musical need.


The barbat's body contains three major parts:

  1. Resonating body: It is like a pear and it is the biggest resonating body in comparison with other bodies. There are three sound holes and lattices on its body, one bigger than two others.
  2. Finger Board: It doesn’t have frets and it’s very small.
  3. Bent-back peg box: There is a great angle between the fingerboard and the bent-back peg box and this is very important. For it has several tuning pegs if the bent-back peg box is weak, the instrument won’t be tuned very well.

The materials of barbat

  1. Resonating body: Walnut or maple.
  2. String fastener: Boxwood.
  3. Top sheet: Deal
  4. Neck: Walnut
  5. Nut: Bone or plastic
  6. Bent-back peg box: Walnut
  7. Pegs: Walnut or ebony
  8. Lattices of hole: Walnut

How to make barbat's resonating body[edit]

The resonating body can be made in two ways:

Unpieced body: In this way a log is cut in two pieces. On one of the model of a Barbat is drawn, then the half log would be scraped by the model from inside and outside. Then it will be left to be dried.

Pieced body: In this way some pieces of walnut or mulberry wood are cut and boiled in hot water. These sheets should have the thickness of 2 -3 mm. When they are flexible they are put in a metal shape by the shape of crescent. After they dry, they will be glued and joint each other. Then the neck and the top sheet will be joint.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Encyclopaedia Iranica - Barbat". 1988-12-15. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 

External links[edit]