Belly Dance

Middle Eastern instruments

Guitar style instrument

A variety of instruments is used in the Middle East to create the music which belly dancers dance to. They include traditional and well as new instruments and include percussions, strings and wind instruments. I have listed a few of these instruments below (I gave various spellings for each name, as Arabic writing can be transliterated in slightly different ways).


  • The Dumbek (also spelt dumbec, doumbek, doumbec or dumbak) – this is the goblet shaped drum, which gives its distinctive rhythms to Middle Eastern and bellydance music. The dumbek is also called darbuka in Turkey and tablah in Egypt. A famous Egyptian tablah player who currently lives in the UK and who tours around the world to teach and perform is Hossam Ramzy.
  • The Riqq (also spelt riq or rik) – is a small tambourine, traditionally covered with goat or fish skin and equipped with brass cymbals around the edge.
  • The Tar (also called def) – is a large frame drum, like a large tambourine.
  • The Sagat (Arabic) or Zils (Turkish)– are the finger cymbals, which are sometimes played by belly dancers whilst performing. Sagat can also be spelt zagat, while zils can be spelt zills.

String instruments

  • The Kanoun (also kanun or qanun) – is a string instrument, which resembles the harp in terms of sound. The kanun is made of wood, fish skin, nylon chords that are plucked by the musician and metal keys to tune the chords (5 keys in the Arabic qanun and up to 8 in the Turkish version).
  • The Rababa (also rebaba) – can have different shapes according to the area where it is played. The rababa is used all over the Middle East, in Morocco an in various parts of Asia. The rebaba’s body can be either square or pear shaped and it has two or three strings played with a bow and stopped by the player’s fingers (like a violin). Throughout the Middle East and Africa, as well as northern India, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, the word rabab refers to a spike fiddle, one that has a small round or cylindrical body and a narrow neck.
  • The Saz – belongs to the lute family and it has strings, a long neck and a round body.
  • The Oud (or ud) – is a lute, with a pear shaped body

Wind instruments

  • The Kawala (also know as shalabeya) – is a flute made from reeds similar to a nay.
  • The Ney (or nay) – is a flute.
  • The Zumara (also, zummara or zummar) – is a reed instrument, a type of double clarinet.
  • The Mizmar – is another wind instrument of the oboe family and is used in a lot of belly dance music, especially in saidi style music.
  • The Zurna – is a horn used in Turkish folk music, which looks like a wooden trumpet.
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Valeria is a dance researcher completing a PhD in dance and heritage. Valeria also teaches and performs as a belly dance but also enjoys learning ballet, jazz dance and other dance genres.

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