9 Musical Instruments Of Israel (You’ve Probably Never Heard Of)

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  • Discover the musical culture of Israel and its influences
  • Learn about Israeli music and which instruments are used
  • Find out the evolution of musical instruments in the Middle East
  • Also, why not check out our guide on these fascinating instruments from Cordillera!

Israel has been home to a rich tradition of musical instruments since ancient times.

Regarding Israel’s geographical position, their music highly interacted with Arabic, Persian, Palestinian, Spanish, and Egyptian folk music and cultures.

Israel has a wide range of musical instruments that are commonly used in Middle Eastern traditions and cultures. In Israeli music, there are many different instrument types with the main focus on stringed instruments and percussion instruments. 

What Are The Main Musical Instruments Of Israel?

There are a whole host of musical instruments from Israel, however the 9 most popular include:

  1. Kinnor (Jewish Lyre)
  2. Shofar
  3. Oud
  4. Tabret (Timbrel)
  5. Goblet Drum
  6. Toph (Frame Drum) 
  7. Qanun
  8. Sumponyah (Bagpipe)
  9. Sistrum (Rattles) 

1. Kinnor (Jewish Lyre)

Kinnor is one of the ancient musical instruments of Israeli music that is holy for the Jewish culture and used in sacred music.

Also known as the Jewish Lyre, Kinnor is commonly mistranslated as a harp. Although they have similarities, lyres and harps differ in shape, size, sound, and playability. 

The Jewish Lyre traditionally has 10 strings, but you can still find a variety of Kinnors with 3 to 12 strings depending on its size and design.

Kinnors are mostly small, and musicians use one of their hands to hold it on their lap and the other to play it, which is different than a harp. A harp can be played with two hands.

Historically, Kinnor’s are known as the origins of the lyres that we see different versions of it in almost every culture today. 

2. Shofar

The Shofar is made of mostly male sheep horns and used for religious purposes in Jewish tradition.

One of the earliest uses of the Shofar is to announce the Jubilee year and the new moon. There are certain experts who are only to blow the holy shofar in Jewish culture. They are known as ba’al tokeah -“the master of the blast.” 

The harmonics of the shofar vary from one to another. There are diverse shapes of shofars made from horns of different sheep species, and their finishes may have been differently made. Therefore they may produce different intervals and resonances. 

3. Oud

The Oud is the ancient form of the lute and the guitar. It belongs to the stringed instrument family and has a pear-shaped body, along with a deeply vibrant tone.

It commonly has 3 holes in the body. The Oud has a very small neck and has no frets, which is the main difference from the lute. 

Also, by having no frets, the Oud allows sliding between pitches, which is very characteristic of this instrument and its sound. The Oud is played with maqams, which are similar to various scales in western music. Oud is interbedded with Arabic music and continues to have a big influence on Jewish culture.

They are commonly tuned on single string courses like this: D2-G2-A2-D3-G3-C4 (low to high). However, there are various tuning traditions in different cultures.

The Turkish Oud, for example, tuned one whole step higher than the Arabian, therefore sounding more tight and harsh. Arabian ouds are typically larger than their Turkish and Persian counterparts, providing a richer, deeper sound. 

The Oud is played with a Risha, which is the oldest form of a guitar pick or plectrum, made from an eagles quill. Today, the players commonly use a plastic or a bamboo plectrum to play the Oud. 

4. Tabret (Timbrel)

The main percussion instrument of the Israel music instruments range is the Tabret, also known as the Timbrel in Hebrew, the Deff in Islam, and the Module in the Spanish culture. It resembles either a contemporary tambourine or a frame drum. 

The Hebrew Bible uses the term “timbrel,” suggesting that the former refers to a wooden or metal hoop over which a parchment head is stretched. In contrast, the latter may refer to a tambourine with bells or jangles fastened at regular intervals in hoops.

5. Goblet Drum

The Goblet drum is a great heritage instrument from Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian history and is also an inevitable part of Israeli musical instruments and culture.

The Goblet drum generates two distinct tones.

A “doom”, when the length of the fingers and palm are used to strike the center of the head it produces a deeper bass sound than when the hand is removed for an open sound. The second sound is referred to as the “tak”, which is a higher-pitched noise made by tapping the head’s edge with the fingertips.

6. Toph (Frame Drum)

Toph is the Hebrew version of the frame drum, which we can see almost in every culture. It is amongst the oldest instruments in recorded history and has been cited as the first drum ever created.

It has a single drumhead, which is often made of rawhide but can alternatively be synthetic, and while the drumhead is tacked into many frame drums, some have mechanical tuning. 

A shell is a circular wooden frame over which the drumhead is stretched. Rosewood, oak, ash, and other woods that have been bent and scarf joined together usually form the shell; however, some are also made of plywood or other man-made materials today.

The frame may also be adorned with metal rings or jingles. In spiritual ceremonies, larger frame drums are typically played by men in various cultures, whereas medium-sized drums are typically played by women.

7. Qanun

Arabic music has utilized the Qanun, a descendant of the ancient Egyptian harp since the ninth century.

It was first brought to Europe in the 12th century, and from the 14th through the 16th, it was known as a Psaltery or Zither in its European form. With Arabic music influences, Qanun is widely used in Israeli music.

A flat board in the shape of a trapezoid serves as the foundation of the Qanun, where 81 strings are stretched in groups of three to create 24 treble chords with three chords per note. The musician places the instrument flat on their knees or a table and uses their fingers or two plectra, one on each hand’s forefinger, to pluck the strings. 

8. Sumponyah (Bagpipe)

The Sumponyah, which later became the Calabrian Zampogna, is one of the oldest instruments in the world. Its history goes back to the period of Babylon (500 BCE).

Although bagpipes can be found in many cultures, the Sumponyah is an essential instrument in Israeli culture. It is mainly a combination of a bag and chanters.

The bag is made from goat skin, traditionally with the hair on. Then shepherd pipes or chanters are attached to it to be able to blow in the bag and produce the holy sound.  

9. Sistrum (Rattles)

The Sistrum comprises a handle and a U-shaped metal frame between 30 and 76 cm wide and is made of brass or bronze. Its movable crossbars’ tiny rings or loops of thin metal make a sound when shaken that ranges from a faint clank to a loud jangling. 

Today, similar to how the tambourine is played in modern Evangelicalism, Romani song and dance, either on stage at a rock concert, the rhythmic shaking of the sistrum is connected to religious or ecstatic events. It was shaken as a sacred rattle in the worship of Hathor in ancient Egypt and used in rituals in Israel.

FAQs

What are the 3 most significant instruments in Israel?

Qanun, Oud, and the Goblet Drum are the 3 most significant traditional instruments in Israel. 

What is an Israeli drum called?

An Israeli drum is called a Toph. It is mainly an Israeli frame drum form and probably the oldest version of a man-made drum. They are commonly used in Israeli music, especially folk music.

What do you call the temple instrument of Israel?

Although there are many sacred instruments in Israel, the kinnor is the main temple instrument of Israel and Jewish culture. Kinnor was mentioned 42 times in the Hebrew Bible, and historians say that kinnor was played even in temples in ancient Israel, B.C.

An Israeli drum is called a toph. It is mainly an Israeli frame drum form and probably the oldest version of a man-made drum. 

Wrapping Up

Israel has an immense musical heritage to pay attention to. Both regional and religious influences enhanced the depth and the richness of Israeli music throughout the years.

Lots of instruments we know today are rooted in the history of Israel and its neighboring lands. 

Israel has a unique musical culture, and musicians have been looking for distinctive stylistic components to characterize the burgeoning national spirit for about 150 years in regard to coexisting Jewish and non-Jewish traditions.

Israeli music offers a lot for ethnic music enthusiasts.