Arabic musical instruments can broadly be categorized into three groups: Stringed, wind, and percussion instruments.  Arabic percussion instruments play a vital role in the musical culture of the Middle East, each one having variations in materials and playing techniques depending on the country in which it is being played.  

How much do you know about Arabic percussion instruments?  There are numerous instruments in the Arabic musical world that are commonly played across the entire Middle East, albeit with some variations in playing as has been previously mentioned.  Many of these instruments share commonalities, musical linking differing countries across the Middle Eastern region.  

Here we have listed a few of the most popular Arabic percussion instruments played across the Middle East.  These instruments have been used for many years in religious music, and have also moved on to become staples in Arabic popular music.  Read on to find out what the five most popular Arabic percussion instruments are right now.  



The Riqq is a smaller handheld drum, with cymbals placed around the edges of the head, resembling a tambourine.  The Riqq was usually made with fish skin, however, modern-day variations of the instrument are made with plastic instead.  The Riqq has experienced numerous changes over the years, and a new technique from master Riqq maker Kevork (Lebanon), evolved the sound and the making of the instrument even further.  

It is a very important instrument among Arabic percussion instruments and is played across the Middle East, from Egypt to Syria.  

Very complex rhythms can be played on the Riqq and many players use virtuosic finger work while playing.  

If musicians are playing in a Takht (traditional Arabic chamber group),  then the Riqq will be the only percussion instrument. 

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The Darbuka is one of the most popular Arabic percussion instruments throughout the entire Middle East.  It is a goblet-shaped percussion instrument with a material stretched over the top to make the drum.  Depending on how the drum is struck it can produce a variety of sounds across the bass and treble ranges.  Usually, the players will hold the Darbuka horizontally across their lap while striking the drum with their palms or fingers.  

There are many variations of the Darbuka depending on the country.  For instance, in Egypt, the edges around the head of the drum are rounded, making rapid rolls in the music possible.  In Turkey, the Darbuka has a flat edge around the head of the drum which makes it much easier to produce ‘finger-snapping’ techniques.    

The sound of the Darbuka is magnificent, with the ability to produce a low sustained sound that is characteristic of the instrument.  There are a variety of techniques and rhythms used on the Darbuka, depending on the country within the Middle East. 

The Doum is the deep bass sound that can be produced on the Darbuka.  By striking near the center of the head of the drum with your hand, and then immediately taking your hand off, you can produce the Doum.  A Tak is a higher-pitched sound in the treble range.  You can make the Tak sound by playing near the edge of the head with the fingertips.  

Egyptian Darbukas are usually made from cast-aluminum and produce a loud sound that can be easily heard over the other instruments in an ensemble.  Turkish Darbukas are made from a thinner metal than this and have heads that can be tuned.  In Turkey, these instruments make a much more ringing and metallic sound.  There may also be cymbals placed on the inside of the instrument to produce a ringing accompaniment.  

Hassan Abdel Magid, an Egyptian darbuka maker who has passed away 2018



The Sagat are finger cymbals made from brass and are very popular among Middle Eastern instruments.  They are usually worn on the thumb and the third finger of both hands.  These Arabic percussion instruments are extremely popular among Raqs Sharqi (Professional belly dancers).  

There are different sizes and shapes available in Sagat, and each one will produce a unique sound.  Each performer will choose the size and shape depending on their style of music, and the type of venue they are playing at.  For instance, if you need the Sagat’s sound to pierce through a large orchestra, then you would choose larger ones in size.  

Sagat are sometimes referred to as ‘Zills’ and they were commonly used in Ottoman military bands.  They are still used widely in Western music to symbolize ‘Middle Eastern’ connotations.  

The Sagat are usually used for flourishes and decoration in music, rather than more dominant sections.  



The Daff is a popular choice among Arabic instruments and is sometimes referred to as other names such as Mazhar, like in Syria.  The Daff is a generic name for a frame drum in Arabic, and it is many variations depending on the country it is played in.  

It is a circular wooden framed drum that is handheld.  Traditionally, the skin across the heard of the drum is goat or deer, however, many modern-day Daffs have plastic skins.  Modern Daffs can also be tuned.  

The Daff is extremely popular in Sufi music and usually, it is a solo instrument to accompany singing.  In fact, Daffs were popular in Iranian religious music well before the introduction of Sufism.  

The Daff has been played throughout the ancient Middle East and was introduced in Europe during Medieval times through the Islamic culture.  

The Daff has been appropriated throughout numerous Middle Eastern countries to be played in religious, folk, and even popular music.  

Syrian Daff -
Musicians playing Daff

Katim or as known as Davul

The Katim is a heavy drum that produces a dull, yet unique, sound.  The word Katim derives from Katama, meaning to mute.  Usually, this instrument is placed between the player’s knees and played solely with the palm of the hands, as opposed to the fingertips also.  

Modern-day Katims are made from plastic and are tunable.  The Katim does not take a dominant role in any ensemble and is used primarily for supporting other Arabic percussion instruments.  

The Katim accentuates the Doum and the Tak in any piece of music with flourishes and decorative ornamentation.  

The Arabic Katim /


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