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Kanun history

Kanun is a string instrument with a wooden trapezoidal frame, played with two index fingers equipped with two picks. It has similarities to harp in its style of playing. Kanun that also called Qanoon was not a part of Iranian traditional music for a long time but in the last half century it has made a comeback.

Kanun is used in the music of several countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Armenia, former Soviet Union countries, and Iran of course. It comes in different shapes and therefore, it is not really standardized.

Kanun has Iranian roots and it was after the coming of Islam that it entered the Arab world. It maintained its position among Iranian musicians during the Safavid era. The oldest proof of Qanoon’s existence belongs to the carvings of Ashur. It seems that until the end of the Teimuri era and the beginning of the Safavid rule, Qanoon had numerous renowned players and masters. After this, for 200 years there are miniscule traces of the instrument existing in Iranian music. It was in the 20th century, Jalaal Qanooni and later on his son, Rahim Qanooni Shirazi, who returned Qanoon from the Arab world to Iran. 

Kanun lessons onlineThis instrument has a trapezoidal shape, one side of which is equipped with a right angle. Numerous nylon and metal strings are connected to both sides and upon their path, they pass over a wooden bridge that is laying on four (or five) small pieces of animal skin. String vibrations translate to the bridge and as a result the skin vibrates leading the sound into the box for further resonance. On the top board, there are flower carvings for the sound to exit. 

The number of Qanoon’s strings varies between 63 and 84. A standard Turkish Qanoon has 72 strings. Strings are created using sheep intestine or nylon that are secured onto upright situated pegs. The tool required for playing the instrument is a small pick that sits like a thimble on the index finger. Every three strings of Qanoon (groupings of three) are tuned to the same pitch, therefore, a 72 string Qanoon creates 24 distinct pitches. Egyptian Qanoon has 78 strings and therefore makes 26 pitches. 

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To play the instrument, the Qanoon is placed on a table that is slightly angled towards the musician in such a way that the right angle of the instrument is towards the player on his/her right hand side. It is best for the table to be slightly higher than the player in such a way that the forearm and the arm create a right angle, the back is fully straight, and the musician is not leaning forward.  The two hands are placed an octave away from one another on the instrument. The left hand always picks a bit later than the right; this creates a delayed effect and during playing, two octaves can be heard. 

The pick is made up of two silver or brass metal rings that are wide and curved (must be as big as the finger they are going around). The pick itself, which goes into this ring, is made from cow, buck, or goat horn. The rings are put on the finger with the picks placed towards the palm. The tip of the pick must be longer than the tip of the index finger. In the initial stages of learning and understanding the amount of force required for the fingers, the index finger and the thumb can touch. Eventually, however, with enough practice and experience, this is no longer required. The rest of the fingers should neither be fully extended nor turned into a fist.


Online Kanun lessons by Hannaneh Saedi and Negar Nakhjavani at Rhythmitica Academy

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