QUANUN Özten

Quanun is believed to have been invented by a Turkish scholar called Farabi, who was born in the Farab town of Turkestan in the 10th century. He is also told to have anvanced the Oud. As late Cinucen Tanrikonur put it: “In our music, among the instrumants with plectrum, it is the most ‘female’ with its tingling sound that can even be heard in crowds. It is a unique instrument which seems easy to play because of its stable tonic chord, and ready sound. The saying “if a cat wanders on, there will be music” derives from these characteristics. However, it is not easy to play Quanun at all. The main problems of this instrument are; tuning while replacing the strings, shortage of the latches in the steps, and glissando. Thumb strokes, sliding the nails or latches with parallel octaves, immobilizing the bass and high notes, watching the second line with the eyes while the hands are on the first line of the note, arranging the latches in time (without a cracking noise), and –though with western affection- playing melodies with guitar or harp melodies by stroking some of the strings on the harmony with both fingers and plectrum at the same time are certainly not things that a cat could do.  


While it is widespread in the Arab countries, the best Quanuns are crafted in Turkey. The craftsmen in Turkey make the instrument and export to the Arab countries. Today, the quarter-tone system that was accepted in the Great Arab Music Council in the 1930s is not considered sufficient by the Arab musicians. For this reason they order Quanun from Turkey.

STRUCTURE: It is an instrument of 24 or 27 tones. The sound of each tone is twanged by 3 strings. In this sense it is similar to the tone system of piano. Its strings are nylon strings specially produced for musical instruments. In its early ages, chord strings made of gut were used. The “gol” is mostly made of button wood, the base from lime or compressed plywood and the “Gushi” from hard woods like that of rose, boxwood or ebony trees. Each tone with three stings has latches that can modify sharp, flat and comma tones.

THE POSITION AND HOLDING: In order to play the Quanun, one needs to sit on a straight chair or stool. Something needs to be put under the feet to lift them by 15 cm. Hands are naturally put above the instrument. Arms and elbows should not be leaning to any place by any means.
Your position should enable you to touch any string any time. Plectrums (should certainly be plectrums from tortoise) that are under the metal ring should abide to the finger’s second joint and the 0,5 cm of the tip should remain out.

MANDALS: In a tuned Quanun, when all the latches in a tone are low,
it is the 5 comma balance flat of Turkish music. The Quanun that we are using is made according to the 6 latched system. So when the 6 latches are lifted from the zero level, the tone becomes natural. The latches after level 6, gradually form the sharps. The lowest tone of a Quanun is the tone called “D” in Turkish music, and called “A” in European music.

TUNING: Like in every instrument, tuning is very important for Quanun. It is a principle that the instrument shall be flawless, in other words, it should be an instrument with strings of high quality, neat gushies and with plectrums neither too hard nor too light tensioned.

The tuning of Quanun is made first according to octave tones, and then according to forth and fifth intervals. Before going deeper in this subject, we shall have a glimpse of the tones in Turkish music. As known, the lowest tone of the Turkish music is C under the staff (G in European music), which means that the tones are named up to this level. However, in Quanun, the lowest tone is D under the staff (Yegâh melodic structure) (A in European music). In order for you to be able to picture the table, we could add the word “rough” in front of such tones.

We could start with the Neva tone, which is the tone of the diapason (A in European music, D in Turkish music) and then tune the “Yegâh” which is one octave lower of the diapason and then continue with (rough) yegâh melodic structure which is one octave higher. Later, G above the staff (D in European music), Gerdaniye, high toned Gerdaniye, Rast below and (rough) Rast. Following these notes, Çargah (C in Turkish music, G in European music), rough Cargah makam, and high toned Cargah must be modified.
Tunning with forth and fifth intervals is made with intervals such as Acemaşiran-Kürdi, Dügâh-Neva, Dügâh-Hüseynî and with modifications on the octave of these.

Halil Karaduman