Duduk – The Soulful Armenian Oboe

Recently I have become aware of Armenian folk music, and the double reed oboe-like instrument, the Duduk which is central to their music.


The Duduk has an incredible, almost indescribably haunting sound, very breathy and gentle and has to be the most emotional and haunting instrument in the world – or at least that is my feeling about it.

Before I go any further, here is a powerful example of what I mean about it… Listen and be moved.

As ever, there is a quite reasonable description of the Duduk in good old Wikipedia, so here it is:-

The duduk is a double reed instrument with ancient origins, having existed since at least the fifth century, while there are Armenian scholars who believe it existed more than 1,500 years before that. The earliest instruments similar to the duduk’s present form are made of bone or entirely of cane. Today, the duduk is exclusively made of wood with a large double reed, with the body made from aged apricot wood.

The particular tuning depends heavily on the region in which it is played. In the twentieth century, the Armenian duduk began to be standardized diatonic in scale and single-octave in range. Accidentals, or chromatics are achieved using fingering techniques. The instrument’s body also has different lengths depending upon the range of the instrument and region. The reed (Armenian: եղեգն, eġegn), is made from one or two pieces of cane in a duck-bill type assembly. Unlike other double-reed instruments, the reed is quite wide, helping to give the duduk both its unique, mournful sound, as well as its remarkable breath requirements. The duduk player is called dudukahar (դուդուկահար) in Armenian.

The performer uses air stored in his cheeks to keep playing the instrument while he inhales air into his lungs. This “circular” breathing technique is commonly used with all the double-reed instruments in the Middle East.

Duduk “is invariably played with the accompaniment of a second dum duduk, which gives the music an energy and tonic atmosphere, changing the scale harmoniously with the principal duduk.”

So that is the dry description.

All stuff one perhaps needs to know about such an instrument, but as always, what really matters is the emotional reaction we have when we hear it played, and in the case of the Duduk, this reaction can only be extremely strong – not happy or cheerful, as that is not the nature of the beast, but a profoundly deep and moving aural experience.

Duduk playing is a bit like the bagpipes in that bagpipes have a whole array of drones – pipes set at a particular note – and one pipe on which the melody is played, here as you will have read above, that function is carried out by one or more fellow players who simply play one note all the way through, thus creating a full and warm sound – and in passing an even more mournful sound.

Mournful is what it is.

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