Searching for possibilities

Traditionally, this instrument is played by plucking the strings with a short horn plectra placed between the tips of each index finger and a small metal ring. 

Here is a selection of my work, which includes experimental compositions, projects, and compositional methods I adopted throughout the process.

Players place the qanun horizontally resting across the knees or on a special table before them, with the tuning pegs to the left and the longest string close to the body.  


Purpose and aim

Through 19 years of playing the qanun, I observed how often the instrument has been played within its modal framework only, which has brought me to a perception that the qanun and myself are kept from exploring further techniques and discovering new potentials. This made me believe that we both have unexplored possibilities that can be unfolded once we move out from the traditional context. 

The qanun's traditional approach is outstanding. However, I am convinced that the more I experiment with shifting textures, the more I can broaden my performance and truly explore my artistic identity. Considering this, I have been striving to investigate the traditional manners of treating it with regard to timbre, playing techniques, and different harmonic orientations, while maintaining its true qualities and not losing sight of its traditional soul.

The word qanun means in Arabic 'law' and it was presumably named so because of its loudness, accuracy, clarity, and its ability to maintain fixed pitches. The qanun exists in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and southeastern regions of Europe and takes a big part in the Arabic maqam tradition in its model framework.  It is played as a naqr instrument and known to take the role of the tarjama or to accent the iqa' in solo and the Takht performance. 

The qanun is one of the main instruments of the traditional Arab ensemble. This traditional frame involves the instrument being played in a monophonic style (unison) with no system of harmony to guide or accompany the melody. Thereby the role of the qanun has sustainably been to accompany vocalists by primarily playing the melody line, accompanying the singer during a vocal improvisation, or playing unison in instrumental classical and traditional compositions with the focus on playing embellishments as well. The traditional compositions follow a set of forms called “qawalib” which literally means “molds''. (Faraj, 2019; 2021)

The qanun is an eight trapezoidal zither-like stringed instrument. It has between 63 to 84 strings stretched across the top trapezoidal sounding board and arranged in sets of three that each set produce the same pitch. Twenty-one to twenty-eight different pitches that the qanun produces based on the version of the instrument.


The detachable metal bridges known as the "urab," which are mounted on the left side underneath the strings to adjust their tension and inside to change their pitches, are an essential component of the qanun. (See video "Twisting the Urab")


About the Qanun


In this thesis, I will be exploring the qanun instrument's range and potentialities beyond its traditional framework. I intend to pursue an experimental direction centered on attempting different compositional methods as well as incorporating harmonic and sound-playing components with the conventional way of playing. This aims to provoke new and broader possibilities for the qanun in a contemporary context as a chord instrument and as a source of sounds. The birth of this concept comes from the desire to push the limits of my performative, improvisational, and compositional skills and incorporate elements such as space, keys, ambient sounds, and odd metrical rhythms. 


The research catalogue exposition is here to show you most of the experiments I have carried out during my master's studies at Högskolan för scen och musik, Gothenburg University. It displays my compositions and improvised works, as well as documentation and archives of my artistic process in a variety of formats (diary entries, audio and video recordings, and so on). This exposition will also serve as a starting point for my future artistic endeavors.

I invite you to explore it freely, without regard to any specific order.


As children, we are raised with many imposed social frames (i.e. traditions and norms) which implicate lots of incapacitating approaches, blocking the mindset of searching and problematizing, which eventually mold us to be socially accepted beings. However, I took the help of my music and my instrument to express my refusal and repel to all kinds of frames and to deal with the scenes of violence. To shake things up, I wanted to express my rejections to all forms of repression and powerlessness, while expressing freedom in each of my performances. From here, my project to dive with the qanun away from the traditional frame is actually rooted. 

Driven by my curiosity in music and its continuing influence on me, I have decided to explore the world and myself through music, with the intention of broadening my horizons by reflecting on the meaning of my artistic work and how it can help me connect to the world around me.


Throughout my musical career, I have been a musical adventurer – a self-learner striving to expand the limits of my artistic perspective in every way possible. On the other hand, it has been a challenge to find my way in the world of music with its vast ocean of concepts, theories, and styles. However, in my practice, I have found that not being constrained by any theories of practices has been a significant advantage that led me to deal with music outside of a particular genre. In light of this, the basis of my creative process is centered on the instrument that I play, its sound, and my personal connection to it. 

Exploring the potentials of my Qanun performance

Twisting the Urab

Qanun position


A master thesis by Richard Alsadi (Shafeeq)


       - Farraj, J., & Shumays, S., 2019. Inside Arabic music.


         - Farraj, J., 2021. Arabic Maqam World. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 April 2021]. 

“My aspiration is to be of no particular mindset so that I can be open to various possibilities. I can be open to whatever might happen by welcoming the unknown.”

 (Diary 08/08/2019)

"My work requires a willingness to get lost and an openness to new ideas. It takes focus and perseverance but is always an adventure that is deeply rewarding."

(Diary 29/01/2019)


"Diving with this instrument gives me a real sense of freedom; it’s like carrying hope and imagination throughout my life."

(Diary 15/11/2020)