My musical experiments with the oud have taken another step. Possibly a step forwards. After years of listening to and enjoying oud playing I decided to give it a go, starting with a beautiful, handmade traditional instrument but giving up because the practicalities were driving me mad. The curved back (its, not mine), the violin style tuning pegs and the tuning of eleven strings on an instrument that was never in tune when it came out of its case, put me off.
So, I got a modern oud. Mine is made by Godin and it has a flat back, guitar style tuners and a tendency to stay in tune from one day to the next. It’s not for purists, but I love it.
The next issue was tuning. I had started with a Turkish classical tuning which didn’t quite hit the spot. Then I tried tuning it in fourths. This helped as I knew where all the notes were, but failed because it made the oud sound like a stupid, badly intonated guitar. I found the tuning that Anouar Brahem uses. I love his playing, but his tuning combined with my playing style didn’t work either. Then I spotted guitar maestro David Torn playing an oud and, through the wonders of Facebook, I wrote and asked what tuning he used. David took the time to explain and the moment I began to play I felt I’d arrived.
The penultimate part of the puzzle was playing technique. I’m still working on that but seem to have found a happy medium between traditional and not-even-slightly traditional.
Finally, I needed to play. I called up my guitarist friend Russ and we began to jam, coming up with some piece for acoustic guitar and oud in which we stayed out of each other’s frequencies as much as possible. We’re now on our seventh piece, each one being different in style and each one impossibly hard to classify easily. What began as Arabic Bluegrass seems to have settled into its own genre. What’s fascinating (maybe only to me) is the way that guitar and oud playing together sometimes touch on the territory of the lute, which is the instrument that came from the oud and led to the guitar.
What is satisfying is that my confidence is growing and I’m exploring an acoustic instrument that doesn’t primarily work in an accompanying role. The only problem is trying to find the time to squeeze this in with the fun I’m having as a bass player and the progress I’m trying to make on the touch guitar.