The qanún or kanun (Arabic قانون qānūn, Turkish Kanun , Greek κανων 'measuring rod; rule' akin to καννα 'cane') is a string instrument found in Near Eastern traditional music based on Maqamat. It is basically a zither with a narrow trapezoidal soundboard. Nylon or PVC strings are stretched over a single bridge poised on fish-skins on one end, attached to tuning pegs at the other end.
Kanuns used in Turkey have 26 courses of strings, with three strings per course. It is played on the lap by plucking the strings with two tortoise-shell picks, one in each hand, or by the fingernails, and has a range of three and a half octaves, from A2 to E6. The dimensions of Turkish kanuns are typically 95 to 100 cm (37-39") long, 38 to 40 cm (15-16") wide and 4 to 6 cm (1.5-2.3") high. The instrument also has special latches for each course, called mandals. These small levers, which can be raised or lowered quickly by the performer while the instrument is being played, serve to change the pitch of a particular course slightly by altering the string lengths.
While Armenian kanuns employ half-tones and Arabic kanuns quarter-tones, typical Turkish kanuns divide the equal-tempered semitone of 100 cents into 6 equal parts, yielding 72 equal divisions (or commas) of the octave. Not all pitches of 72-tone equal temperament are available on the Turkish kanun, however, since kanun makers only affix mandals for intervals that are demanded by performers. Some kanun makers choose to divide the semitone of the lower registers into 7 parts instead for microtonal subtlety at the expense of octave equivalences. Hundreds of mandal configurations are at the player's disposal when performing on an ordinary Turkish kanun.
The kanun is a descendant of the old Egyptian harp, and is related to the psaltery, dulcimer and zither. Among others, Ruhi Ayangil, Erol Deran, Halil Karaduman, and Begoña Olavide are present-day exponents of this instrument.
(HARPA No. 31 from summer of '99 contains an article on the Old and New Kingdoms by Dr Lise Manniche, the first of three about harps and harp playing in ancient Egypt.)
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