rebec, one of the earliest forms of the violin. It was pear-shaped, had from three to five strings, and possessed a strident tone. Its use, which began in the 13th cent., was to play melodies of popular songs and dance music, accompanied by percussion. The rebec, prevalent in European medieval and early Renaissance music, developed from the Arab instrument, the rehāb.
The rebec (sometimes rebeck, and originally various other spellings) is a bowed string musical instrument. In its most common form, it has three strings and is played on the arm or under the chin, like a violin.


The rebec dates back to the Middle Ages and was particularly popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. The instrument is European, but was derived from the Arabic-Islamic instrument, the rebab. The rebec was first referred to by name around the beginning of the 14th century, although instruments very similar to it had been played since around the 10th century.


The number of strings on the rebec varies from one to five, although three is the most common number. The strings are often tuned in fifths, although this tuning is by no means universal. The instrument was originally in the treble range, like the violin, but later larger versions were developed, such that by the 16th century composers were able to write pieces for consorts of rebecs, just as they did for consorts of viols.

In use

In time, the viol came to replace the rebec, and the instrument was little used beyond the renaissance period. The instrument did remain in use by dance masters until the 18th century, however, often being used for the same purpose as the kit, a small pocket-sized violin. The rebec also continued to be used in folk music, especially in eastern Europe and Spain. Andalusi nubah, a genre of music from North Africa, often includes the rebec.


The rebec in popular culture

Hugh Rebeck is a minor character in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, one of the musicians called by Peter in an oft-cut scene. Presumably, he is named for the instrument that he plays.

A rebec was featured prominently in one of Ellis Peters's (12th century) Brother Cadfael stories: Liliwin, the title character of The Sanctuary Sparrow, earned his living by playing that instrument. His rebec was damaged by a mob that accused him of murder, but it was repaired by one of the monks and returned to him at the end of the story.

'Rebec' is also a common name used to abbreviate the name Rebecca, it is famously used as the nickname for the female suffrage pioneer of New Zealand, Rebecca Lea.

See also


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