Explore the rich tapestry of Arab music


Age range: Good for grades 7 and up.

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! This interactive takes about 1 hour to complete with activities.

Key Technology: You can use this on a computer—but you will need speakers (or headphones) to hear the music/audio tracks.

Subscribe to this audio series:

In this series, Georges Collinet, host of NPR’s Afropop Worldwide, explores the rich history and culture of the music of the Arab World. Arabic musicians and scholars demonstrate the sounds of string, wind and percussion instruments that directly influenced the development of musical instruments common to the modern Western world. The importance of universal musical concepts, such as improvisation, ornamentation and audience participation are discussed in the context of the Arab World, as are the ideas of musical nationality and folk tradition in the face of modern cultural globalization.

Think About...

Listening Strategy: As you view, stay focused on your purpose for listening.

  • Before you get started, think of what you already know about Arab music. What are some of the sounds or instruments you associate with this type of music? Have you heard music from the Arab world before? Who were the artists/groups/styles, etc? What do you remember about it? Keep these things in mind as you explore the interactive.
  • Also, take a look at the accompanying vocabulary sheet before beginning your listening. Are you familiar with any of these words?
  • As you listen, think about the fact that “Arab music” can mean many different things (styles, practices, etc.) and reflect on the diversity of music from the Arab world.
  • As you listen, stop the audio track after each section to sum up what you have learned.
  • These tracks are downloadable- grab them for your MP3 player for repeated listening.


  • What are some of the key instruments used in Arab music? Do they have counterparts/similarities to instruments in Western music?
  • What are some of the unique elements of Arab music?
  • What are some of the common musical roots of the diverse world of Arab music?

Critical Thinking

Describe the state of “musical ecstasy.” Do other types of musical traditions from other parts of the world have this? Describe and then compare and contrast these practices.


What are some of the predictions the musicians make about where Arab music is going? What are some of their reasons for this?

Think of music from your own cultural tradition. Do you see some of the same shifts occurring?

Learn More

Dig Deeper!

Check out the additional audio downloads that accompany this media resource.

Create your own soundscapes with the interactive map: Soundscapes: The Arab World

For the Educator

There are several ways to access the audio stories:

  • Visit the series page by clicking on "view resource," above. There, you and your students can listen online or download individual MP3 files.
  • Subscribe to the Podcast by copying and pasting this URL into your podcatcher: http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/podcasts/arabmusic.xml
  • iTunes If you use iTunes as your podcatcher, subscribe directly by clicking the icon

Allow students to listen online or to download the episodes in the series. For many students, this may be their first in-depth encounter with Arab music, and multiple listening sessions may be appropriate. Have students look over the accompanying vocabulary handout before listening to the audio tracks.

In part 1, explore the fascinating history and sounds of musical instruments of the Arab World, many of which are direct ancestors of modern Western musical instruments.

In part 2, scholars and musicians to explore unique elements of Arabic musical culture, including improvisation, ornamentation, audience participation, and the state of "musical ecstacy."

In part 3, musicians from across the Arab World join to discuss and demonstrate the diverse musical culture of Arab nations, their common musical roots, and where they believe Arabic music is headed.

For each audio story, engage in discussion around the similarities and differences between Western and Arab music-- the instruments, sounds and subject matter. Consider the traditional, classical and contemporary music of each culture.

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