The Qanun is a large soundbox which is similar to a zither (or a psaltery or dulcimer). It's soundboard is a narrow trapezoidal shape and strings are stretched over a bridge on one end and attached to tuning pegs at the other end. The right end has a long bridge which rests on fish or goat skin covered windows while on the left end the strings pass over a series of small levers that allow for micro-tuning to achieve quarter, eighth, and centi tones. The number of strings and tuning technique differ according to regional preference. In terms of sound it provides a somewhat harp-like sound quality.
Qanuns were so popular to recent Turkish (and especially Ottoman) music that the Qanun was often referred to as the Turkish Zither and was considered by the West as the signature instrument of Turkish (and then subsequently Arabic) music. The instruments popularity is not limited to the Middle East and has been part of Musical traditions in many countries that Muslims had trade contact with. The Uyghur Muslim community which is now largely found in China and is of Turkic descent use a variation which they call a Qalun (Kalun, Qalon, Kalon, Cullen). The Middle Eastern variant itself is known by a few different names like قانون (Qanun, Kanun) throughout most of the Arabic and Farsi (Persian) speaking world, κανονάκι (Kanonaki) in Greece, and քանոն (K'anon) in Armenian. Wherever it is used it seems to retain a similar name. The name itslef, "قانون" or Qanun means "canon" or "law, rule, norm, principle" given because of it's relation to playing with the rules of the Maqamat system.
To read more about Middle Eastern Qanuns please visit these additional pages on our site.