The baglama (sometimes referred to as a sad) is an extremely old string instrument originating from Turkey. Many say it’s the instrument that Turkish music came from. So, learning to play it can seem pretty scary (least of all because it’s hard to find English language baglama lessons online).

But, there’s no need to worry anymore! We are here to talk you through how to play the sad (the basics anyway). Although, before we get started, we should mention that it will always be easier to learn an instrument with a teacher physically beside you. This isn’t an option for everyone (we get that!) so we’ll do our best to help you out on this magical journey.

How to Play the Saz (The Basics)

Saz Tuning

The first thing we need to talk about is saz tuning. 

Your instrument will have 3 courses (groups) of strings. It probably has 7 strings to its name but could have 6. All the strings within a course should be played at the same time. Although, they could be tuned slightly different (about an octave apart) which will give a twang to the tone.

When you go about saz tuning, you can do it similarly to a modern-age violin. Typically, the X course will be the lowest note, the Y course (in the middle) will be higher and the Z course will be the highest. Since there are multiple ways to tune your baglama, this could differ.

At the beginning of your endeavor, stick to the modern tuning type which is super versatile. This is known as “black” or “bozuk” tuning. Having said this, the saz is usually tuned to the player’s vocal range.

In short, you should do this when tuning the long saz:

  • String 1: low Bb
  • String 2: 1 octave higher
  • Middle course: same F
  • String 5: A above low C
  • Strings 6 and 7: C octave above string 5
Long Neck saz with Fishman 301 pickup and equalizer, walnut wood
Tip: when purchasing a saz, choose models that feature ebony pegs. They are easier to tune than simple beach wood.

Frets

While you’re discovering how to play saz, the frets will probably be the first thing you notice. Depending on how old your instrument is, they could be anywhere along the neck since they traditionally come moveable so the player can customize it. If your one is relatively new, they should be quite standard by now (they’ll still differ between long and short neck baglamas). 

Usually, there will be 12 segments per octave — this is a great way to think about it as a beginner. 

Playing Position

You can find plenty of pictures online for the correct playing position. But try to remember these handy tips to get you off to a good start:

  • Relax
  • Sit up straight
  • Hold it without propping it on your left hand
  • Soundboard facing away from you
  • Point your fingers into the fretboard
  • Wrap your hand around the neck

Playing Styles

Since you are just starting to learn how to play saz, you don’t need to get too bogged down in various playing styles. However, it’s good to know if you plan on getting really in-depth with it.

Traditionally, the melody will be played on the Z course. The open notes situated on the Y and X courses will start to add rhythm to your piece. You’ll notice this is very harmonic when you get the hang of it. 

Scales

If you are having in-person baglama lessons, your teacher will be helping you get to grips with the scales. Honestly, this is the best way to learn. In any case, let’s look at a couple of simple scales you can try:

Up and Down

Essentially, you are just moving your fingers up and down the neck your baglama, strumming each group of 3 notes. Of course, there is more to it than this but you’re better off watching videos or having a personal lesson.

Cross-String

This is a somewhat modern scale. Here, you are crossing the strings and fingering them simultaneously. Cross-string scales are easier to achieve on a short-neck saz but they aren’t impossible on the long-neck varieties.

Try Taking Baglama Lessons

Even though you can teach yourself to play the saz online and through videos, nothing beats one-to-one, in-person baglama lessons. If you have the opportunity, definitely give this a go!

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