How much do you know about Turkey’s traditional musical instruments?  Turkey is a country with a long history of traditional music, much loved by many across the Middle East.  The diversity within Turkey’s rich musical heritage has meant that the country is home to a variety of unique instruments.  If you have ever visited Turkey, you will for sure have seen at least one of these instruments played by musicians on the street or in local cafes.  

Kanun

Turkish Kanun by Mustafa Saglam Black model
Turkish Kanun by Mustafa Saglam Black model

The Kanun is a very popular instrument that is played widely across the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.  Kanun is derived from the Arabic word, Qanun, meaning a ‘rule’ or ‘law.’  The Kanun is immensely popular within traditional and classical music and is based on Maqamats.  

Turkish Kanun’s feature 72 equal divisions of the octave pitch resolution, a much larger range than Kanun’s from Armenia or the Arabic world.  Although not all 72 pitches are available on each instrument, each Kanun is unique to accommodate the particular musician’s modulation and transposition needs.

Turkish short neck BaglamaThe Kanun holds an important place in Turkish music and is found in most folk ensembles.  The newer models of the Kanun feature small brass levers to the left of the instrument, close to the pegbox.  These levers can then be used to control the tension of each of the strings, thus affecting the pitch.  

 

Baglama or Saz

The Turkish Baglama is one of the most commonly played instruments in Turkey.  It is one of the Turkish String instruments belonging to the lute family.  The Baglama is one of the core instruments found in Turkey’s folk ensembles and orchestras.  It can even be heard on many modern popular music songs today.  As the Baglama can be tuned in a variety of different ways, this makes it such an interesting instrument for a variety of Turkish styles, both within traditional and popular music.  

The Baglama is built with three main parts, the Tekne (the large back shaped like a bowl), the Gogus (the instrument’s soundboard), and the Sap (the neck of the instrument).  There are a variety of woods used to make the Baglama, including juniper, spruce wood, or walnut for the Tekne, spruce wood for the soundboard and beech or juniper for the Sap.  The use of different woods enhances the amazing tone of this unique instrument.   

The instrument has seven strings which are then divided into courses of two, two, and three.  To hear this beautiful instrument come to life you should check out some of the most famous Baglama players; Aşık Veysel, Erkan Oğur, and Neşet Ertaş.

Turkish short neck Baglama Exotic padouk ebony pegs professional

 

Ud

Turkish Oud from cedar wood and padouk wood
Turkish Oud from cedar wood

The Ud is another instrument belonging to the lute family and is widely seen across the Middle East in countries including Morocco, Algeria, Syria, and Iran.  It has a rather large body and a short neck in comparison to the Baglama.  It is one of the oldest stringed instruments, having thought to arrive in Egypt around 1320 BC.

The Ud first gained prominence in Turkish music around the second half of the nineteenth century, resulting in the instrument becoming the most popular and recognizable in all genres across the country.  Today, it is found across traditional music, to classical music, and even to modern pop music.   

 

 

Kemenche

The Kemenche is a bowed instru

ment, sometimes referred to as the ‘Black Sea fiddle,’ due to is common use found in the Black Sea area.  The instrument includes three strings and is one of the most commonly played folk instruments in Turkey.  In fact, since the middle of the nineteenth century, the Kemenche has become the main bowed instrument of Ottoman classical music.  

The word ‘Kemenche’ is derived from the Persian word, Kamanchech, which means ‘small bow.’  Unlike the Western classical violin, the Kemenche is not played under the chin.  Instead, it is rested on both knees in a downright position, and played with a Yay (bow).  

The pear-shaped construction of this instrument makes it not only interesting to listen to but to look at and hold also.  It is made from a variety of woods, including mulberry, juniper, and plum.  Generally, it is played by pressing two strings at the same time and producing parallel quarter notes.  As the Kemenche is built with no frets, it is possible to produce many pitches and chromatic scales easily. 

 

Classical kemenche instrument
Classical kemenche (kemence)

Tef, or as known as Riq

The Tef, or sometimes called Def, is the Turkish tambourine.  This is a percussion instrument that is made from a piece of leather stretched across a circular wooden frame.  It is played with the fingertips and has become a widely popular instrument in Turkish music.  

The Tef is not only used in Turkish music but across many countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Morocco.  

While the actual instrument resembles the tambourine, the playing techniques are vastly different.  Many players of the Tef choose to use a variety of techniques such as hand slapping, tapping on the sides of the instrument, and shaking the Tef back and forth or in a twisting motion. 

In modern Middle Eastern ensembles, the Tef usually accompanies the Darbukah, a popular hand drum.  

tunable Hammered cymbals remo riq
A complete percussion orchestra – the Turkish tiq

Kaval

The Kaval sometimes referred to as the ‘Shepherd’s Flute,’ is one of the most common wind instruments in Turkish music.  There are two types of Kaval, with a reed or without.  

The Turkish Kaval is made from wood, bone or metal, and consists of around five finger holes and one thumb hole.  The Kaval is one of the oldest Turkish instruments and there are variations of the instrument found across the Middle East and Central Asia. 

The Kaval can produce between 2 and 3 octaves and is played both as a solo instrument and within an ensemble.  The breathy and esoteric sound of the Kaval sets it apart from many of the other instruments mentioned here.  

Cumbus

The Cumbus, sometimes referred to as the Jumbush, is another instrument of the Turkish string instruments, and is relatively modern.  It resembles the Oud and consists of 12 strings, with no fretboards.  

This instrument is made by the company, Cumbus, as an inexpensive alternative to other Turkish instruments.  Due to this, the Cumbush became the folk instrument of poor and ethnic minorities including Jews, Kurds, and Romani. 

This list of popular Turkish instruments is by no means exhaustive.  In fact, this is just the beginning of a world of many more fascinating instruments from this diverse country.  

Zeynel Abidin Cumbus
Zeynel Abidin Cumbus, inventor of Cumbus

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