Saz Instruments at Lark in the Morning

Saz History - An Introduction to the Turkish Bağlama Family

The Tukish saz, or bağlama, is probably the most well-known Turkish instrument. It plays an integral role in Ottomon classical music as well as Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Syrian, Iraqi and Balkan folk music.

In Turkish, bağlama means "something tied up" (likely a reference to the fishing line frets). The name saz (synonymous with enstrüman) means "instrument." Both of these names are used interchangeably to describe this family of stringed instruments, first brought to Anatolia from Central Asia and the Balkans by Oguz Turks, Seljuks, and Ottomans. The saz became a way of conveying stories of "war, love, rebellions, religion and history" (read more on this here). The term "saz" has been in use since at least the 15th century, as a name for the instrument played by traveling poet singers, the saz şaileri (read more here).

The saz resembles both the Western lute and Middle-Eastern oud, with a round back, but it has a much longer neck. It can be played with a pick/plectrum, or fingerpicked in the şelpe style. It typically has seven strings, divided into courses of 2-2-3, and can be tuned in a number of ways. Depending on region and size, the instruments in the saz family can take on more specific names (more on this here). Most saz varieties can have either a long or short neck. The short-necked 19-fret version is called çöğür (which removes certain notes in the scale in order to facilitate performance), and the long-necked 23-fret version is called bozuk (the classic type, with a deeper pitch).

The saz is partly descended from the Turkic komuz/kopuz, the first plectrum instrument. This in turn developed into the çöğür when metal strings replaced the original gut strings and wood replaced the leather body, along with a longer fingerboard and added frets. Other influences came from a number of Central Asian and Anatolian instruments. By the 1940s, the saz typically had seven strings, the way it is now commonly played throughout the Middle East.

Turkish saz terminology and anatomy:

  • Tekne or "bowl" is carved from a wooden block, hollowed down on the bottom side with a circular soundhole, or sometimes comprised of ribs that have been glued together (often mulberry, juniper, beech, spruce, or walnut)
  • Göğüs or "sound board" is typically made of spruce
  • Sap or "neck" is typically made of beech or juniper, and is relatively narrow and is wound with nylon string frets
  • Burgu "screws" or friction tuning pegs, are attached to a tuning head
  • Mızrap or Tezene "plectrum" is an optional addition, and is often made from cherrywood bark

An informative video recommendation: 


Browse our online collection of Turkish saz instruments here

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