How is Turkish music different from western music?

The main difference between the tonal systems of western and Turkish music above all lies in the structure of the tone-series. Western music has been based on the tempered system for more than three centuries. It is a tonal system that includes 12 equal semitones. As opposed to that, the tonal system of Turkish music includes 24 tones that are placed at unequal lengths. 

The second important feature of differentiation between the musical systems of the two music cultures is the structure of the tones in the tone-series.In the western diatonic scale, the distance between two tones that constitute one major second is divided with a semitone. It is placed on the ideal half of this distance and represents the semitones in the tone-series. The distance between this semitone and the neighboring semitones is 4.5 Pythagorean commas. The harmonic structure, i.e the polyphony of western music is based upon this arrangement of tones. 

The essential feature of Turkish music is in the existence of so-called microtones. Namely, in Turkish music, the distance in one major second is divided into nine equal segments, called Pythagorean commas.

The tone-series in both systems differ in their definition. In Turkish music, the tone-series present a sequence of 8 tones composed of one tetrachord and one pentachord (or vice versa) named cheshni  which means "taste" (cheshni = taste). The combination of different tetrachords and pentachords enables the creation of a great number of tone-series or makams. The employment of these tone-series in accordance to specific rules yields the formation of makams - the basis of Turkish music (makam = music tone, melody). Theoretically, hundreds of makams can be formed. Within the opus of Turkish music, over 500 makams are used. Nevertheless, about a hundred of them have a wider use in practice.

In western music, scales are named according to the nota initialis of the tone-series, regardless of their direction of movement.The names of makams vary depending on the height of the nota initialis, but also on the direction of movement of the melody line, called seyir (Seyir = the movement of the tone-series which produces the makam). The movements can be: 1. ascending, 2. descending, or 3. descending -ascending. In fact, the movement - which is of great importance, is not a fixed scheme but a melodic pattern which finalises the form of the composition. 

Therefore, one of the distinguishing features of Turkish music is that two makams having identical tonal structure are considered to be different depending on the typical melodic movement. For instance, the Husseyni and Muhajjer makams, in spite of their identical tone-series, are regarded as different because of their opposite direction of movement. The tone-series of the first makam is ascending, whereas the second is descending, which explains why these makams bear different names.


What should I look for when choosing an instrument?

It depends on what you expect from a Turkish folk instrument. Some prefer appearance over sound, some people prefer ease of playing over sound and appearance. 

1- Appearance, Weight, Durableness

What we mean by appearance is; size, form (shape), labor and materials. For example, Zenne oud is smaller than the normal size oud, which is designed especially for women and children. On the contrary, Arabic oud is even bigger than the normal size oud. 

The width, depth, length of body and the shape of the front end depends on which master designed it. Also, the instruments may have distinct floral or geometric designs on them, which makes the masters work recognisable as well.

2- Sound-related Properties

These properties are the true measures of quality. For example, in terms of string instruments, the frontend, fingerboard and tuners directly affect the sound of them. If they are made of high quality material with careful craftsmanship, the sound will be satisfying. The choice of tree affects the sound also, and it depends on the user’s musical taste. To sum up, whichever instrument you choose, look for these aspects for the best result. 

3- The Ease of Use

For example, ease of tuning is very important for the beginners. Some tuners can become too hard to turn because of weather conditions or waiting inside the case for a long time. 

When select your string instrument, you should first examine its neck part. The tickness of the neck is important, because it affects the balance between your fingers while playing. That means, you should look for the best size for the neck which fits your hand easily. 

I’ve heard that different wood types affect the sound. How do I know which wood type is right for my taste?

The wood type question is being asked for decades but it’s a very unclear topic scientifically. Because two different instruments may sound very different, as wood is made of tree which is an organic material, and organic materials has their own unique structure, just like fingerprints. Also, dryness of the wood and the masterhood of the maker definitely affects it. However, some musicians claim that the best tree for Turkish saz is mulberry. Whereas for oud, some claim walnut and juniper gives the best sound. 

Am I a right candidate to learn a Turkish instrument?

If you are ready to challenge yourself with a different type of instrument than the most common western instruments, curious about the Turkish culture, literacy and music, or just enthusiastic about synthesising eastern folk music with modern sounds, why not give it a chance?

How can I learn to play a Turkish instrument?

There are many video tutorials on the YouTube (most are in Turkish but hey, there is an auto translate option and Google!) and there are a few technical books about how to play. If you are near to a local learning center or a teacher, you the luckiest though! We also have some free e-learning projects as well, just keep following us...

How should I care for my instrument?

Always keep your instruments away from too much moisture and too dry air. 

Clean your instruments only with products that are specially made for this job. 

Keep your instruments away from extreme heat and cold.

You should get it varnished annually by a professional. 

Make sure your hands are dry and clean before playing.

For ouds, you should change strings once every six months. This directly will affect the sound quality.

If you don’t plan to play your instrument for long time, you should loosen the strings.

If tuners stuck because of too much squeezing, don’t use powder or any other chemicals, just call us.

Always carry your instrument in its own case.