Turkish Traditional Music

Author: Istanbul Grill | | Categories: Turkish Architecture , Turkish Art and Culture , Turkish Culture , Turkish Monuments , Turkish Music , Turkish restaurant , Turkish Traditional Music , Turkish Traditions


An educational site about Turkish music was inaugurated by the Turkish Cultural Foundation in January 2006. This website presents information on Turkish music through the ages, including information on its genres, instruments, performers, etc. The Turkish music portal was developed by the Foundation in cooperation with a team of Turkish music experts.


Turkish Cultural Foundation funded and made available online this comprehensive online Dictionary of Turkish music, which was the results of a multi-year project. Turkish musical terminology used in this dictionary is taken from the whole of Turkish musical culture, and each of the genres it covers has been assessed by experts within that field.

A study of 20,000 works of Turkish classical music and 7,000 works of Turkish folk music, the most popular books on Turkish music theory, and articles on the subject were conducted to define the terms, concepts, and expressions in Turkish musical terminology.

The dictionary was further enriched by researching general dictionaries and encyclopedias as well as incorporating additions from personal conversation with experts on the subject. Dictionary cross-references are common because many music terms are closely related.

The most widely accepted versions of Western music terminology were used to translate them into Turkish. The aim of this dictionary is not to translate a Western music dictionary into Turkish, but only to include Western terms that have become part of Turkish music terminology.

In this book, you will find terms and concepts that are no longer used. In musicological history, such terms and concepts are considered important. Consequently, we hope the dictionary will further prove useful to musicologists, even if just to relive memories.


By the middle of the 19th century, Western influences were already being felt in Ottoman music. Ottoman music moved from being monodic to polyphonic as a result of these efforts.

Having returned to Turkey in 1923 after studying music in Europe, Cemal Reşid (REY) founded an Istanbul music school after the declaration of the republic. While some talented young people were sent to Europe by the republic to study music, others were sent to the Soviet Union while others studied abroad.

Their return to Turkey led to the formation of a group called 'Türk Beşleri' (The Turkish Five) that paved the way for modern polyphonic Turkish music. The group wanted to use traditional Turkish music themes alongside Western classical music values through a new polyphonic structure combining the traditional themes of Turkish music and Western classical music values studied.

The later stages of the musical development gave each composer an opportunity to interpret everyday popular melodies in his or her own style, rather than emulating well-known melodies they synthesized them.

In the years following that last generation, more and more composers have produced works. At present, there are about 60 of them.


Musically related to Islamic rituals such as circumcision, fasting, and the call to prayer, these forms can be considered individually under the heading of Religious Music, which varies depending on where they were played.

Dervishes (Mevlevis) and Bektași, among other religious sects, engage in religious dancing or ceremonies that come under the general heading of Mystical Music.


In many societies we encounter folk music representing daily life as well as classical music representing the court. The content of a folk song often reflects the daily life of a person, whether it is a work song, a story song, a love song or a dance song.

Songs are usually composed to reflect how people live, work, and speak. Turks wrote folk songs called "turkü" that reflect their experiences. As times change, Türkü changes as well.

There is always a story behind folk songs. In this musical, a love story sometimes emerges as well as a deep emotional expression of an ancient people whose traditions stretch back centuries even as modern and advanced technical developments are used to express powerful feelings.

In that moment you can feel the sorrow of a mother worried about her son, or the desire of a newlywed couple to not leave each other alone for fear of what might happen.

Folk songs are affected by regional moods as well. The Black Sea region has several folk songs that are lively and tell stories of the locals. In betrayal songs, there is a sense of defiance rather than sadness.


The music of popular culture has largely been influenced by consumer culture, or at least, took on many of its characteristics within later periods, based on its general sectoral characteristics, which do not necessarily reflect the preferences of any one social group, which is a form that largely unites different cultures.

Similarly, to Europe's industrialization, the rise in artistic products related to popular culture and their increasing spread across society, as well as Turkey's efforts during the industrialization process and the associated urbanization has contributed to a cultural climate of popular culture that is independent from traditional institutions.

Based on the vast community that is influenced by popular culture, the basic values that the public expects from the arts are easy to understand and comprehend and do not require great depth, so asking for no great debate is unnecessary.

Turkey's popular culture is renowned for its colorful products of the last quarter of the 20th century in particular, and has appealed to a broad audience as objects or as visual art.

Culture experiences rapid changes and progress, which creates an ideal environment for the production of popular culture products. Turkish popular culture and its associated music are spreading very quickly throughout all strata of society in this environment. In 2000, the technology was powerful enough to address the tastes of almost everyone.


Turkish National Anthem Istiklal Marşi (Independence March) was adopted as the nation's anthem on March 12, 1921. During the competition of this March, 724 poems were submitted, and a poem written by the poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy was approved unanimously.

A competition was organized to select a composition for the National Anthem. A total of 24 composers competed. A war of liberation delayed its convening until 1924, during which Ali Rifat Cagatay's music was adopted. Over eight years, the words of the National Anthem were sung to this music.

From that point on, the words of the National Anthem have been sung to a composition played by Zeki Ungor, conductor of the Presidential Symphony Orchestra, and this composition has been played since the 1970s.


Mehter music, which the Ottoman army marched to battle to for centuries, is still heard in Istanbul's traditions of drumming and playing zurna, an oboe-like wind instrument with seven holes above and one below.

During the Middle Ages, mehter music symbolised sovereignty and independence, and it instilled strength and courage into the soldiers. In addition to rousing the enemy on the brink of battle, the crashing sound of the great kös drums unnerved the music composers, so they created works to produce this effect.

Osman Gazi became a mehter in 1299 when Keykubat III, the Seljuk sultan, gave him a tabl (kettledrum); he was also given a finial, which served as symbols of rank.

In 1826, Sultan Mahmud II disbanded the Janissary Corps, and the mehter bands also became dispersed, and it wasn't until Ferik Ahmed Muhtar Pasha established the Imperial Military Museum that the tradition was revived. After its establishment as a royal band, it became the Mehterhane-i Hakani - of the Mehter Museum in 1914.

Zekai Apaydin Bey, then the defence minister, abolished the band in 1935, only to reestablish it as an institution of historical interest attached to the Istanbul Military Museum in 1952. As a reminder of former Ottoman glory, the band today performs at the museum every week and at special events.

There is a distinct marching step for the band, whose rhythm matches the words ‘Graceful God is good, The Lord is compassionate’. In each procession, the mehter band marches closely behind its commander or çorbacibasi.

The white and red standards were carried to his left and right respectively. The red standard was accompanied by an armed guard. In front of these nine marchers are three plume bearers facing the red standard, the 'plume of attack'.

Mehter band members stand to perform, except for the nakkare players who sit cross-legged at the rightmost point of the crescent, then in an anticlockwise order the zurnas, bass drums, cymbals, and trumpets.

Drums set the rhythm when the band members bow, turning to the right and the left every three steps and chanting 'Rahim Allah, Kerim Allah' (Merciful God, Gracious God). On battlefields of the past, the mehter band played even at night to keep camp guards awake.

The full mehter band would also have two types of zurna (cura and kaba), kurrenay (a kind of curved horn), mehter whistle, clarinet-type wind instruments, tambourine, and other percussion instruments.

There were several varieties of mehter bands; those under the command of the generals had war drums over 1 meter in height known as harbî kûs or kös. Camels carried these, and sticks were used to play them.

Evliya Çelebi, a 17th century writer, claimed each kûs was the size of a bathhouse dome. During the feast days and nights to celebrate the saint's feast, these drums were played and the sound was like thunder. During performances they were placed on the ground at the center of the circle of musicians, and when there was a march, they were placed on camels in pairs.

Drummers rode in a circle, striking them to their right and left by turn. When on campaign, the royal mehter bands had to play the kös, or the commander-in-chief on behalf of the sultan led the army. The leader of each group of players was called aga.

In ancient Israel, leaders of the bass drum players and masters of the whole band were known as agas or mehterbasi agas. They wore a kavuk (cap) wrapped around their white turbans, yellow robe and red trousers over a red coat, a shawl around their waists, and yellow leather shoes. Unlike the other musicians, the others wore dark blue kavuks and coats.

Mehter music was greatly influenced contemporary western music over the course of the 17th century as the Ottomans spread westward into Europe. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony also utilizes kös, zurna, and bass drum at the end of the last movement. Mozart later composed music influenced by mehter music, and Haydn later composed music based on mehter music.

Many composers produced pieces for the 'alla Turca' style, including Mozart and Bizet. When we listen to the Museum's mehter band, we can still hear the powerful stirring spirit of these military bands from the Ottoman Empire.


Stringed, wind, and percussion instruments comprise the three main categories of Turkish musical instruments. A master-apprentice system of production was used to produce Turkish musical instruments during the Ottoman period. Turkish music is traditionally monophonic.

All the instruments are playing the same melody, despite the number of instruments used. Different emotions are expressed through the music, mainly unrequited love when it is sad and when it is joyful, happy, or just plain fun you will want to dance.

Turkish musicians use a wide variety of instruments. Traditional Turkish music includes the zither, tambur, lute, tef (tambourine), darbuka, and ney (reed flute), in addition to western instruments such as the piano, violin, viola, and clarinet.

Turkish zithers are called kanuns. The strings are crossed across the top of a wooden box and the instrument is played on the lap. An expert craftsman can utilize seven different kinds of wood to make a zither. Sycamore wood is the upper surface, pinewood the lower surface, and maple the bridge. Rose wood and white pine are used to cut out the designs on the side and high surfaces.

Calf leather is used to cover the soundboard of the zither, giving it its resonant sound. Hardwoods, such as rosewood or ebony, are used for the tuning pegs and the peg locks. A 'Mandal' is a small tuning lever or tuning key. An adjustable metal ring fastens a plectrum to each index finger.

The baglama is probably the single most representative instrument of Turkish folk music. In addition to the baglama, another instrument called the kopuz is also used today. Baglama comes in various varieties, including çögür, cura, divan, tambura, and kopuz.

A stringed instrument, it was used in Central Asia by Turks about 2 000 years ago, according to the tale of Dede Korkut (a legendary Turkish physician, the advisor of the Turkish Oguz tribe whose tales communicate moral lessons to the chiefs of tribes).

Shamanism, among Turkish shamans, holds that wearing a kopuz at one's waist would provide protection against enemy attacks. Anatolia became a popular music destination with the introduction of the baglama by strolling minstrels from Turkey.

At certain times of the year, minstrels gather at festivals and contests with the baglama as a close friend. While there is music accompanying the exchange, the sarcastic remarks between contestant are never offensive and are often satirical.

Another instrument different from the lute seen in Europe is the lute. 'Ud' is the Turkish name for the lute. Similarly, lutes are stringed instruments that have both a sound box and a neck, which serve both as handles and as a device for extending the strings.

It was traditional for music lovers to revere and honor master lute players. The lute is one of the most prominent instruments in Turkish pop music, and the soloist uses it with mainstream music, folk music, as well as classical music. Turkey has lute singers just as Europe has guitar singers.

Reed instruments are also available with a single or double reed. Zurna, neys, and shepherd's pipes are just a few examples. Mystic and religious music are among the most common uses of the ney. Zurna and drums are commonly used together and are an integral part of wedding and circumcision celebrations.

Turkish music places a high value on rhythm. For this reason, a number of percussion instruments other than drums are used, for example the 'kudüm' (small double drums used in mystic religious music) and the darbuka.

A Turkish army band played percussion instruments around the sixteenth century, which later spread to Europe. To begin with, only the king and high noble were allowed to possess one. The drum was traditionally associated with the aristocracy, frequently used in concert with trumpets to accompany the arrival of kings to a theater or throne room.

Another popular percussion instrument is the tambourine (def). Usually, it has a rattle attached to the side and is like a handheld frame. The instrument is often used by young girls dancing to a melody in addition to being played by orchestras.

Now-a-days Turkish music have become very popular among the people. Because it is very soft and appealing music. While listening to it you will feel inner peace in yourself. That’s why they say that Turkish music is spiritual music.

Let us know what is your favorite Turkish musical instrument while reading our musical blog!!!

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