The musical instruments used by Turks are of three main groups: stringed, wind and percussion instruments. Turkish musical instruments were produced by the master-apprentice method in the Ottoman period. Traditional Turkish music is monophonic. Even though many instruments are used, they all play the same melody. The music reflects different emotions, mainly unrequited love and when it is sad it may sound depressing, but when expressing joy, happiness or pleasure you will find yourself dancing to the rhythm. The main instruments used in Turkish music show a great diversity. In classical Turkish music the zither, tambur, lute, tef (tambourine), darbuka and ney (reed flute) are some of the instruments used, besides the well-known ones also used in the west, including the piano, violin, viola and clarinet.
The zither is called ‘kanun’ in Turkish. It is a stringed instrument played on the lap and the strings are stretched across the upper surface of a wooden box. Skilled craftsmen may use seven kinds of wood in making one zither. The upper surface is made of sycamore wood, the lower surface of pinewood, the bridge is of maple. The design on the sides and the upper surface is cut out of rose wood and white pine. The soundboard is completed by using calf leather giving the zither its rich resonance. The tuning pegs and the peg locks are made of hardwood, either rose or ebony. The small tuning levers or tuning keys, are called ‘mandal’. It is played with the help of a plectrum, one fastened to each index finger by an adjustable metal ring.
It would not be wrong to say that if a single instrument were to represent Turkish folk music it would have to be the baglama. The baglama was developed from another instrument called the kopuz, which is also used today. There are different kinds of baglama, like the çögür, cura, divan, tambura and kopuz. The kopuz, also a stringed instrument, was used in Central Asia by Turkish tribes about two thousand years ago and is mentioned in the tales of Dede Korkut (a sage, the mentor of the Turkish Oguz tribe who narrates moralistic epic tales to a chieftain of the tribes). We come across the belief among the shamanist Turks that a warrior with a kopuz at his waist was protected in battle from injury at enemy hands. Turkish strolling minstrels brought the baglama to Anatolia and in fact, everyone knew how to play this instrument. The baglama is so-to-say a friend of the minstrels who at certain times of the year gather at contests and song festivals. Accompanied by music, repartee between the contestants is sometimes satirical, sometimes filled with irony but never insulting and is fun to listen to.
Then we have the lute which is a little different to those seen in Europe. The lute is called ‘ud’ in Turkish. Lutes, also stringed instruments, have a sound box terminating in a neck which serves both as a handle and a device for extending the strings beyond the sound box. The masters of the lute were revered by those interested in music. Today there are various trends in Turkish pop music and the lute is one of the main instruments accompanying the soloist both in classical Turkish music, popular mainstream music and folk songs. In Turkey there are singers who use the lute, just as their counterparts in the West use the guitar.
There are also reed instruments pipes equipped with a double reed or with a single reed. To name a few, we can give the examples of the zurna, ney, and shepherd’s pipe. Among them the ney is mostly used in mystic and religious music. Drums and the zurna go together and are mostly used in folk music and they are an indispensable part of wedding or circumcision festivities. In Turkish music rhythm is of utmost importance. Therefore percussion instruments used for this purpose apart from drums, include ‘kudüm’ (small double drums used in mystic religious music) and the darbuka. Percussion instruments were first brought to Europe after being seen in the Mehterband of the Turkish army around the sixteenth century. At first only a king or high nobleman was allowed to have one. For many years drums were “aristocratic” instruments, primarily used with trumpets to sound fanfares as the king entered a theatre or throne room. The def (tambourine), is also a popular instrument used for rhythms. It is like a handheld frame that usually has rattles attached to the side. It is both struck and shaken and sometimes used by young ladies dancing to a melody, in addition to its place in the orchestra.