The baglama or saz (a type of plucked string instrument with a long neck) is popular in Ottoman classical music. It is also popular in Turkish folk music, Turkish Arabesque music, Transcaucasian music, and parts of Syria, Iraq, and the Balkan countries. In addition, musical education often uses baglama to teach folk-music theory. Notation, performance, acoustics, and instrument construction also use the baglama.

The Origin of Baglama

During the Sâsânian era (c. AD 224-651), the long-necked tanbûr appeared in literary and iconographic sources. Tanbûr diffused into the various musical traditions along the Silk Road. It resulted in a variety of closely or distantly related tanbûrs with two or more, occasionally doubled or tripled courses, a varying number, and variously tuned frets, each having its characteristic sound, playing technique, and repertory.  In Anatolia, the tanbûr arrived with the Seljuks in the eleventh century or even before. Furthermore, tt appeared in work for the first time by Persian poet Nezami van Gandja (1141-1209). In Anatolia,  we came across the word saz in the fifteenth century as a name for the tanbûr of the traveling poet singers, the âşık or saz şaileri, poets with the saz.

The origin of the name baglama is uncertain. It might have come from the Turkish word Balamak (to bind). Balamak refers to the binding of frets around the neck or strings to tuning pegs. A description of a saz with the name baglama first emerged in European texts in the second half of the 18th century. A major impact on the musical traditions and musical instruments was the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 in Ankara. The modernized and standardized saz became the most important instrument of musical traditions. Mahmut Ragıp Gazimihâl (1900-1961) and Muzaffer Sarısözen (1899-1963) played an important role in increasing the number of frets around 1940. This happened around Radio Ankara. It also aimed to reform the music and musical instruments of the many regions into a coherent whole.

How Does a Baglama Works

The body of saz is usually carved from a wooden block. The block is hollowed down on the bottom side with a circular soundhole. Nowadays, glued-together ribs are used to make the body.

The body features a thin wooden soundboard on both sides, generally with many strips of various colored wood. The neck is fairly narrow and it is attached to the body with a V-join. The tuning head, a separate piece of wood, is placed at an angle with a V-joint to the neck. The neck includes nylon string frets that are tied on, some in 1/4 note intervals. To aid in the formation of knots in the frets, there is a groove down the edge on the left side. It contains 8 strings in three courses of (steel) strings, with the center course having two strings and the others having three strings. They run across a little wooden bridge to a piece of wood on the body’s edge.  Four T-shaped friction pegs are present on the front and four on the (left) side of the tuning head.

Mostly, a plectrum is used to play the saz and the first course. Some musicians, particularly flamenco artists, can tap the soundboard with their ring fingers while strumming. This adds a distinctive additional rhythm impact. Others employ a technique similar to tapping. Most saz sizes can have either a long or short neck. The short neck necessitates a distinct playing technique as the lower notes are on the opposite strings.