DIY Album, Musicians' Diary

Bağlama’s pitch


Bağlama, also commonly called “saz” in western Europe has the advantage of having moving frets, which means that fret position can be easily modified until you get the suitable music scale. Moreover, it has extra frets that enables to play notes between the common semitones that you have on a guitar or a piano. Thus, we’re entering the very exciting world of “quarter-tones” and “commas” (you can read this to learn more about this topic).

My bağlama

But those “quarter-tones” can be very different from one culture to another, or even from one performer to another. I always have the feeling that quarter-tones are very (!) high in Turkish music (more technically, I would say they’re about 50-60 cents above the lower degree, a semitone equals say 100 cents) whereas they sound usually lower in Breton music (I would say 30-35 cents. I have made some pitch measurements on Breton singer old recordings, and it tends to agree these values).

Therefore, moving frets are very convenient for adapting the instrument to the suitable scale, since you can move some of the frets upwards.

Moving the fret to get the suitable scale

I am pretty happy of the result, you can hear it on this live recording we made in Beirut last year : An Daou Gamerad Fidel

§ Yann

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Musicians' Diary

Using oriental instruments ?

Music instruments that were (and are still) most commonly used in Breton music were bombard, biniou (breton bagpipe), treujenn gaol, (actually a clarinet), accordion.

Bombard (left) and biniou (right), mostly played together

More recently (i.e. in the 70’s and after World War II), new instruments like guitars, Irish wooden flute, bass, violin, Scottish bagpipes were introduced.

Treujenn Gaol (Breton clarinet)

In Astrakan Project, I mostly play stringed instruments. You may have noticed that I use guitar, but also Turkish ‘ud and bağlama (commonly called saz in western Europe). One may think this is to give an oriental flavour to our music. This might be partly true, but I don’t think this is the main reason.


One good reason is of course the fact that we currently live in Turkey, where ‘ud and bağlama are commonly used, so why shouldn’t I use them, temptation is so huge ?

But another good reason is that these instruments enables to play “more notes”, including the so called “commas“. In Breton music, we do have “commas” (see here for further explanations, for musicologists only !), yes, but they tend to disappear with the introduction of guitar, accordion and Scottish bagpipes for instance. You can play any note you want on a ‘ud, and almost any on a bağlama (even if there are frets).


When I play a breton tune, I feel closer to the truth (?) when I use the ‘ud than when I use the guitar, I think that’s a good reason for using oriental instruments !

§ Yann