Azerbaijani Musical Instruments

Azerbaijani Musical Instruments

by Peyman Nasehpour

Abstract. The main purpose of this note is to introduce Azerbaijani musical instruments used in classical and folk music of Azerbaijan.

Introduction. Mugam (also spelled as "mugham موقام" and "موغام") is the Azerbaijani modal system. The melodic, rhythmic, literal, and structural comparison of Azerbaijani mugam music with Persian "dastgah دستگاه" music shows that the mugam music has more common roots with dastgah music than the "magham مقام" system in Arabic music, and similarly, the makam system in Turkish music. Note that the Azerbaijani word "mugam" originates from the Arabic word "magham مقام".

Mohammad Reza Darvishi, researcher of Persian regional music, in his famous book, Encyclopedia of the Musical Instruments of Iran, p. 267 writes: "Mugam system in the music of Azerbaijan, is very similar to the Persian dastgah system and both systems have the same root. More precisely, Azerbaijani mugam music is the Azerbaijani version of Persian dastgah music."

The main purpose of this note is to be a brief introduction to the musical instruments popular in Azerbaijan either in mugam music or in Azerbaijani folk music including the Ashiq tradition.

  • Balaban: The "balaban بالابان" is a reed used in Azerbaijani music. The name "balaban" is a combination of two Persian words "ba با" and "laban لبان" meaning "with" and "lips", respectively. This reed is placed between the lips during its performance and this is why it is called "balaban".

  • Garmon: The "garmon گارمون", also spelled as "garman گارمان" is an Azerbaijani wind instrument similar to the European "accordion". The garmon is usually accompanied by nagara or ghaval and is normally performed in Azerbaijani wedding ceremonies (indoors). The Azerbaijani wedding ceremonies are called "toylar تویلار".

  • Ghaval: The "ghaval قاوال", also spelled as gaval, is an Azerbaijani frame drum and is usually performed by the mugam vocalist (khananda) during the performance of Azerbaijani mugam music. Recently some musicians perform ghaval solos during Azerbaijani music concerts. Azerbaijani ghaval is also known as daf. For more see Ghaval The Azerbaijani Frame Drum and Daf Dayereh Frame Drums.

  • Gosha-nagara: The "gosha-nagara قوشا ناقارا" is a pair of small kettledrums performed in Azerbaijani music ensembles. For more, see Persian Kettledrums.

  • Kamancha: The "kamancha کامانچا" is an Azerbaijani spike fiddle used especially in Azerbaijani mugam music. A similar version of this instrument is applied in Persian classical and folk music with the name "kamancheh کمانچه". Note that "kaman کمان" is a Persian word meaning "bow" and "cheh چه" is a diminutive suffix.

  • Nagara: The "nagara ناقارا" is a double-faced cylindrical drum and is played with hands. The techniques used to perform this drum is similar to the techniques of some goblet drums such as the tonbak and the darbuka. Note that the shape of nagara is similar to the dohol (known as the davul in Turkey).

  • Oud: The "oud عود" is an ancient lute performed in different musical genres including Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Persian, and Turkish music. For more, see Barbat Persian lute.

  • Saz: The "saz ساز" is a long-necked lute performed in Ashiqlar music. Normally, a saz player is a vocalist and poet also. This instrument is also called the "qopuz قوپوز". The word "saz ساز" is Persian meaning a musical instrument and is derived from the Persian verb "sakhtan ساختن". The Persian verb "sakhtan" has different meanings including to make, to create, to adapt, and so on. However, in old Persian, it was meant to play (or tune) a musical instrument.

  • Tar: The "tar تار" is a long-necked lute performed in Azerbaijani mugam music. A similar version is used in Persian classical music. The word "tar تار" is a Persian word meaning string.

  • Tutak: The "tutak توتک", spelled in the Azerbaijani Latin alphabet as "tütək" is an Azerbaijani reed used normally in Azerbaijani folk music. Its Armenian version is called duduk.

  • Zurna: The "zurna زورنا" is an Azerbaijani oboe and is usually performed in Azerbaijani wedding ceremonies (the "toylar"). It is normally accompanied by davul and since its sound is very loud, normally it is performed outdoors. Its Persian version is called "sorna سُرنا". Note that the word sorna is an abbreviation of the word "surnay سورنای" and the word surnay is a combination of the two Persian words "sur سور" and "nay نای" meaning "festival" and "reed", respectively.


[Se] Mehdi Setayeshgar, Vazhe-Name-ye-Musighi-ye-Iran Zamin, Tehran, Vol. I (1995) & Vol. II (1996).

[Sh] Firidun Shooshinski, Tarikh-e-Musighi-ye-Azarbaijan, Translated to Persian by Dr. Sirus Lotfi, Donya-ye-No Publication, Tehran, 2015.

For more on musical instruments, see the following notes:

Online Tonbak, Ghaval, and Daf Lessons

Persian Percussion Instruments

Persian Musical Instruments

Persian Drums

Ashiq Hassan Eskandari on the qopuz

Ashiq Hassan Eskandari on the qopuz