Oral Transmission Techniques


Oral Transmission Techniques in the Kaba Zurna Repertoire

of Anatolian Zeybek Music


by Ali Fuat Aydin [Izmir]



Zeybek melodies, which come from the western part of Turkey, are significant elements in the Turkish folk music repertoire of that region. These melodies are mainly played on a combination of davul (drum) and kaba zurna (shawm) instruments, especially by musicians in the Aydin-Germencik and Mugla-Milas areas in that region. In an urban environment, performers of zeybek music recreate an idealisation of a regional repertoire which was, and still may be, transmitted orally from master to student or from father to son. But today the medium for transmission can vary. In this paper, specifically oral transmission techniques, and their effects on the regional melodic and rhythmic configurations, tonal systems, pitch deviations and ornamental devices of zeybek music in zurna playing will be examined.



As known, zeybeks appears as an interesting identity which academics have offered different opinions concerning their origins and the etymology of their names and which has maintained its existence having their own culture. We do know that zeybeks found an environment for living throughout the West Anatolia due to lack of authority and other similar reasons in the period when the Ottoman Empire was beginning to falter in administrative, political, economic and social terms as from the 16th century and especially through the 18th and 19th centuries.


Zeybeks had a considerable effect on the society in the West Anatolia starting especially in particular from the 19th century onwards, and established the present of the music, dance and costume traditions of the Aegean. Having completed its mission after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, the zeybek identity disappeared, but zeybek songs and dances, the products of a culture survived for hundreds of years, prevail and are still performed at almost every opportunity. Many of the dances are of individual and solo[1] nature; and largely improvised. There are exceptions but the majority are slow and asymmetrical in rhythmic structure[2].


As in other traditonal Turkish folk music tunes, makam-based aspects must be taken into account in the Zeybek melodies. Within zeybek melodies found in West Anatolia it can be seen that a pitch range of more than an octave is used and Rast (G), Dügah (A) and Segah (B) pitches are frequently used as tonic related to their makam structure. The melodies are usually constructed using adjacent notes. Rhythmical patterns of 3+2+2+2, 2+2+2+3 and 2+2+3+2 constituting an overall 9 beat pattern, are the norm. In slow zeybeks (ağır zeybek), while the 3 group is usually found to be at the beginning of the cycle, as the tempo gets faster the 3 group gravitates to the end. In the slow zeybeks the vocal accompaniment is rare, a delayed (ritardando) performance appears during the dance accompaniment[3].


In contrast to the slower male zeybek dances, a quicker, softer style is used in women’s zeybek dances in 3+2+2+2 format[4]. When lyrics are used for these dances they tend to be compliments to - but regret for the absence of - the beloved. The melancholic nature of these songs stands would appear to be in conflict with the jauntiness of the melodies and rhythms used. However, folk music fulfils a recreational function, and sad lyrics coupled with jolly rhythms is just part of the complexity of the tradition, and is tied in with general expectations of form[5].


In West Anatolia zeybek dances performed in public are more often accompanied by musicians playing the zurna (a loud, penetrating relative of the oboe) and davul, a double-sided drum (but since the start of the 20th century instruments such as the clarinet and even the trumpet are beginning to replace the zurna in some regions). Elsewhere the bağlama (lute), kaval, kabak kemane and ince çalgı ensembles which consist of oud (ud), the Western violin (keman) and hand drum (darbuka) are in evidence.


It is seen that especially in the Aydın area in Aydın-Germencik, Aydın-İncirliova-Acarlar, Aydın-Koçarlı-Şenköy and Aydın-Umurlu-Kocagür;  in the Muğla area in Muğla-Milas-Selimiye and Muğla-Milas-Dibekdere kaba zurna bands (teams) make their livings by music. These musicians play especially in wedding ceremonies (only in bridegroom’s house) and other activities such as folk dances, camel wrestlings, various celebrations and festivals etc.


Altough it is said that the name of zurna[6] comes from the Persian words sur  and nay, there are ideas about that the word comes from Arabic and Turkish origin. Kaba zurna which has about two octave sound , is 55 cm in length and it is the longest instrument of zurna family. It has 7-8 mm diametered 8 melody holes, 7 of which are on the front part and one of them is on the back part. 3 of these front holes are closed with 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers of right hand and hole on the back is closed with right thumb, so the 4th finger is not used  thus the other 4 holes are closed with 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers of left hand, left thumb is used to hold and balance the zurna. The performers that use their hands reversely are said to be left-handed.


(Personal interviews: Sadettin Doğan, Germencik-1997; Basri Eğriboyun, Germencik-1997; Doğan Zentur, Germencik-1997; Hasan Akay, Milas-1996; Veli Akay, Dibekdere-1997; Dursun Külahlı, Dibekdere-1997; Dursun Girgin, Dibekdere-1998; Turgut Boncuk, Ulukonak-1990, Hasan Girgin, Dibekdere-2003).


The part which extends like funnel shape from where melody holes finish is called as kalpak, and also there are 5-6 mm diametered 7 holes called as devil holes (cin deliği) in 3 lines (3 in the upper, 1 in the middle and 3 in the lower part of the kalpak) which are filled with wax, paper or similar materials for tuning on kalpak (Dursun Külahlı, personal interview, Dibekdere-2007).


There is a part called fasla or başlık which goes through the body and attaches the body and the reed (kamış) in the part that zurna blown. The reed is attached to a thin pipe called lüle. Also for making breath reversing technique easier a round shape piece called ağızlık is attached over lüle. The sound of the reed comes out from the vibration of opening and closing of an outer hole which has been formed into an ellips by crunching a tiny cylinder (Personal interviews: Basri Eğriboyun, Germencik-2007, Dursun Külahlı, Dibekdere-2007).


The intonation of kaba zurna is very difficult. Due to the wideness of the holes; diesises and flats could easily come out, by blowing technique, sound can be changed in an interval without changing the finger position depending on the reed.


It is known that kaba zurna was used in the mehter, karagöz (shadow theatre) and orta oyunu (comedy plays) and court music in the Ottoman period (Ötken, Tamer. http://www.angelfire.com/art2/otken/kullanim.htm). Today usually it is used in Thrace (Edirne-Kırklareli) and mehter, in West Anatolia (Aydın-Muğla) and Central Anatolia (Kırıkkale-Kırşehir). Performing techniques in these regions are all different.


Like all zurna family, in Thrace and mehter generally the tonic is defined in accordance with the makam of the melody and the sound comes out in 5-finger position accepted as Dügah (A) pitch; the tonic generally used in Aydın and Muğla is 7-finger also called as kaba düzen and the upper fourth of that is 4-finger. In the region the tonics are defined x is defined as “in x-finger” or “in x” where x is the number of closed holes in the front part of the body and hence it is the number of used fingers for closing these holes, for example “in 3-finger” or “in 3”. Whatever the tonic of the makam is, all melodies are performed as transposed to these pitches


(Aydın, 1997:44; 2001a:51; 2005:47; personal interviews: Sadettin Doğan, Germencik-1997; Basri Eğriboyun, Germencik-1997; Doğan Zentur, Germencik-1997; Hasan Akay, Milas-1996; Veli Akay, Dibekdere-1997; Dursun Külahlı, Dibekdere-1997; Dursun Girgin, Dibekdere-1998; Turgut Boncuk, Ulukonak-1990; Hasan Girgin, Dibekdere-2003).


However some slow zeybek melodies in local repertoires have their own tonics in the way they have been performed coming from various reasons. For example, in Aydın, performing İki Parmak Zeybeği in 2-finger, Kuruoğlu Zeybeği in 3-finger, Soğukkuyu Zeybeği in 4-finger, Elifoğlu Zeybeği in 6-finger (Personal interviews: Sadettin Doğan, Germencik-1997; Basri Eğriboyun, Germencik-1997; Doğan Zentur, Germencik-1997); and in Muğla performing İki Parmak Zeybeği in 2-finger, Soğukkuyu Zeybeği in 3-finger, İnce Hava in 4-finger, Eski Ferayi in 6-finger (Hasan Akay, personal interview, Milas-1996) have become traditional; however today these tonics have been started to be left, even present zurna players consider ability to transpose melodies in any tonic as expertness and the opposite as insufficiency (Personal interviews: Dursun Külahlı, Dibekdere-1997; Dursun Girgin, Dibekdere-1998). For some of the musicians, these traditional tonics should be used (Personal interviews: Hasan Akay, Milas-1996; Veli Akay, Dibekdere-1997, Turgut Boncuk, Ömerler-1999).


In Thrace and mehter the reed attached to the body horizontally and it is positioned between the lips during performance. In Aydın and Muğla the reed is used vertically and put into mouth till middle part of lüle and played in the space become in mouth. In this playing technique ağızlık is attached on lüle (Ötken, Tamer. http://www.angelfire.com/art2/otken/uflemeteknigi.htm).


Although in Aydın and Muğla one or more drone zurnas (dem zurna) are used (homophony); in Thrace and mehter usually drone feature is used in taksims and in all other melodies other zurnas company to soloist zurna or all zurnas play the melody all together (heterophony). In West Anatolia, in some regions except from Aydın and Muğla, for example in İzmir a similar heterophonic technique is used.


(Personal interviews: Ramazan Onur, İzmir-1999; Yılmaz Okyay, İzmir-1999; Mehmet Ündev, Ulukent-1999; Nebi Kayan, İzmir-1999).


On the other hand vibration which is used often and a very significant technique in the performance of kaba zurna (it should not be confused with tremolo done with fingers) is done by beating tongue to the reed in the mouth space in Aydın and Muğla, in Thrace and mehter it is obtained with shaking the reed upside down which is positioned between the lips with the help of the lips and the chin.


About performing techniques of kaba zurna in Thrace and Muğla, Dursun Girgin, Dursun Külahlı and Veli Akay, kaba zurna musicians from Dibekdere, said “Trachians plays zurna like clarinet, we play zurna like zurna. Playing our zurnas requires very strong breath and lung” (Personal interview, Muğla-Milas-Dibekdere-1998).


Davul (drum) is used for rhythm in Aydın and Muğla. However, the davuls in Aydın and Muğla have smaller diameters from the other davuls. Their diameter is approximately 60cm. Calf skin is stretched on both sides of a circular frame made of walnut tree. It is hanged over the shoulder of the player with a strap and it is played by beating the skin on the right side with a thick stick (tokmak) made of walnut tree and the skin on the left with a thin stick (çubuk) generally made of willow tree.


(Personal interviews: Sadettin Doğan, Germencik-1997; Basri Eğriboyun, Germencik-1997; Doğan Zentur, Germencik-1997; Hasan Akay, Milas-1996; Veli Akay, Dibekdere-1997; Dursun Külahlı, Dibekdere-1997; Dursun Girgin, Dibekdere-1998).


In a kaba zurna band (team) in Aydın and Muğla, while soloist zurna plays the melody, dem zurnas usually blows in the tonic and the davuls handles the rhythm function. Although kaba zurna bands could be consisted of at least 3 people (1 soloist zurna, 1 dem zurna and 1 davul) most band are consisted of 5 people; 1 soloist zurna, 2 dem zurnas and 2 davuls. According to the activity, one can meet more crowded bands (1 soloist zurna, 3 dem zurnas, 4 davuls etc) or more than one band. Thus, they can perform in the activities of having long duration (3-4 days) such as local wedding ceremonies, they can rest between the performances or more than one band can perform at the same time.


Today it is seen that the number of people who make their livings by playing kaba zurna is decreasing significantly due to bad economical conditions. In local wedding ceremonies as an alternative to kaba zurna bands, in bridegroom house or in bride house, ince çalgı bands called also as bando which could make music and in last years keyboard performers make music; wedding ceremony owners who do not want music because of mostly their religious ideas make their weddings with Islamic ceremonies. The development of CD technology and media tools have negative function on local musicians.


Although musicians have difficulties in finding jobs since the wedding owner can not afford the money for the musicians or can afford less than expected, the main reason of that is increase in the cost of the wedding with the consumption of alcoholic drinks. Also the wedding owners may not call musicians because they do not want alcohol in the wedding due to religious reasons and some wedding owners do not choose kaba zurna bands because they do not consider traditional weddings modern.


In addition, for musicians the main income is tips they taken from the audience and the money given to ones dancing called orta parası (arena money) rather than the payment taken from wedding owners. So, it is rumoured that musicians were used to pay to wedding owners for playing and taking arena money in weddings previously (Abdurrahim Karademir, personal interview, Aydın-2001).


If the zeybek samples collected in West Anatolia examined, one can mention about the existance of a regional repertorie. The repertoire used by local musicians transmitted through generations orally in chain (silsile) consist in master-student relationship (meşk)[7]. This the reason of why soloist zurna is called as usta (master), and dem zurna as çırak (apprentice) in a kaba zurna band. However for davul performers, a similar nomenclature is not mentioned.


As one master should have more than one student, a student could learn traditional repertoire from more than one master. During the transmission the first step is recording the melodic and the rhytmic patterns into memory, and the second step is performing these patterns. At this point üslup (style), which could be described as the performance in one's own style within tradition, comes to the scene.


The products in the regional repertoire is orally transmitted and that's why the performers did not need to use a music notation technique since their music has not evolved in a way similar to polyphonic music.


In an environment that repertoire is orally transmitted and any music notation is not used, it is obvious that the transmitted products may differ less or more, the variants of the products may occur, even at the same time the different versions could exist. Due to the concept of the originality of the traditional products could not make so much sense, it is not possible to determine which version is the original one.


“The different versions of a performed product depends on the willing or mood of the performer, social status or demands of audience in moments.this situation is indication of dynamism in terms of tradition. Thus, less or more different new versions of product could be produced in each performing. So all versions which are produced in such a tradition are equally valid. These produced variants and versions certainly have something in common. In each period these have to suit to the musical taste of the period.” Cem Behar (1998:81)



It should not be forgotten that some products could not be transmitted through generations since any music notation is not used, however, it means choice, elimination and novation of the products at the same time.


For a musician; it is a significant advantage to have a well-known master. Usually they start to make music at the ages of 7-8. Although zurna or davul is chosen according to present needs and personel choices, usually they start with dem zurna. At that point, the children want to play the instrument that is played in their families and generally it is the instrument that their fathers play. On the other hand, it should not be ignored that a master can only teach the playing of a instrument that he can play (Dursun Külahlı, personal interview, Dibekdere Köyü-2007).


Due to the need of very strong and continuous breath for playing zurna, the technique called circular breathing is learnt by making students blow into a water filled glass with a pipe. Afterwards, the same technique is applied on dem zurna, some melodies are tried and pass through zurna. However, one can be a master and starts to perform in wedding ceremonies after he completed his military service in other words at the age of 21-22 (Dursun Külahlı, personal interview, Dibekdere Köyü-2007). Another point is that in the region the majority of the musicians are relatives and the age of marriage is below the average that is 17-18.


During the circular breathing, while the performer blows the instrument, takes breath using his nose at the same time so the circulation is provided. Since the tonics are blown by dem zurnas continuously, circular breathing is very significant for the continuous performance of the music. To be able to do this process continuously, the reed used should be soft. Since the reeds used for soloist zurnas are harder than the ones used for dem zurnas, it is not possible to do circular breathing continuously. That's why in the performance of a soloist zurna there could be rests because of the melody structure.


An good zurna performer should have good hearing besides strong breath and fast fingers. So zurna student learn local repertoire from the performances of his master. Also via CDs he has chance to listen the performances other masters that he can not listen lively.


In davul performance, a good sense of rhythm beside a good hearing is needed. In the learning step, the melodic and rhytmic patterns in the local repertoire are learnt, in other words, he learns which rhytmic pattern is used in which part of the melody. The more davul player learns, he starts to play the rhytmic patterns with more velveles (rhytmic ornaments); the more zurna performer learns he starts to use melodic ornaments in melodies; in other words, they start to show their individual talents and styles.


Davul performer should know melodies as much as zurna performer does, follow the melody on zurna performance, and especially in slow zeybek perfomances he also follows the dancer. For that reason, slow zeybeks are shown as the most difficult melodies to be performed. In slow zeybeks the relation among zurna performer,  performer and the dancer provides us a melodic and rhytmic flexibility.


Although they are connected to all kinds of cultures; the regional repertoires of Aydın and Muğla are very different from each other except from a few common products and we see how local musicians are keen to protect and keep on their own traitions due to developed media tools. Inevitably, daily-popular melodies take their place in the repertoire parallel to demands of audience.


In further part, an attempt to analyze samples transmitted via master- student relationship in terms of melody and rhythm and comment about the differentiation process will be done.


1. Aydın Soğukkuyu Zeybeği. Hüseyin Doğan. Çokran Plak. Bursa-197?.

2. Aydın Soğukkuyu Zeybeği. Sadettin Doğan. Ege Video. İzmir-1987. MC B3.

3. Aydın Soğukkuyu Zeybeği. Tibet Var. Servet Yapım. Denizli-200?. CD Track 9.


If these examples are analyzed, it is seen that the performers in a chain (silsile) have been performing the same melody by using traditional melodic and rhythmic patterns in their own styles. Furthermore it can be said that the tempo has become slower and the traditional tonic has not been used in recent performances (Table-1).





9 (s)

=3 (s)

+2 (s)

+2 (s)

+2 (s)






























Table 1 – The parameters related to three different performances of Aydın Soğukkuyu Zeybeği.





1.       Akdoğu, Onur. Bir Başkaldırı Öyküsü–Zeybekler – Tarihi-Ezgileri-Dansları. İzmir-2004

2.       Aydın, Ali Fuat. Kuruoğlu Zeybeği. Halkbilimi / Sayı 3, s.44 / Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Türk Halk Bilimi Topluluğu / Ankara-1997

3.       Aydın, Ali Fuat. Muğla Yöresinden Bir Derleme Problemi: İnce Hava-İnceoğlu İkilemi. Halkbilimi / Sayı 14, s.51 / Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Türk Halk Bilimi Topluluğu / Ankara-2001

4.       Aydın, Ali Fuat. Milas Zeybeği-Rodos Ada Zeybeği. Halkbilimi / Sayı 15, s.94 / Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Türk Halk Bilimi Topluluğu / Ankara-2001

5.       Aydın, Ali Fuat. Geleneksel Türk Müziğinde “Usta-Çırak” İlişkisinin Gerekliliği Üzerine Çeşitli Görüşler. Halkbilimi / Sayı 16, s.34 / Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Türk Halk Bilimi Topluluğu / Ankara-2002

6.       Aydın, Ali Fuat. Aydın Kadıoğlu Zeybeği. Halkbilimi / Sayı 17, s.52 / Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Türk Halk Bilimi Topluluğu / Ankara-2002

7.       Aydın, Ali Fuat. TRT THM Repertuarında Bulunan Üç Ayrı “Aydın Zeybeği” Üzerine. Halkbilimi / Sayı 18, s.55 / Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Türk Halk Bilimi Topluluğu / Ankara-2003

8.       Aydın, Ali Fuat. Aydın Çine ve Karpuzlu Yörelerine Ait Üç Farklı “İki Parmak Zeybeği” Üzerine. Halkbilimi / Sayı 19, s.46 / Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Türk Halk Bilimi Topluluğu / Ankara-2005

9.       Hoşsu, Mustafa. Geleneksel Türk Halk Müziği Nazariyatı. İzmir-1997

10.   Karademir, Abdurrahim. Zeybek Dansları. Halkbilimi Araştırmaları 1.Kitap. İstanbul-2003

11.   Karademir, Abdurrahim. Dünden Bugüne Zeybekler ve Oyunları. Efeler. Haz. Ersal YAVİ. Aydın-1991

12.   Mirzaoğlu, F.Gülay. “Güdüşlü'nün Çeşmesi”: Bir Türkünün Yaratılış Hikayesi Bağlamında Tema, İcra ve Müzikal Yapı. Türkbilig 2003/5:86-93. Ankara-2003

13.   Ötken, Tamer. http://www.angelfire.com/art2/otken/giris.htm

14.   Öztürk, Okan Murat. Zeybek Kültürü ve Müziği. İstanbul-2006




1.       Abdurrahim Karademir, İzmir-1996

2.       Basri Eğriboyun, Germencik-1997

3.       Bekir Nalbantoğlu, Fethiye-1998

4.       Doğan Zentur, Germencik-1997

5.       Dursun Girgin, Dibekdere-1998

6.       Dursun Külahlı, Dibekdere-1997

7.       Emin Tenekeci, Aydın-1995

8.       Hamdi Özbay, Fethiye-1998

9.       Hasan Akay, Milas-1996

10.   Hasan Girgin, Dibekdere-2003

11.   Hasan Serdar, Muğla-1999

12.   Hüseyin Ünal, Ankara-1994

13.   İsmet Kanavuzlar, Muğla-1999

14.   Lütfi Nalbantoğlu, Fethiye-1998

15.   Mehmet Ali Eren, Muğla-1999

16.   Memiş Günüç, Muğla-1996

17.   Sadettin Doğan, Germencik-1997

18.   Seyhan Çalgıcı, Gölcük-1999

19.   Turgut Boncuk, Ulukonak-1990

20.   Veli Akay, Dibekdere-1997



[1]           The zeybek dance is strictly defined as a solo dance, but group dance displays are  sometimes encountered as well.

[2]           For further information on this topic see: KARADEMİR, Abdurrahim. Zeybek Dansları. Halkbilimi Araştırmaları 1.Kitap. İstanbul-2003; KARADEMİR, Abdurrahim. Dünden Bugüne Zeybekler ve Oyunları. Efeler. Haz. Ersal YAVİ. Aydın-1991; AVCI, Ali Haydar. Zeybeklik ve Zeybekler Tarihi. İstanbul-2004; AVCI, Ali Haydar. Zeybeklik ve Zeybekler-Bir Başkaldırı Geleneğinin Toplumsal ve Kültürel Boyutları. Hückelhoven-2001; YETKİN, Sabri. Ege'de Eşkıyalar. İstanbul-1996; ÖZTÜRK, Okan Murat. Zeybek Kültürü ve Müziği. İstanbul-2006; AKDOĞU, Onur. Bir Başkaldırı Öyküsü – Zeybekler – Tarihi-Ezgileri-Dansları. İzmir-2004; KELEŞ, Tuncay. Anadolu Kültüründe Zeybekler. Gaziantep-1998; YAVUZ, Behiç Galip. Zeybekler – Tarihçeleri, Özellikleri, Türküleri ve Ödemiş Zeybekleri. İzmir-2006; YAVİ, Ersal. Efeler – Kökenleri-Eylemleri-Töreleri-Dansları-Giysileri. Aydın-1991.

[3]           For further information on this topic see ÖZTÜRK, Okan Murat. Zeybek Kültürü ve Müziği. İstanbul-2006.

[4]           For further information on this topic see AKDOĞU, Onur. Bir Başkaldırı Öyküsü – Zeybekler – Tarihi-Ezgileri-Dansları. İzmir-2004.

[5]           For further information on this topic see MİRZAOĞLU, F.Gülay. “Güdüşlü'nün Çeşmesi”: Bir Türkünün Yaratılış Hikayesi Bağlamında Tema, İcra ve Müzikal Yapı. Türkbilig 2003/5:86-93. Ankara-2003

[6]     For general information on zurna see : Ötken, Tamer. http://www.angelfire.com/art2/otken/giris.htm

[7]              For further information on meşk see: BEŞİROĞLU, Şehvar. Türk Musikisinde Üslup ve Tavır Açısından Meşk. IV. İstanbul Türk Müziği Günleri Türk Müziğinde Eğitim Sempozyumu. Ankara-1998.

                BEHAR, Cem. Musikiden Müziğe-Osmanlı/Türk Müziği: Gelenek ve Modernlik. İstanbul-2005

                BEHAR, Cem. Aşk Olmayınca Meşk Olmaz-Geleneksel Osmanlı/Türk Müziğinde Öğretim ve İntikal. İstanbul-1998

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