How Is Folk Music Integrated Into Turkish Culture?

Have you ever wondered how folk music is seamlessly woven into the fabric of Turkish culture? From weddings to social gatherings and even protest movements, folk music holds a significant place in the lives of Turks. It is not merely a form of entertainment, but a powerful tool for storytelling, preservation of traditions, and expression of emotions. This article will explore the various ways in which folk music has become an integral part of Turkish culture, highlighting its rich history, diverse genres, and its enduring influence on contemporary Turkish music. Get ready to embark on a musical journey through the heart and soul of Turkey.

Traditional Instruments Used in Turkish Folk Music

Saz (Baglama)

One of the most iconic instruments used in Turkish folk music is the saz, also known as the baglama. This long-necked string instrument has been an integral part of Turkish culture for centuries. It typically has three double or quadruple strings, which are plucked or strummed using a pick called a mızrap. The saz is known for its rich and soothing sound, and it is often played solo or as part of an ensemble.


The kanun is a traditional Turkish instrument that belongs to the family of stringed instruments. Resembling a horizontal harp, the kanun has a trapezoidal wooden body and multiple sets of strings that are plucked with the fingers. It is often played in Turkish folk music ensembles and provides a melodic and rhythmic foundation for other instruments.


The ney is a wind instrument that is widely used in Turkish folk music. It is a type of flute made from a hollow cane or reed, with a distinctive sound that is warm and haunting. The ney is played by blowing air into a vertical opening at the top of the instrument, while the musician covers and uncovers the finger holes to produce different notes. It is considered one of the oldest musical instruments in the world and is often associated with spiritual and meditative music.


The darbuka, also known as the goblet drum, is a percussion instrument that plays a crucial role in Turkish folk music. It has a wide, rounded body made from clay, metal, or wood, and is played by hand. The musician taps on the darbuka’s membrane with their fingers, palm, or a small stick to create a variety of rhythms and tones. The darbuka is known for its lively and energetic sound, and it is often used to accompany dance performances.


The kemence is a traditional Turkish bowed string instrument that resembles a small violin. It has three metal strings and is played with a bow, while the musician uses their fingers to press the strings against the fingerboard to produce different pitches. The kemence is popular in Turkish folk music, especially in the Black Sea region of Turkey. Its melancholic and expressive sound adds depth and emotion to traditional melodies.

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Distinct Regional Styles of Turkish Folk Music

Central Anatolian Folk Music

Central Anatolian folk music is characterized by its vibrant and lively rhythms, often accompanied by instruments such as the saz, darbuka, and zurna (a traditional woodwind instrument). This style of folk music reflects the rich cultural heritage of the region and is often performed during celebrations and social gatherings.

Thracian Folk Music

Thracian folk music is primarily associated with the Thrace region, which is located in the European part of Turkey. It is known for its fast-paced and energetic melodies, which are often accompanied by instruments like the kaval (a shepherd’s flute) and the davul (a double-headed drum). Thracian folk music is deeply rooted in the rural traditions of the region and is often performed during weddings and festivals.

Eastern Anatolian Folk Music

Eastern Anatolian folk music is influenced by the diverse cultures and ethnicities of the region, including Kurdish, Armenian, and Arab communities. This style of folk music often features heart-wrenching melodies and powerful vocals, reflecting the hardships and struggles of the region’s history. Instruments like the saz, duduk (a double reed instrument), and dhol (a drum) are commonly used in Eastern Anatolian folk music.

Aegean Folk Music

Aegean folk music is characterized by its soft and melodic tunes, reflecting the coastal lifestyle and laid-back atmosphere of the Aegean region. The saz, clarinet, and accordion are frequently used instruments in Aegean folk music, which often accompanies traditional dances such as the hasapiko and the syrtos. This style of folk music is closely tied to the sea and nature, with lyrics often depicting stories of love, longing, and the beauty of the region.

Mediterranean Folk Music

Mediterranean folk music encompasses the cultural traditions of the Mediterranean region in Turkey, including the cities of Antalya, Mersin, and Adana. This style of folk music is known for its lively and energetic rhythms, often accompanied by instruments like the davul, zurna, and bağlama. Mediterranean folk music reflects the region’s rich history of trade and exchange between different civilizations, and its melodies are often joyful and celebratory.

Historical Origins of Turkish Folk Music

Influence of Central Asian Turkic Nomads

The roots of Turkish folk music can be traced back to the Central Asian Turkic nomads who migrated to Anatolia in the 11th century. These nomads brought with them their musical traditions, which became intertwined with the local cultures and gave birth to what is now known as Turkish folk music. The influence of Central Asian musical instruments, melodies, and poetic traditions is still evident in Turkish folk music today.

Ottoman Empire Era

During the Ottoman Empire era, Turkish folk music flourished and underwent further development, thanks to the patronage of the Ottoman sultans. The sultans established music schools called “meşkhane” and supported musicians and composers. This led to the emergence of new musical styles and the incorporation of elements from Arabic, Persian, and Byzantine music into Turkish folk music. The Ottoman Empire era played a vital role in shaping the unique characteristics and diverse regional styles of Turkish folk music that exist today.

Influence from Persia and Byzantine Empire

The region that is now Turkey has a long history of cultural exchange with neighboring empires, such as Persia and the Byzantine Empire. During these periods of interaction, Turkish folk music was influenced by the musical traditions of these empires. Persian scales and melodic patterns, as well as Byzantine vocal traditions, found their way into Turkish folk music, adding depth and diversity to its repertoire.

Role of Folk Music in Turkish Festivals and Celebrations

Kurban Bayramı (Sacrifice Feast)

Kurban Bayramı, also known as Eid al-Adha, is one of the most important religious festivals in Turkey. It is a time of celebration and gratitude, and Turkish folk music plays a significant role in the festivities. Musicians often perform traditional songs and melodies, accompanying the joyful atmosphere of the festival. The saz, kanun, and ney are commonly heard during Kurban Bayramı, filling the air with their harmonious tunes.

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Newroz (Spring Festival)

Newroz, the spring equinox festival, holds great cultural and historical significance in Turkey. It is a celebration of new beginnings, rebirth, and the arrival of spring. Turkish folk music is an essential part of Newroz celebrations, with musicians playing traditional instruments and singing songs that reflect the themes of renewal and hope. Communities gather in open spaces, dancing and singing to the lively rhythms of folk music, creating a joyful and festive atmosphere.

Hıdırellez (Spring Festival)

Hıdırellez is another spring festival celebrated in Turkey, particularly in the Marmara and Aegean regions. It is a time of wish-making and is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. During Hıdırellez, Turkish folk music sets the mood for the festivities, with musicians playing traditional instruments and singing songs that are believed to bring good fortune. The atmosphere during Hıdırellez is filled with excitement and anticipation, as people gather to sing, dance, and celebrate together.

Folk Music’s Influence on Turkish Language and Poetry

Traditional Song Lyrics as a Source of Inspiration

Turkish folk music has had a significant influence on the Turkish language and poetry. Traditional folk songs often feature poetic and metaphorical lyrics that convey deep emotions and tell stories of love, nature, and social issues. Many Turkish poets and literary figures have drawn inspiration from folk songs, incorporating their themes, metaphors, and melodies into their own works. The poetic nature of folk music has helped shape the Turkish language, introducing new expressions and enriching the cultural fabric of the country.

Aşık Tradition: Poetry and Music Combined

The aşık tradition is a unique form of Turkish folk music that combines poetry and music. Aşıks are poet-musicians who compose and perform songs that reflect personal experiences, social issues, and philosophical ideas. Their songs are often accompanied by the saz and are characterized by their storytelling nature and improvisational style. The aşık tradition has been an integral part of Turkish folk music for centuries, preserving and transmitting oral poetry and musical traditions from one generation to the next.

The Significance of Dances Accompanying Turkish Folk Music


Horon is a traditional folk dance that originated in the Black Sea region of Turkey. It is characterized by its fast and dynamic movements, with dancers forming a circle and linking arms. The lively rhythms of Black Sea folk music, often accompanied by instruments like the kemençe and the tulum (a type of bagpipe), set the pace for the energetic movements of the dancers. Horon is not only a form of cultural expression but also a way to bring communities together and celebrate the shared heritage of the region.


Halay is a traditional group dance that is popular throughout Turkey, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. It is performed in a line or a circle, with dancers holding hands or linking arms. The music accompanying the halay is typically upbeat and lively, with instruments like the zurna and the davul setting the rhythm. Halay is often performed during weddings, festivals, and other joyful occasions, symbolizing unity, solidarity, and celebration.


Zeybek is a traditional folk dance that originated in western Anatolia, particularly in the Aegean region. It is characterized by its slow and majestic movements, reflecting the bravery and heroism associated with the zeybek warriors of the past. The music accompanying the zeybek is often melancholic and poignant, with instruments like the saz and the clarinet setting the emotional tone. Zeybek is not just a dance but a form of cultural expression that pays tribute to the region’s history and traditions.

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Turkish Folk Music: A Medium for Cultural Preservation

Revival of Traditional Instruments and Songs

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Turkish folk music, particularly in preserving and reviving traditional instruments and songs. Efforts have been made to restore and promote traditional instrument-making techniques, ensuring the continued production of saz, kanun, and ney. Additionally, folk music enthusiasts and musicians have been working to document and record traditional songs, making them accessible to a wider audience and preserving them for future generations.

Importance of Teaching Folk Music to the Younger Generation

Recognizing the cultural significance of Turkish folk music, efforts have been made to teach and expose the younger generation to this rich musical tradition. Music schools and conservatories offer classes on traditional Turkish instruments, allowing students to learn to play the saz, kanun, ney, and other instruments used in folk music. Local communities and cultural organizations also hold workshops and events to introduce young people to the different regional styles of Turkish folk music, ensuring its continuation and perpetuation.

Role of Folk Music in Turkish Weddings

Traditional Wedding Songs

Weddings in Turkey are occasions of great joy and celebration, and folk music plays an essential role in these festivities. Traditional wedding songs, known as “düğün havası” (wedding air), are an integral part of Turkish wedding ceremonies. These songs, often performed by a live band or ensemble, create a festive atmosphere and encourage guests to dance and celebrate. The lyrics of wedding songs typically express well wishes for the newlyweds and celebrate love and union.

Saz Evi Ensemble: Music for Special Occasions

The Saz Evi Ensemble is a renowned musical ensemble that specializes in Turkish folk music, particularly for special occasions like weddings. Composed of talented musicians who play a variety of traditional instruments, the Saz Evi Ensemble creates an enchanting and lively atmosphere with their performances. Their expertise in folk music adds a traditional and cultural touch to wedding celebrations, making them unforgettable experiences for the couple and their guests.

Influence of Turkish Folk Music on Popular Turkish Music

Incorporation of Folk Tunes and Instruments in Modern Music

Turkish folk music has had a significant influence on popular Turkish music, with many contemporary musicians incorporating folk tunes and instruments into their compositions. Artists like Sezen Aksu, Müslüm Gürses, and Selda Bağcan have taken inspiration from folk music, infusing it into their pop and rock songs. This fusion of traditional and modern elements has helped bridge the gap between different generations and has contributed to keeping Turkish folk music alive and relevant.

Folk-Inspired Music Genres in Turkey

In addition to the influence on popular music, Turkish folk music has also given rise to unique music genres that blend traditional elements with modern styles. Genres like Türkü, Halk Müziği (Turkish folk music), and Arabesk incorporate folk melodies, instruments, and rhythms into their compositions. These genres continue to be popular in Turkey, appealing to a wide audience and contributing to the diverse musical landscape of the country.

International Recognition of Turkish Folk Music

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

In 2012, Turkish folk music was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This recognition reflects the universal value and cultural significance of Turkish folk music, honoring its role in preserving and transmitting traditional knowledge and practices. The UNESCO inscription has helped raise awareness about Turkish folk music on a global scale and has encouraged efforts to safeguard and promote this rich cultural tradition.

Folk Music Festivals in Turkey

Turkey is home to numerous folk music festivals that celebrate the diverse regional styles and traditions of Turkish folk music. These festivals provide a platform for musicians, singers, and dancers to showcase their talents and share their cultural heritage with local and international audiences. Festivals like the International Istanbul Music Festival and the Bursa International Festival of Culture and Art attract performers and visitors from around the world, fostering cultural exchange and appreciation for Turkish folk music.

In conclusion, Turkish folk music is a vibrant and integral part of Turkish culture. From the traditional instruments used to the distinct regional styles, from the historical origins to its role in festivals and celebrations, folk music holds great significance. Its influence on language, poetry, dances, and weddings has solidified its role as a medium for cultural preservation. Moreover, Turkish folk music has had a profound impact on popular music and has gained international recognition as a unique and significant cultural heritage. As efforts continue to revive and transmit this rich tradition to future generations, Turkish folk music will undoubtedly remain a cherished and treasured aspect of Turkish culture.