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Kemenche: Wikis


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String instrument
Other names doksar
Classification stringed
Hornbostel-Sachs classification 321.322
(Necked box lute)
Related instruments
lyra, vielle
Antique Pontian war dance with swords accompanied by kemenche in Trabzon, 1910 postcard

The term kemenche (Kurdish: kemançe, Armenian: K'amântcha - Քյամանչա , Laz: Ç'ilili - ჭილილი,Azerbaijani: kamança, Persian: کمانچه, Greek: κεμεντζές, λύρα) is used to describe two types of three-stringed bowed musical instruments:

  1. a bottle-shaped lute, closely related to the Cappadocian Kemane, found in the Black Sea region of Asia Minor, it is also known as the "kementche of Laz" or Pontic kemenche and
  2. a pear-shaped bowl lyre known as Classical kemenche (Turkish: Armudî kemençe), found mainly in Istanbul and the Eastern regions of Turkey and is closely related to the Byzantine lyra (Turkish: Rum Kemençe).

Both types of kemenche are played in the downright position, either by resting it on the knee when sitting, or held in front of the player when standing. It is always played "braccio", that is, with the tuning head uppermost. The kemenche bow is called the doksar (Greek: δοξάρι), the Greek term for bow.



Its name derives from the Persian Kamancheh, the name is Persian and means merely "small bow".[1] Al-Kādirī, in his classification of musical instruments, mentioned the kemandje similar to the Arabic rabab and the Byzantine lyra (Margaret J. Kartomi, 1990). In Greece and the Pontic Greek diaspora, it is known as the lyra or the "kementzes": it is the main instrument used in Pontic music.

Classical Kemenche

Classical Kemenche (Armudî Kemençe)
side view

The kemençe of Turkish classical music (Armudî kemençe) is a small instrument closely related to the Byzantine lyra (Turkish: Rum kemençe), 40-41 cm in length and 14-15 cm wide. Its pear-shaped body, elliptical pegbox and neck are fashioned from a single piece of wood. Its sound-board has two D-shaped soundholes of some 4x3 cm, approximately 25 mm apart, the rounded side facing outwards. The bridge is placed between, one side resting on the face of the instrument and the other on the sound post. A small hole 3-4 mm in diameter is bored in the back, directly below the bridge, and a ‘back channel’ (‘sırt oluğu’) begins from a triangular raised area (‘mihrap’) which is an extension of the neck, widens in the middle, and ends in a point near the tailpiece (“kuyruk takozu”) to which the gut or metal strings are attached. There is no nut to equalize the vibrating lengths of the strings.

Kemenche in production

The pegs, which are 14-15 cm long, form a triangle on the head, the middle string being 37-40 mm longer than the strings to either side of it. The vibrating lengths of the short strings are 25.5-26 cm. All the strings are of gut but the yegâh string is silver-wound. Today players may use synthetic racquet strings, aluminium-wound gut, synthetic silk or chromed steel violin strings.

Formerly the head, neck and back channel might be inlaid with ivory, mother-of-pearl or tortoise shell. Some kemençes made for the palace or mansions by great makers such as Büyük İzmitli or Baron had their backs and even the edges of the sound holes completely covered with such inlays with engraved and inlaid motifs.

Pontic kemenche


The Pontic kemenche, lately often called Pontic lyra, is closely related to the Cappadocian Kemane, the European rebec and even the later dancing master’s kit or pochette fiddle. While many folk fiddles from Southeastern Europe to the Indian sub-continent, including the Indian sarangi and the Bulgarian gadulka, are fingered by pressure of the finger nails of the left hand against the strings, there are others whose strings are depressed onto the neck of the instrument by the player’s finger pads in the way violin strings are pressed, such as the large Cappadocian kemane (see below and the kemenche. The kemenche may be a development of an instrument which had an elongated water gourd for its body.

The center of lyra playing activity seems to have been the district of Trabzon and the contiguous areas of the districts to the west and east of it as well as to the south, Giresun, Rize, and Gümüşhane whose main town was Arghyrόpolis. West past Tirebolu towards Kerasounta/Giresun the number of lyra players begins to decrease and the lute as well as the violin (keman) and tambourine (tef) begin playing a more important role. Further west into the districts of the Kotyora/Ordu and before reaching the town of Samsun the lyra has virtually disappeared. East of Trabzon, after Rize, the kemenche faces competition from the bagpipes (Pontic dankiyo/tulum)).


Pontian Lyra
# Part Name Meaning Function
1 Tepe, To Kifal Top, Head Peg holder (same as the body)
2 Kulak, Otia Fist, Ears Pegs
3 Boyun, Goula Neck Place for hand (same as the body)
4 Kravat, Spaler Bed, Slabbering bib Fingerboard
5 Kapak Cover Soundboard
6 Ses delikleri, Rothounia Sound holes, Nostrals Soundholes
7 Eşek, Gaidaron Donkey, Rider Bridge (pine)
8 Palikar Stalward Young Man Tailpiece
9 Gövde, Soma Body Body (plum, mulberry, walnut, juniper)
10 Solucan, Stoular Worm Sound post (inside)
11 Teller, Hordes Strings Strings

In classical use the three strings are usually tuned to the tonic, fourth and octave (yegâh (low re), rast (sol) and neva (high re)). Other common tunings include: tonic-octave-high fourth, low fifth-tonic-fourth and many others based on perfect fourths. Since the instrument was often played alone, the tuning was often done according to the preference of the musician and his voice's range.

The musicians usually play two or all three strings at the same time, utilizing the open string(s) as a drone. Sometimes they play the melody on two strings, giving a harmony in parallel fourths. They tend to play with many trills and embellishments and with unusual harmonies.

Related Instruments

Instruments known as Kabak, Cepane, Kemane, Igil, Rabab, the Hegit of Hatay province, the Rubab of Southeastern Turkey, the Kamancha of Azerbaijan and the Ghaychak, (Gicak, Giccek, Gijek, Gıçek, or Cicak), as well as the Aylı Kopuz and the Igil, Iklig, Kiyak, Yık, Iyık or Ik among the central Asian Turks all come from the same origins. The Kobyz is of special interest as it, like the Kemenche, has a body entirely of wood.

The Kemane is a musical instrument from the area of Ata-Pazar-Poulantzaki-Ortou-Kerasounta in the Black Sea, played by Kapadokes (the people whose origins are located in Kappadokia (a wide area in Asia Minor). Its tuning is in fifths and it is without sympathetic strings. Kabak kemane is an instrument without frets and produces chromatic sounds easily, a bowed Turkish folk instrument that shows variation according to region.

The body, or tekne, is generally made from a vegetable gourd but wooden ones are also common. The neck is made from hardwood, and the fingerboard is not fretted. A thin wooden or metal rod extends from the lower end of the body, and this rests on the player's knee. This enables the player to move the instrument while playing.

The wooden bow has horse hair attached, which is drawn across the strings to produce sound. Traditionally, gut strings called kiriş were used, but modern day instruments use steel strings. The instrument may also be played by plucking the strings.

The Chuniri (Georgian: ჭუნირი) is the Georgian spiked bowed lute with horsehair strings. It consists of body cut out of a whole piece of fir or pine wood with neck attached, of birch or oak, on which the head has two or three holes for tuning pegs. Its open side is covered with leather. A Rachian Chianuri has a boat-like body and two strings a major third apart , while Khevsuretian and Tushetian Chianuris have round bodies and three strings tuned to the first, second and third. The musician touches the strings with finger-pads without touching the neck, giving the Chianuri a flageolet sound. The bow touches all strings simultaneously.

The lyra (Latin: lira) of the Byzantine Empire was pear-shaped bowed string instrument similar instrument to the Arab rebab, considered as the ancestor of many European bowed instruments such as the rebec and the fiddle (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009). The Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911) was the first to describe the Byzantine lyra as a typical Byzantine instrument (Margaret J. Kartomi, 1990). Lyra is common until today, in variations, through a vast area of the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Examples are the Bulgarian Gadulka, the Calabrian Lira in Italy and the lyra of Crete and the Dodecanese, except that in Crete, instrument-making has been influenced by that of the violin during the island's Venetian rule. The Calabrian Lira is an Italian folk fiddle with a short neck, built from one piece of solid wood, with a pear-shaped back and three bowel chords. A common instrument in southern Italy: in Calabria there are several different sizes and forms.

Vielle, vihuela, viol and fiddle. The vielle was, like the rebec one of the most common bowed instruments in Europe during the later Middle Ages. While the instrument's origins are hard to pinpoint, the bow appears to have been used in Spain and Italy in the tenth century, based on the practice in Arab (rebab) and Byzantine countries (lira).

The kamaicha is of special interest as it connects the Indian subcontinent to western Asia. The kamaicha is a bowed lyre of the Monghniar people of west Rajasthan which borders on the Sind province, now in Pakistan. The whole instrument is one piece of wood, the spherical bowl extended into a neck and fingerboard; the resonator is covered with leather and the upper portion with wood. There are four strings which are the main ones and there are a number of subsidiary ones passing over a thin bridge.


The Lijerica- A Traditional Musical Instrument of the Croatian Adriatic.Among traditional Croatian musical instruments, an exceptional place is heldby a string instrument know in the Adriatic area as the lira, lirica or, inthe southern, Dubrovnik, area as the lijerica. It is a solo instrument whichmost often accompanies a dance, less frequently singing. This instrumentwas user by traditional performers in north-eastern Istria, on the northAdriatic islands (in particular on Losinj, Rab, Silba, and Olib), on all ofthe Dalmatian islands, around Makarska, in the Neretva valley, aroundDubrovnik, on the Peljesac peninsula, in the Zupa and the Konavli.[2]


  • Özhan Öztürk (2005). Karadeniz: Ansiklopedik Sözlük Black Sea Encyclopedic Dictionary. 2 Cilt (2 Volumes). Heyamola Yayıncılık. İstanbul. ISBN 975-6121-00-9
  • Margaret J. Kartomi: On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago Press, 1990
  • Petrides, Th. "Traditional Pontic dances accompanied by the Pontic lyra
  • Images taken from "Pontian Music" (
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments: Londra, 1984.
  • Asuman Onaran: Kemençe Seslerinin Armonik Analizi, İstanbul, 1959.
  • M. Nazmi Özalp: Türk Sanat Mûsikîsi Sazlarından Kemençe, Ankara, tarihsiz (1985’ten önce).
  • Laurence Picken: Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey, Londra, 1975.
  • Rauf Yekta: Türk Musikisi (çev: Orhan Nasuhioğlu), İstanbul, 1986.
  • Curt Sachs: The History of Musical Instruments, New York, 1940.
  • Hedwig Usbeck: “Türklerde Musıki Aletleri”, Musıki Mecmuası, no. 235 - 243, 1968 - 1969.
  • "lira." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 Feb. 2009
  1. ^ "Middle East Focus" (). The Strad: 50–2. July 2007. "The Persian word for bow is kaman, and kamancheh is the diminutive form. The classical kamancheh developed from its folk equivalent–and there’s still a lively tradition of folk kamancheh in Iran today. At its height, the Persian empire exerted a great cultural influence across the Middle East, so there are similar instruments in Turkey (kemençe), Armenia (kamancha), Azerbaijan (kemanche), Iraq (djose) and central Asia (gidjak), and spike fiddles of various kinds are found from the Balkans to China and south-east Asia.". 
  2. ^

See also

External links




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