Geographic Region: West Asia
Country of origin: Turkey
Subregion: Black Sea Coast
SvH No.: 321.322
The kemençe ("kemenche" in English orthography) is a three-stringed Turkish bowed lute. In Turkey, there are two main types of kemençe: a pear-shaped fiddle of classical music called the fasıl kemençesi, and the more elongated, box-shaped Karadeniz kemençesi used in folk music performances along the Black Sea coast (Picken 1975: 296-7). The example shown here is of the latter variety. The soundboard is made out of spruce, with two long, narrow soundholes. The body is carved out of a single piece of wood (see Picken 1975: 295-6).
Tuning and technique
The kemençe has three strings, which are usually tuned in fourths. Some feature fretless fingerboards which are removable; many performers play the instrument without a fingerboard (Picken 1975: 297). The example pictured here lacks a fingerboard. The instrument is held upright, and may be played seated or standing, or even while leading a form of chain-dance called horon (Picken 1975: 301). Melodies bowed on a higher string are accompanied by a drone or by parallel fourths played on a lower string, and in some cases, all three strings may be bowed together. The kemençe player typically plays exclusively in first position.
The kemençe is played to accompany folk dance or singing, and frequently for solo instrumental performance. Melodies are short and repetitive, but good kemençe players know a number of variations of each melody that they perform over the course of numerous repetitions. The music performed on kemençe is noteworthy for its rhythmic complexity and extremely fast tempo.
Picken, Laurence. 1975. Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey. London: Oxford University Press.
Last Modified: 09-Feb-2009TOP