Being the widest, the most elegant and sensitive stringed instrument of Turkish music instead of sound, tanbur was encountered in Mesopotamia at the beginning of 2000’s B.C. and it is thought that this stringed instrument has a background of four thousand years.


The deceased Sadettin Arel who wrote an article with regard to the book, called as The Music of the Sumerians, which was written by Francis W. Golpin famous for his research on Sumerian music attached the following footnote:


"On the 50th page of the mentioned book written in English language, there is an image of a boundary stone dating back to about 1600 years as from the birth of Christ. Embossed pictures of two men playing tanbur are seen on this stone.” This observation of Sadettin Arel indicates that the historical background of tanbur dates back to very old times. Sadettin Arel summarized the information he gave on the word of tanbur on the 35th and 36th pages of the abovementioned book in an article written for a Musical Magazine as follows:


"Sumer Turks used to call tanbur as (Pantur). Pan means bow in Sumerian language; Tur, on the other hand, means child and small.  So Pantur means small bow. Why was the tanbur called as bow? The underlying reason is that it is estimated that it was made of a small box which would increase the sound and a long neck and people were inspired from the hunting arc for the stringed instrument which is played by means of pressing on its strings on the long neck.


It is accepted as a highly reasonable possibility to manufacture a tanbur by way of adding some more strings on the bow used by such people and connect them to the harp or connect the stretched strings to the neck with a small box when it is thought that a hunting arc may produce such attractive and strong sound. That is why they called tanbur as pantur meaning small bow.

Various societies called this stringed instrument in the closest way to its original name and in accordance with their own culture as well. For instance the name of tanbur with three strings was pandura in older Greek language.  Having close contacts with the Sumerian Turks and taking many words from Sumerian and adapting them to their own language, the Georgian still call tanbur as panturi. Moreover, the name of tanbur in Armenian language is pantir.


In the light of the words specified above, we can understand that the word of tanbur is called almost in the same way in all languages with slight variations.  Only the French word tambour has no semantic relation with our stringed instrument.  Tambour means drum in French language. Thus, we should pay great attention while writing and pronouncing the name of tanbur and should write and pronounce the stringed instrument as tanbur in order not to give rise to a misunderstanding.  Just like the changes on it structure throughout many centuries, it is required to accept that the name of this stringed instrument was used by our ancestors with its current name. The original word pantur was finally changed as tanbur in time and in compliance with our own language. The name of this stringed instrument is not tambour as indicated in dictionaries.





As a currently used instrument, the first tanbur was seen with Kantemiroglu (birth: 1673, death: 1723). Tanbur was used by Dimitri Kantemir to express the sound system of Turkish music.

Tanburi Büyük Osman Bey, Tanburi İzak, Tanburi Cemil Bey, Kadı Fuad Efendi, Mesut Cemil Bey, Refik Fersan, İzzettin Ökte, Necdet Yaşar and Abdi Coşkun were some of the tanbur players who were the pacesetters at those periods in terms of manner.


Tanburi Cemil Bey developed a new manner which was involved abundant plectrum beats instead of the former tanbur manner with less plectrum beats; however, this manner was taught to his son, Mesud by,Kadı Fuat Efendi, who was the best student of him, not by Cemil Bey.

Today, tanbur manners can be divided into two groups as Okte-Batanay manner maintaining the manner of Izzettin Okte and Ercument Batanay and Necdet Yasar manner represented by Necdet Yasar and the students of him.


Ercument Batanay received education from Mesud Cemil in his childhood for a certain period of time whereas Necdet Yasar met with Mesud Cemil appreciating one of his improvisations at Istanbul Radio and a close friendship was established which lasted until his death.  Therefore, both figures had a close relationship with him.


Number of Frets: While Batanay ecol used 48 or even 42-43 frets at older times, the number of fret in the manner of Necdet Yasar may increase up to 65.

Number of Strings: Batanay used 7 strings one of which is single on the top while Necdet Yasar used 8 strings as double-string.


Necdet Yasar claimed that there were 8 strings on the instrument in the period of Selim, the 3rd and thus tanbur turned its basic form whereas Sadun Aksut suggested that the 8th string causes a tuneless sound.


How to Play A Tanbur: Izzettin Okte introduced to the older tanbur manner by means of holding the plectrum with an oblique angle and trying to obtain more musical notes with less plectrum beats. Finger beats held an important place on this regard.


Necdet Yasar, on the other hand, developed a new manner with more plectrum beats where the plectrum was hold at a right angle.  Generating resonance by way of shaking the neck of tanbur started with Necdet Yasar as well.


Tanbur Methods: There are two books on the market written for the tanbur played with a plectrum. While the tanbur method of Sadun Aksut reflected the manner of Okte & Batanay, the tanbur method of Emin Akan was prepared within the frame of the manner of Necdet Yasar.


It cannot be said that tanbur performers absolutely follow and apply one of these two manners. Today, all kinds of tanburs with 7-8 strings and with less-more frets are being used and special manners can be observed in the performances.


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