The ancient azerbaijani stringed musical instrument the kaman cha has an unusually delicate, soft and captivating sound, and its sounds charm and immerse one in thought. It is no accident that the founder of



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THE  ANCIENT  AZERBAIJANI  STRINGED  MUSICAL  INSTRUMENT  -  THE  KAMAN-

CHA - HAS AN UNUSUALLY DELICATE, SOFT AND CAPTIVATING SOUND, AND ITS 

SOUNDS CHARM AND IMMERSE ONE IN THOUGHT. IT IS NO ACCIDENT THAT THE 

FOUNDER OF AZERBAIJANI PROFESSIONAL MUSIC, UZEYIR HAJIBAYOV, REGARD-

ED THE KAMANCHA AS THE MOST MELODIOUS OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.

U

nder this name, the kaman-



cha is known in the Cauca-

sus, Iran and Afghanistan. In 

Egypt, a similar instrument is called 

“kamanga”, in Turkey - “iklik”, and 

in Central Asia - “gijak” (“gechak”). 

Interestingly, another stringed in-

strument is known in Turkey under 

the name of the “kamancha”, and 

in Central Asia, the bow used to 

play the gijak is called “kamancha” 

or, as in Azerbaijan, “kaman”. Thus, 

the area where the kamancha is 

common includes Asia Minor, the 

Caucasus, the Middle East and 

Central Asia. Any attempt to link 

its origin to one people is clearly 

hopeless and unscientific.

The name of the instrument 

comes from the word “kaman”, which 

means a string, and the ending “cha” 

is derived from “chal” (play), indicat-

ing that it is a bow instrument.

Researchers believe that bow in-

struments originated from stringed 

musical instruments played by 

plucking.  A rod or a plectrum was 

used for playing them instead of the 

fingers, and its ends were pulled by 

animal or horsehair tendons like the 

string of a bow [1]. Experts tend to 

believe that stringed instruments 

have ancient Indian or Central Asian 

origins [2].

Saadat ABDULLAYEVA



Doctor of Arts, Professor

The  most  melodious  of

 

instruments



– kamancha

Focusing on Azerbaijan




www.irs-az.com

33

1-Body, 2-Pivot, 3-Stand, 4-String holder,  

5-Big stand, 6-Back, 7-Strings, 8-Neck,  

9-Small stand, 10-Pins, 11-Head

“Mugham”, Togrul Narimanbayov


34

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The kamancha was originally 

one-stringed, had a relatively small 

body, a long neck and an elongated 

tip. The body was made from gourds, 

coconut shells or hollowed tree, and 

snake skin was pulled on the open 

side. Medieval literature suggests 

the simultaneous existence of the 

kamancha and gijak, and when 

comparing, preference was usu-

ally given to the former [3].

We know about the spread of the 

kamancha on the territory of Azer-

baijan in the Middle Ages from the 

classics of poetry such as Khagani 

Shirvani, Nizami Ganjavi, Muham-

mad Fizuli and book miniatures of 

Azerbaijani artists, Aga Mirak, Mir-

said Ali and others. According to the 

prominent Azerbaijani musicologist, 

Abdulgadir Maragai (1353-1434/35), 

horse tail hair or silk thread, which 

ensured the best sound, were used 

for the manufacture of two strings 

of the instrument. The film of a bull’s 

heart was pulled on the body. The 

strings were usually tuned to the 

fourth, but depending on the tune, 

other settings were also used.

The German naturalist, physician 

and traveler, Engelbert Kaempfer, 

who visited Azerbaijan in 1683-

1684, put the kamancha in first place 

among stringed bowed instruments 

because of its beautiful tone. Ac-

cording to his description, the ka-

mancha had three, sometimes four 

strings, which were played by a bow 

from horse tail hair. The lower part 

of the instrument - the iron tip at a 

length of half a palm – was placed 

on the ground. The round body of 

the kamancha had a diameter the 

size of a palm and was covered with 

a leather membrane, on which a 

leather “bridge” (i.e. support) was 

placed.

Before the beginning of the 

20

th

 century, a three-stringed ka-

mancha was mainly used in Azer-

baijan. The strings were made from 

sheep or cattle intestines. Although, 

according to museum collections, 

in this period there were also ka-

manchas with four, five and even six 

strings. There were also instruments 

on whose body skin was pulled from 

the lower side [4]. It should be noted 

that in the old copies of the kaman-

cha, the tip is almost twice longer 

than in modern ones [5].

The main parts of today’s kaman-

cha are the body (chanag), which 

has a spherical shape slightly point-

ed towards the center, the round 

neck (gol), the curly head (kalla) with 

pegs (ashikh) and the straight metal 

rod. The total length of the instru-

ment is 700-800 mm. The diameter 

of the open part of the body is 100-

110 mm, the diameter of the circle is 

180-220 mm and the height is up to 

175 mm. It is made primarily of wal-

nut. On the open part of the body 

(uz, parda), the skin of the chest of 

a large catfish or bovine bladder is 

pulled.  An arched support (kharak) 

with a length of 50-60 mm and with 

a height of 10-14 mm, made from 

walnut, is obliquely installed toward 

the strings on the sounding board 

closer to the neck. This arrangement 

of the support allows makes it possi-

ble to get stronger and better sound 

quality in both high and low regis-

ters. The neck with a smooth surface 

with a length of up to 450 mm and 

without modes tapers towards the 

bottom. The neck is made of horny 

plates.


For attaching the neck to the 

body, a metal rod with a length 

equal to half the total length of the 

kamancha is driven into the lower 

end of the neck, passing through 

the body. A pin – a support (shish) 

at a length of 110-120 mm, which 

slightly tapers toward the bottom 

and ends with a nodular thickening, 

is screwed on the tip of the rod that 

sticks out of the body. In the upper 

part, the neck turns into a slotted 

head in the form of a box with a 

shaped tip (taj). On the sides of the 

head, spherical or pyramidal pegs 

made of walnut are inserted into 

holes.

The kamancha has four steel 



strings (sim), of which the lower 

third and fourth ones are wrapped 

in copper and brass thread. In some 

cases, the second steel string is re-

placed by one made from veins to 

ensure softer sounding. The strings 

rest on a support located on the 

sounding board and on a bone 

threshold at the upper end of the 

neck. At one end, they are screwed 

on the pegs, and at the other, they 

are put on the hooks of the metal 

support fixed to the top of the strut 

in the form of hinges.

Sounds on the instrument are 

produced with a 550-590 mm-long 

bow (kaman), which is a straight 

or slightly concave cane (chubug) 

made of dogwood with a diam-

Renowned Azerbaijani kamancha 

player Habil Aliyev

Focusing on Azerbaijan




www.irs-az.com

35

eter of 10 mm. By means of loose 

metal tubes in the form of cartridge 

cases, a lock of 160-180 horsehairs 

is pulled on the end. After playing, 

the tip is unscrewed and placed 

into a case or bag together with the 

instrument. The body (especially its 

upper part), neck, head and pegs 

are often decorated with inlaid 

mother of pearl, bone, copper wire 

and gold thread.

Most often, the performer plays 

in a seated position and holds the 

instrument vertically, placing its leg 

on his left knee. The lower part of 

the bow is slightly pinched between 

the thumb and forefinger of the 

right hand. The tension of the hair is 

adjusted by pressing the strap with 

the middle and ring fingers inserted 

between the shaft and the lock of 

hair.  As a rule, the bow moves on 

the strings at the site correspond-

ing to the middle of the distance 

between the lower end of the neck 

and the support. If you move the 

bow on the strings near the neck, 

very soft sounds are produced. The 

technique of moving the bow on 

the kamancha is different from play-

ing the violin in that the performer 

rotates the instrument with his left 

hand toward the plane of the move-

ment of the bow.

The attempt to provide the ka-

mancha with a sordino failed, and 

therefore, in order to mitigate the 

sound of strings, they use tightly 

rolled paper, fabric or rubber placed 

between the sounding board and 

the strings below the support. The 

instrument is played by four fingers 

of the left hand.

The strings of the instrument 

are adjusted in the range of the 

four and the fifth. But for solo and 

vocal-instrumental performances 

of mugams, the second, third and 

fourth strings are tuned according 

to the modal basis of the music per-

formed, and the first one remains 

unchanged.  The kamancha has a 

range from la in the small octave 

to la in the third octave. While 

performing certain works, mi in 

the fourth octave is used. The low, 

wheezing, matte register come out 

on the 4

th

 and 3



rd

 strings, medium 

(mild, clear, velvet) - on the 2

nd

 and 



high (soft and silver ringing) - on the 

1

st



. The most heavily sounding mid-

dle register has a clear tone – it is the 

most common one.

While playing the kamancha, 



Well-known kamancha players


36

www.irs-az.com

they normally use various combi-

nations of bow and finger strokes, 

the alternation and interrelation 

of which are dictated by the con-

tent and emotional structure of the 

piece, and they are chosen by the 

performer in accordance with his 

skill and artistic taste.



The kamancha is the most 

“melodious” of Azerbaijani na-

tional musical instruments. For 

its melisma, flexibility, dynamics 

and nuances, the kamancha is 

not inferior even to the tar, and 

surpasses it in the cantilena. It is 

no accident that the many terms 

and epithets, reflecting different 

dynamic nuances in Azerbaijani folk 

performances, were developed pre-

cisely on the kamancha.

The masterly performance of a 

kamanchist is particularly evident in 

the instrumental solo performance 

of mugams (especially “Shushtar”, 

“Shur” and “Bayati-Shiraz”). This is 

where they use all the strokes and 

fingers inherent in the kamancha, 

as well as hidden two-voice polyph-

ony and bourdon open strings. The 

proximity of its sound to the vocal 

line of the singer is especially felt 

in an ensemble of saz performers, 

when the kamanchist accompanies 

the tarist along with the singer. At 

times, as a performer on the leading 

instrument, he undertakes the func-

tion of the tar or begins to play the 

tune a bit later than the tar player. 



“The Mugham philosophy”, Matanat Aslanova

“Harmony the music”, Teymur Garibov

Focusing on Azerbaijan




www.irs-az.com

37

In the episodes, the kamanchist of-

ten uses simulation, i.e. if the tarist 

imitates the singer, then the kaman-

chist imitates the tarist. In this case, 

something like a three-sound ca-

nonical imitation comes out. It is no 

accident that the kamancha is called 

“a companion of the tar”. The music 

library of the Azerbaijan Broadcast-

ing Company keeps a recording of 

the rhythmic mugam “Mansuriya” 

sung by the famous singer Jabbar 

Garyagdioglu to the accompani-

ment of the kamancha.

Apart from mugams, instrumen-

tal versions of folk songs, dances and 

plays occupy an important place in 

the repertoire of the kamancha.

From the second half of the last 

century, the kamancha, like the tar, 

became one of the leading instru-

ments in the orchestras of folk in-

struments and various ensembles as 

a solo or accompanying instrument. 

The kamancha is also played in solo 

performances in pop music. During 

the performances of the people’s 

artist of Azerbaijan, Habil Aliyev, 

he is successfully accompanied by 

balaban and gaval performers. It is 

largely thanks to this wonderful per-

former that the world learned not 

only about the beauty of Azerbaijani 

folk music, but also the unlimited 

possibilities of the instrument.

The kamancha plays an impor-

tant role in the development of Azer-

baijan’s modern professional music. 

Based on the technical capabilities of 

the instrument, such famous works 

as concerts for the kamancha with a 

symphony (Zakir Bagirov, Haji 

Khanmammadov and Tofig 

Bakikhanov) and chamber 

orchestra (Adviya  Rahmato-

va), “ Scherzo”, “Tarantella” and 

“Dance Suite” (Suleyman Alas-

garov), “Melodic Etudes” (Said 

Rustamov), a play for the ka-

mancha for the Orchestra of Folk 

Instruments (Nazim Guliyev) and a 

monologue for the kamancha and 

piano (Ramiz Zohrabov) were cre-

ated. Undoubtedly, Azerbaijan com-

posers will continue to please fans 

of music with new works written for 

this wonderful musical instrument.

References 1. Modr A. Musical In-

struments. M., Muzgiz, 1959, p. 15.2. 

Bakhman B. Central Asian Sources 

on the Homeland of Stringed Instru-

ments / / Music of Asia and Africa, 

edition 2. M., Soviet Composer, 1973, 

p. 349-373.3. Maragali A. Music 

Instruments and Their Types / 

/ Gobustan, 1977, № 1, p. 77.4. 

Abdullayev S. Folk Musical In-

struments of Azerbaijan. Baku, 

Elm, 2000, p. 79.5. Bakikhanov 

A. The Yellow String of Life, 

Baku, Ishig, 1985, p. 16. 



“The Mugham evening”, Fakhtiyya Khalafova


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