The Sounds of Azerbaijan

The Sounds of AzerbaijanAzerbaijani instruments and musical traditions are based within broader Near Eastern and Eurasian musical styles. String and wood instruments evolved throughout much of Asia to mimic the timber of the human voice singing in Eastern scales and registers. The design, shape, and materials of these instruments changed as the centuries progressed.

Scales Meant to Enchant

Courtesy Tim McNaught Traditional Middle Eastern and Central Asian musicians play using scales that are different from those used in Western classical music, emphasizing different notes and musical intervals. Azerbaijani instruments are tuned especially to reproduce these classical octaves. The arrangement of sounds is designed to entrance the listener, capturing and holding their attention.


Mugham is Azerbaijan’s most distinctive and lasting musical tradition. It is an improvisational style that mixes classical poetry and music into a beautiful and complex art form. Three musical instruments, known as a ”mugham trio,“make up the mugham performance—a—kamancha, a def, and a tar.

Music From the Land of Fire at Smithsonian Folklife FestivalDuring the 46th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in collaboration with the Karabakh Foundation presented Music from the Land of Fire, a mugham concert featuring virtuoso Imamyar Hasanov and Pezhham Akhavass, modern-day master of the tombak, a Persian goblet drum.