Rebetiko > Instruments > Baglama

The Baglama

The baglama is the smallest bouzouki variant, a stealth bouzouki, you could say. It is regarded as the second vital instrument in a Pireas-style Rebetiko band, and has an amazing ability to be heard over the other, larger instruments. This comes mainly as a result of it playing an octave higher than the other instruments, but also because the design has been highly optimised to produce a loud, bright sound. Reference is often made to prison baglamas, instruments made in prison by rebetiko practitioners who were locked up for a variety of offences. The baglama can be easily hidden in one's clothing, which was convenient when the places where it was played were often raided by the police.

My Baglama.
The baglama that Karolos Tsakirian built for me.

Baglama Chords

I found a web site called "Sam's Bouzouki Pages" a long while back. It was by Sam Gardounis, in Australia. At the time I was experimenting with a cheap baglama I had bought, and wanted to know how to play chords on it. Sam's site had the information I needed. As it happens, I saved the page contents, and it's a good thing I did. Sam's site has vanished. This is what he said...

Chords based on the middle string

Many chords on the baglama are based on the notes of the middle string, so you 
MUST learn the notes, parrot fashion if necessary. At the risk of boring the 
more advanced readers, I'll run through the notes. 

The open middle string is A. 
The first fret is A sharp (A#) or B flat (Bb) 
The second fret is B 
The third fret is C 
The fourth fret is C# or Db 
The fifth fret is D 
The sixth fret is D# or Eb 
The seventh fret is E 
The eighth fret is F 
The ninth fret is F# or Gb 
The tenth fret is G 
The eleventh fret is G# or Ab 
The twelfth fret is A 
And then the notes start all over again. You must memorize all of these notes 
to the point where someone can call out the name of any note and you can find 
it immediately without searching for it.

Now there are two basic types of chords. These are the major and minor chords. 
The major chords sound bright and happy, and the minor chords sound sad. All 
of these basic chords are played with the second finger on the middle string. 
Whatever note your second finger is holding down is the name of these chords 
ie: if your second finger is on the seventh fret, it is an E chord. Whether 
it's an E major or E minor depends on what the other fingers are doing.

To play a major chord you do the following:

Place your fingers like the stars on the diagram. The diagram represents the 
neck of the baglama as it looks to you when held in playing position.

D|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger
A|--|--|-*|--|--|--|    second finger
D|--|--|--|--|-*|--|    third finger
 
You'll notice that your second finger is on the third fret so you're playing a 
C major chord. Notice the one fret space between first and second finger, and 
the two fret space between your second and third finger. That's the typical 
major chord shape.

To play a minor chord, you just move your first finger back one fret so that 
the space between all the fingers is two frets, as in this diagram. This is the 
typical minor chord shape.

D|-*|--|--|--|--|--|    first finger
A|--|--|-*|--|--|--|    second finger
D|--|--|--|--|-*|--|    third finger
 
To play different chords you just move the whole shape up to a different fret.

Chords based on the outside strings

Here's the info on the chords based on the outside strings of the baglama. By 
the way all of this stuff is also directly applicable to the 6 string bouzouki.

First you have to learn all the notes on the outside strings. This is easier 
than it sounds because they're both tuned to D, so you're really only learning
one extra string's worth of notes. 

The open outside string is D. 
The first fret is D sharp (A#) or E flat (Eb) 
The second fret is E 
The third fret is F 
The fourth fret is F# or Gb 
The fifth fret is G 
The sixth fret is G# or Ab 
The seventh fret is A 
The eighth fret is A# or Bb 
The ninth fret is B 
The tenth fret is C 
The eleventh fret is C# or Db 
The twelfth fret is D 
And then the notes start all over again. I can't stress how important it is to 
know these notes as they form the basis for EVERYTHING else.

There are two types of major and minor chords which get their names from the 
outside strings:

The first type looks like this and gets its name from the note under your 
fourth finger.

D|--|--|--|--|-*|--|    fourth finger
A|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger
D|--|--|--|--|-*|--|    third finger
 
You'll notice that your fourth finger is on the fifth fret so you're playing a 
G major chord.

To play a minor chord, you just move your first finger back one fret like in 
this diagram.

D|--|--|--|--|-*|--|    fourth finger
A|-*|--|--|--|--|--|    first finger
D|--|--|--|--|-*|--|    third finger 

This minor chord is a long stretch and quite painful at first. To play 
different chords you just move the whole shape up to a different fret.

The second type of major or minor chord gets its name from the note under your 
first finger on the outside string.

D|--|--|--|--|--|--|-*|    fourth finger
A|--|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger
D|--|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger
 
Note that your first finger has to play two strings, so you just flatten it 
down until it covers all the strings at the third fret and stretch the fourth 
finger out to play that last note. Flattening your first finger out to cover 
multiple strings is called a 'barre'. In this case, the first finger is playing 
the note F on the outside string so the chord is F major.

As usual, you can move the whole shape up and down to create other chords. Also
if you move the fourth finger back a fret like this.

D|--|--|--|--|--|-*|--|    fourth finger
A|--|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger
D|--|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger 

you get an F minor chord.

Note that because both outside strings are tuned to D, you can reflect these 
chords around the middle string axis and they're still the same chord with a 
slightly different sound. You can use whichever one you like the sound of in 
the context of the song.

eg: The F minor chord above can also be played like this.

D|--|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger
A|--|--|-*|--|--|--|--|    first finger
D|--|--|-*|--|--|-*|--|    fourth finger
 
and it's still an F minor, and it still gets its name from whatever note is 
under your first finger.

There are two other types of chords that are useful for rebetika and haven't 
been covered yet. These are the seventh chords (evdomes) and diminished chords 
(minouites). I'll be adding these as soon as I get some more time. 

Tuning

The strings of a baglama are tuned like this...

Baglama tuning diagram.