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Author: Subject: My experience taking lessons with Zeynel Demirtaş in Istanbul
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[*] posted on 3-3-2019 at 05:16 PM
My experience taking lessons with Zeynel Demirtaş in Istanbul

I recently took some lessons with Zeynel Demirtaş in Istanbul and he asked me to write a few words about my experience.

I am a beginning Arabic oud player and when I found out I was going to be in Istanbul for work for a month I decided to learn more about Turkish oud playing style and Zeynel's name popped up here on the forums.

I contacted Zeynel and he was nice enough to help me find a good used Turkish oud for sale that I could use for my lessons (a Sandı/Çankaya Müzikevi oud that is actually much nicer than my Arabic oud which I got for a similar price).

Over the course of one month I took about 10 hours of lessons. The lessons were held at the oud workshop where Zeynel works in eastern Istanbul.

In short, I would describe Zeynel's teaching style as calm and relaxed, but with a serious and strict focus on what he considers proper technique.

I had previously taken beginner's lessons with two other teachers: one professor with a music conservatory background from Syria and one Egyptian teacher who teaches at Arab Oud House in Cairo. While there where a few minor differences in the techniques they taught, both of my previous teachers taught rather "standard" left- and right-hand techniques for what I guess you could call "contemporary Levantine/Egyptian style" (for lack of a better word) and taught lessons based on practicing songs/études. The only considerable difference between the techniques taught by my two previous teachers were that the Arab Oud House teacher focused more on Naseer Shamma-style picking techniques with a very small risha and things like alternating picking when changing strings instead of the traditional habit of starting with a down-stroke when changing strings, but these were just guidelines, he did not force me to strictly adhere to one way of holding the risha or any specific position of holding my right arm on the oud, etc.

With Zeynel things were a bit different. Zeynel's lessons are focused on technical exercises and based on his very specific technique, so even though I was not a complete beginner our 10 hours of lessons started from the very beginning and focused on re-learning basic technique: how to sit, how to position the oud relative to the body, where to put the right arm, how to move (or not move) the right arm when changing strings, how to hold the risha/mizrab, the exact angle and manner to strike the strings, how to position left hand thumb on back of the neck, how to articulate each note using the tips of the fingers, how to perform slides and note changes on same string and across strings, etc.

For me, many of the techniques Zeynel taught were very different from my previous teachers and I can't say that this was good or bad, only that they were a different way of doing things and since Zeynel's lessons build on his specific techniques you have to accept them and practice them if you want to progress through his lessons.

I don't know a lot about Zeynel's history other than that he was a student of Yurdal Tokcan for many years and looking at videos of Yurdal it seems Zeynel's technique is very much inspired by his teacher's. If this style of playing interests you, I think Zeynel is an excellent choice of teacher to teach you this style clearly and methodically.

Here are a few examples Zeynel's techniques that differed from how I was previously taught:
- the forearm goes around the bottom of the oud and hovers directly over the bridge, it never comes over the top of the oud
- forearm is firmly anchored to the edge of the soundboard directly behind the bridge and does not move up or down when striking different strings (all movement comes from wrist)
- plectrum is held very loosely (not pinched tightly between thumb and forefinger) and with a long "tail" sticking out to strike the strings
- right hand anchored firmly on the soundboard below the strings (towards the floor) instead of having the hand positioned in a more "floating" position in the air above the strings (towards the audience, with forearm dangling over the top of the oud)
- palm/first finger joint of left hand always pressed frimly against the side of the neck to anchor the left hand in place (as opposed to holding the neck "like an apple", curving the plam/fingers and leaving space between the palm and the neck)

Perhaps the most striking difference for me was always fretting notes with left hand fingers perfectly perpendicular to the neck regardless of the string. For example, when using the index finger most other players I've seen fret the bass strings rather perpendicular because the finger is naturally stretched out, but they fret the higher treble strings at less of a perpendicular angle and with the tip of the index finger pointing down towards the bridge at a slight angle. In Zeynel's technique, this angling of the fingers down towards the bridge never happens. The index finger, for example, is firmly fixed to the neck at the first joint/top of the palm and always frets all strings exactly at a 90 degree angle using this first joint as the anchor point (hard to explain, but you can easily see it in his videos, basically his entire left hand and all fingers remain at a 90 degree angle to the fretboard at all times, which causes the thumb to mostly stay behind the neck instead of wrapping around it).

Once again, I can't say this "anchoring" technique is better or worse than what my other teachers taught me, it was just different. It definitely feels awkward to me, but if you look at their videos on YouTube, you can see that it seems to work quite well for Zeynel and his teach Yurdal Tokcan.

So if you've seen Yurdal Tokcan and like his playing style, then Zeynel's technique is probably something for you.

Regarding his personality, Zeynel is calm, methodical, and teaches one thing at a time, step by step. He expects you to practice that one thing very well until you have a good command of it and are ready to move on to the next thing. Often, a large part of the lesson time will be devoted to performing one specific exercise. We often repeated one exercise for 8-10 minutes without stopping, took a small break, and then repeated the same exercise again (incidentally, my fingers would often fatigue after 1-2 minutes, which made me realize I had never actually practiced any excercise continuously for more than a minute or two and thus didn't have much stamina... at the end of my month with Zeynel I definitely had a lot more stamina built up!).

We did a lot of repetition of simple exercises, but Zeynel also made it clear what we would be practicing during the current lesson and what we would move on to in the next lesson so that I always knew why I was practicing a certain exercise and what the next step was.

I have been studying oud for one year with 2 other professional teachers and can honestly say that I have never worked so hard as during the time I spent with Zeynel.

In summary, if you are looking to develop a strong technical basis for your oud playing and especially if you like the style of Turkish oud player Yurdal Tokcan, I would highly recommend considering a trip to Istanbul to do some intensive lessons with Zeynel (I myself had a whole month in Istanbul, but he has other students who fly in for a week or 10 days of intensive lessons). He even mentioned that he has sometimes traveled to his student's countries to give a series of intensive lessons, so if you can't get to Istanbul contact him and see what you can work out.

I have not taken Skype lessons with him, but will start them soon. There is already a recent thread about his Skype lessons, but I will probably write an update in a few months comparing my in-person lessons to Zeynel's Skype lessons.

If anybody else has studied with Zeynel, I would be interested to hear what you think about his style and if you found his techniques much different from other teachers/players? I'm actually new to the Turkish school, so I'm interested in knowing if the techniques he is teaching are quite normal within the Turkish tradition or if these Yurdal Tokcan-inspired techniques are unique even among Turkish players?
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[*] posted on 3-4-2019 at 03:23 AM

Dear Yozhik, Thank you for taking the time and making the considerable effort to write such a detailed piece on the teaching techniques of Zeynel Demirtaş. Your effort is much appreciated.
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[*] posted on 3-7-2019 at 10:55 PM

Dear All,

You can also check my experiences with Zeynel on my previous post here: http://www.mikeouds.com/messageboard/viewthread.php?tid=17812&g...
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