Traditional Bulgarian Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Discover the history and beauty of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Music and how it has been passed down through the generations.

What is traditional Bulgarian folk music?

Traditional Bulgarian folk music is known for its complex rhythms. Instruments typically used in traditional Bulgarian folk music include the gaida (a type of bagpipe), the kaval (a flute), the gadulka (a string instrument) and the tambura (a long-necked lute). Traditional songs are often about shepherd life, love and weddings.

Where did it come from?

Bulgarian music is unique in its complex harmonies and highly irregular rhythms. This type of music is thought to have originated in the Thracian region, which is now Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. Thracian music was later combined with that of the Ancient Greeks to form a new type of music, known as Ancient Greek Music. This new style of music spread throughout the Roman Empire and eventually made its way to Bulgaria.

The first written evidence of Bulgarian music dates back to the 11th century when Chinese travelers wrote about a singing and dancing “Bulgar people”. In the 13th century, another traveler from Italy wrote about how impressed he was by the Bulgarian folk songs he heard. By the 16th century, there were already dozens of different types of Bulgarian folk songs.

In the 19th century, many Bulgarian folk songs were adapted for use in operas and other classical music compositions. Some of theseadaptations are still very popular today.

What are the main instruments used?

The main instruments used in traditional Bulgarian folk music are the gaida (a bagpipe), the kaval (a flute), and the tambura (a lute-like instrument). The gaida is perhaps the most iconic of all Bulgarian instruments, and is considered by many to be the national instrument of Bulgaria. The kaval and tambura are also very important in traditional Bulgarian folk music, and are often used together to create a unique sound.

What are the main characteristics of traditional Bulgarian folk music?

Traditional Bulgarian folk music is known for its complex rhythms, often involving odd time signatures, as well as its use of wide intervals and close harmonies. The melodic lines are often ornamented and highly lyrical, making use of Bulgarian vocal techniques.

One of the most notable characteristics of traditional Bulgarian folk music is its use of drones. A drone is a sustained note that serves as a background against which the melody is played. This drone can be played by a single instrument, such as a bagpipe, or by multiple instruments playing in unison.

Traditional Bulgarian folk music often makes use of mode, or “folk scales.” These scales are different from the major and minor scales typically used in Western music. Instead, they often have unusual interval patterns and make use of microtones (notes that fall between the standard notes on a Western chromatic scale). This gives Bulgarian folk music its distinctive sound.

There are many popular traditional Bulgarian folk songs that are still sung today. Some of the most popular ones include:
-Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin
-Dunavski Cvet
-Biljana Platno Beleše
-Prituraj Mi, Hubava Mamo
-Kasapska Ruchenitsa
-Oj, Moravo

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