Bulgarian Folk Music and Dance

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking for something a little different in your music and dance repertoire? Why not try Bulgarian folk music and dance! This rich and vibrant tradition is sure to add some spice to your life.


Bulgarian folk music is unique and diverse. It includes a wide variety of styles and genres, which reflect the different geographical regions of the country. The music is often accompanied by traditional instruments, such as the gaida (a type of bagpipe), tambura (a stringed instrument) and accordion.

Dance is an important part of Bulgarian folk culture. The most popular dances are the horo, review and pravo. These dances are often performed in large groups, with each dancer holding hands or linking arms with the others.

Bulgarian folk music and dance are enjoyed by both locals and tourists alike. If you have the opportunity to experience it for yourself, you will not be disappointed!

What is Bulgarian Folk Music and Dance?

Bulgarian folk music and dance is the traditional music and dance of the Bulgarian people. It is a distinctive mix of the music of the Slavic nations, Byzantine music, and music of the Ottoman Empire. Bulgarian folk music has been collected and studied by ethnologists and musicologists.

Characteristics of Bulgarian Folk Music

Bulgarian folk music is known for its use of odd time signatures, drums, and vocals. The music often uses asymmetrical meter, which gives it a very unique sound. This can be heard in the song “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” which is in 11/8 time. The drums play an important role in Bulgarian folk music, providing the rhythm for the dancers. The vocals are also an important part of the music, and often tell a story or convey a message.

One of the most distinctive features of Bulgarian folk music is its use of ornamentation. This includes trills, slides, and other embellishments that give the music a very rich and complex sound. Another characteristic of Bulgarian folk music is its use of drones. This gives the music a very hypnotic quality, and can be heard in the song “Ergen Deda.”

Bulgarian folk music is often accompanied by dance. The most famous dance is the horo, which is usually done in a circle. The dancers hold hands and move around in a clockwise direction, often changing partners along the way. Horos can be slow or fast, and are typically danced to faster-paced songs.

The Instruments Used in Bulgarian Folk Music

Bulgarian folk music is very unique and diverse. There are many different types of instruments that are used in this type of music. Some of the more popular instruments include the bagpipe, tambura, gaida, kaval, and dajre. Each of these instruments has a different sound and role in the music. The bagpipe, for instance, is often used as the lead instrument in many Bulgarian folk songs. The tambura is a string instrument that is often used as an accompaniment to the other instruments. The gaida is another wind instrument that is often used in Bulgarian folk music. It has a very distinctive sound that can be recognized immediately. The kaval is a flute-like instrument that is often used in solo performances. Finally, the dajre is a percussion instrument that is used to keep time in the music.

The Different Styles of Bulgarian Folk Dance

There are many different styles of Bulgarian folk dance, each with its own unique history, steps, and music.

The Rodopi style is named after the Rhodope mountains in southern Bulgaria and is known for its fast tempo and vibrant energy. The Shopstyle originates from the province of Shoppi in central Bulgaria and is characterized by its graceful movements and intricate handkerchief patterns. The Nis style comes from the city of Nis in southeastern Bulgaria and is distinguished by its use of long scarves that are wrapped around the dancers as they perform.

The Dobrudzha style is named after the Dobrudzha region in northeastern Bulgaria and is known for its vigorous stomping and clapping. The Pomak style originates from the Pomak villages in northwestern Bulgaria and is characterized by its slow, sensual movements. And finally, the Pirin style comes from the Pirin mountains in southwestern Bulgaria and is known for its lively tunes and acrobatic dances.

History of Bulgarian Folk Music and Dance

Bulgarian folk music and dance has a long and rich history. The music is usually based on the folk songs of the Bulgarian people. These songs are often about love, nature, and the daily life of the people. The instruments used in Bulgarian folk music include the gaida (a type of flute), the tambura (a string instrument), and the gadulka (a bowed string instrument).

Early History

The early history of Bulgarian folk music is complicated by the fact that at least three different slavic tribes occupied present-day Bulgaria during the early middle ages, each with their own traditions: the proto-bulgarians, the slavs, and the magyars.

It is generally accepted that Bulgarian folk music is a blend of all three traditions, with specific regional identities arising from the contact between these castes and later migrations (particularly those of the Romani people).

Musical instruments typical of early Bulgarian music include the gudulka (a bowed string instrument), the tambura (a long-necked lute), and various types of flutes.

Bulgarian folk songs can be divided into three main categories: work songs, wedding songs, and ritual songs. Work songs are typically polyphonic (i.e., featuring more than one melody line) and describe the various stages of work processes such as farming, animal husbandry, or craftsmanship. Polyphony may be achieved either through part-singing or by using drones.

Wedding songs are often love ballads or laments composed to commemorate specific couples.

The Ottoman Influence

During the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria (15th-19th century), Bulgarian folk music was influenced by Turkish music, which resulted in the creation of a distinctive style of Bulgarian music. In general, the instruments and the musical forms of the Ottoman period were preserved in the Folk songs of the present day. The most important instrument from this period is the gaida – a type of bagpipe. Other instruments include tambura (a long-necked plucked instrument), kaval (a flute), accordion, and drums.

There are three main genres of Bulgarian Folk music: horo, shop, and races. Horo is danced in a circle and is often accompanied by singing. Shop is a type of line dance that is often performed at festive occasions such as weddings. Races are fast-paced dances that are often performed in pairs.

During the 20th century, Bulgarian Folk music underwent a number of changes as Eastern European countries began to assert their national identities. In Bulgaria, Folk music was influenced by Western music and various forms of art music such as classical and jazz. As a result, many traditional Folk songs were adapted for orchestra or choir. Today, Bulgarian Folk music is enjoyed by people of all ages and provides an important connection to the country’s past.

The Revival of Bulgarian Folk Music and Dance

The Revival of Bulgarian Folk Music and Dance refers to a movement in the late 1940s and early 1950s among Bulgarian artists, ethnomusicologists, and public figures to re-establish Bulgaria’s lost folk traditions. The Revival was precipitated by the Warner Brothers film “Song of the Burro,” which was shot on location in Bulgaria in 1947 and featured American actor James Stewart as a donkey herder who falls in love with a local girl. The film’s release coincided with the first stirrings of Bulgarian nationalism after centuries of Ottoman rule, and its popularity inspired a new interest in traditional Bulgarian culture.

In the years that followed, a number of leading Bulgarian composers began to incorporate folk elements into their music, and several important ethnographic surveys were conducted in order to document the country’s disappearing folk traditions. The most important figure in the Revival movement was composer Philip Kutev, who established the first professional folk music ensemble in Bulgaria in 1952. Kutev’s work helped to spread awareness of traditional Bulgarian culture both inside and outside of the country, and he is credited with rescuing many endangered folk songs from extinction.

The Revival of Bulgarian Folk Music and Dance had a profound impact on the country’s musical life, helping to spark a renewed interest in traditional culture and paving the way for the rise of popular genres like chalga (modern pop-folk) and manea (Balkan brass). Today, Kutev’s ensemble continues to perform and record, keeping alive the musical traditions that he helped to revive.

Famous Bulgarian Folk Songs and Dances

Bulgarian folk music is known for its complex rhythms. Instruments typically used in Bulgarian folk music include the gaida (a type of bagpipe), the kaval (a flute), the gadulka (a string instrument) and various percussion instruments. Instrumental music is often accompanied by singing and dancing.

“Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin”

“Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin” (Излел е Дельо Хагдутин) is a famous Bulgarian folk song, originating from the Rhodope mountains. The song is about a horseman named Delio who enlists in the Ottoman army, only to be later killed in battle. It is sung in a minor key and is considered one of the most important Bulgarian folk songs.

The song has been covered by many artists, including Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, and has been featured in films such as “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner”.

“Dilmano Dilbero”

“Dilmano Dilbero” (Bulgarian: Дилмано дилберо) is one of the most famous Bulgarian folk songs and dances. It is about a young man named Dilber who fell in love with a girl named Dilma. The song describes their brief courtship and eventual marriage. The dance that accompanies the song is also known as “Dilmano Dilbero”.


“Razlogi” is a popular Bulgarian folk song which originated in the Rhodope Mountains. It is typically played on the gaida (bagpipe), tambura (lute) and drums, and is known for its Characteristic “bulgarian” sound. The song is about a young man’s love for a girl, and his attempts to win her over.

The dance that accompanies “Razlogi” is also called “Razlogi”. It is a circle dance, typically danced by couples. The man leads the woman around the circle, and at certain points in the song, the couple will exchange places. The dance is relatively simple, but requires good coordination between the dancers.


In conclusion, Bulgarian folk music and dance is a vital part of the country’s heritage and culture. The music and dance traditions of Bulgaria are diverse and rich, and offer a unique window into the country’s history and way of life. If you have the opportunity to experience Bulgarian folk music and dance firsthand, you are sure to be charmed and mesmerized by its beauty.

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