Discover the Richness of 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 richness of Bulgarian folk music through its history, traditions, and modern performers.

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is a genre of music that is typically passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. It is music that is typically associated with a particular culture or region. Folk music often has a simple, catchy melody and is easy to sing along to. It is often based on traditional instruments such as the fiddle, accordion, or guitar.

Defining Folk Music

Folk music is the music of the people. It is passed down orally from generation to generation, and often reflects the history, culture, and values of a community. Folk music is usually rooted in a particular region or country, and can be further divided into various subgenres.

One of the defining characteristics of folk music is that it is typically homemade, or at least performed by local musicians. In contrast to popular music, which is created by professional musicians and then mass-produced for a national or international market, folk music is usually created and performed on a smaller scale. This gives it a more intimate feel, and makes it more accessible to those who might not be able to afford to see a professional concert.

Folk music often tells stories about the everyday lives of ordinary people. These stories can be personal (like love songs or songs about loss), or they can be about broader topics like war, poverty, or social injustice. Because folk music is passed down orally, it often contains elements of myth and legend, which can give it a sense of history and tradition.

Folk music can be played on any type of instrument, but some traditional folk instruments include the accordion, fiddle, flute, mandolin, banjo, and penny whistle. Folk music is usually sung in the language of the region where it originated—for example, English folk songs are typically sung in English. This allows people from different regions to connect with each other through their shared love of folk music.

There are many different types of folk music from around the world—each with its own unique sound and style. Some examples include American folk music (which includes Appalachian folk music and bluegrass), British folk music (which includes Celtic folk music), Nordic Folk Music (which includes Sami joik singing), Bulgarian Folk Music (which includes Shopska singing), Romani Folk Music (which includes Balkan Gypsy Brass Band Music), and Andean Folk Music (which includes highland bagpipe bands).

The Characteristics of Folk Music

Folk music is the music of the people, and it has many different characteristics. It is usually passed down from generation to generation, and it often has a strong connection to the traditions and culture of a particular region or country. Folk music is often used for dancing, and it often tells stories about the history or daily life of the people who sing it.

There are many different types of folk music, and each one has its own unique sound. Some folk music is very old, and some of it is still being created today. Folk music is an important part of the musical heritage of Bulgaria, and it has influenced other genres of music as well.

The History of Bulgarian Folk Music

Bulgarian folk music is some of the most unique and interesting music in the world. It has a rich history dating back centuries, and its influences can be heard in many different types of music today. If you’re interested in learning more about Bulgarian folk music, read on to find out its history and some of its most famous performers.

Early Bulgarian Folk Music

Bulgarian folk music is unique and distinctive. It is the product of a rich and diverse culture that has been shaped by centuries of history.

The first records of Bulgarian folk music date back to the 14th century, when the country was part of the Ottoman Empire. Bulgarian folk music was influenced by both Turkish and Byzantine traditions. Bulgarian folk music began to develop its own distinctive sound in the 18th century, when Bulgaria was under Austrian rule. Austrian classical music had a significant impact on Bulgarian folk music, particularly on its vocal style.

Bulgarian folk music reached its height of popularity in the 19th century, when it was collected and recorded by scholars and enthusiasts. Several important collections of Bulgarian folk music were published in the 19th century, including “The Complete Collection of Folk Songs from Bulgaria” (1886) and “Folk Songs from Bulgaria” (1904).

The early 20th century saw a decline in interest in Bulgarian folk music, as many young people turned to Western popular music instead. However, there was a revival of interest in Bulgarian folk music in the 1960s, when ethnomusicologists began to study and record the country’s traditional musical heritage.

Today, Bulgarian folk music is enjoyed by both locals and foreigners alike. The rich variety of musical styles and traditions is one of the many things that makes Bulgaria such a fascinating country to visit.

The Modern Era of Bulgarian Folk Music

The modern era of Bulgarian folk music began in the late 19th century, when a number of Bulgarian musicians and composers began to show an interest in the music of their country. One of the first to do so was Dobri Hristov, who collected and published a number of folk songs in his 1882 book Bulgarian Folk Songs.

Other important collectors and researchers of Bulgarian folk music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Vasil Hadzhiev, Konstantin Andreev, Dimitar Mirkov, Georgi Bakalov and Dragan Mihailov. These men (and a few women) travelled around Bulgaria collecting folk songs, often from illiterate peasant singers who knew only the melodies and words of the songs, not their origins or history.

In the early 20th century, some Folklorists began to look beyond Bulgaria’s borders for comparisons and connections between Bulgarian folk music and the music of other countries. Two important early figures in this field were Germanmusicologist Kurt Schindler and Austrian ethnomusicologist Josef Keil. Schindler’s work focused on similarities between Bulgarian folk music and the music of south-eastern Europe, while Keil looked at connections between Bulgarian music and Baltic and Slavic traditions.

The Instruments of Bulgarian Folk Music

The bagpipe (Gaida) is the most popular instrument in Bulgaria. It is often used to lead the band in traditional Bulgarian music. The bagpipe has a rich history in Bulgaria and is a symbol of the country’s folklore and culture.

The Gudulka

The Gudulka is a traditional Bulgarian folk music instrument. It is a bowed string instrument, typically with two or three strings. It is played with a bow, and the player may hold the instrument in different ways. The gudulka is often used in ensembles, accompanying singers and other instruments.

The Tambura

The Tambura (тамбура) is a long-necked fretted lute found throughout the Balkans and southeastern Europe. It is played with a plectrum and has four or five strings. The body of the tambura is often carved from a single piece of wood, and it usually has a goatskin head. The tambura is used as a solo instrument as well as in ensembles.

The instrument most associated with Bulgarian folk music is the gaida (гайда), an Macedonia and Bulgaria. It is played with click-and-drag movements of the plectrum, producing very fast and complex rhythms. The gaida comes in two varieties: the Thracian gaida, which has a single reed, and the Rhodopi gaida, which has two reeds.

Other instruments used in Bulgarian folk music include the kaval (кавал), a flute made from a hollow reed; the gadulka (гъдулка), a bowed string instrument; and the tupan (тупан), a large two-headed drum played with sticks.

The Kaval

The kaval is a end-blown flute traditionally played throughout the Balkans. It is usually made of wood, with a length of 18-23 cm and has six finger holes. The kaval is an important instrument in Bulgarian folk music, used both in traditional ensembles and as a solo instrument.

The kaval has a range of two octaves, starting from middle C. The upper octave is achieved by overblowing. The sound of the kaval is very similar to that of the human voice and because of this it is often used to imitate the sound of birds.

The kaval is most commonly associated with the music of Bulgaria but it can also be found in Romania, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia and Albania. In Bulgaria, the kaval is used in all types of folk music, from wedding songs to instrumental solos.

If you are interested in learning to play the kaval, there are many resources available online and in print.

The Styles of Bulgarian Folk Music

There are many different styles of Bulgarian folk music. The music is often played on traditional instruments, such as the gaida (a type of bagpipe), the tambura (a string instrument), and the kaval (a flute). The music is usually fast-paced and lively, and often features complex rhythms.


Shopluk is one of the four main styles of Bulgarian folk music. Shopluk originated in the Rhodope mountains in southern Bulgaria and is characterized by its use of the gaida (large bagpipe), tambura (lute-like string instrument), and kaval (wooden flute). This style of music is often fast-paced and lively, with complex rhythms.


Horo is the most popular style of folk music in Bulgaria. It is danced in a circle, with the dancers holding hands and often tapping their feet or clapping their hands in time to the music. The tempo can vary from slow and stately to fast and lively, and the music often features intricate improvisation.

There are many different regional horo styles, each with its own distinctive character. For example, the horo from the Rhodope Mountains is known for its slow, melancholy melodies, while the horo from the region of Shumen is more upbeat and lively.

Other popular styles of Bulgarian folk music include Shop – which is similar to horo but danced in pairs instead of a circle – and Napravi mi vlak – a faster-paced style that features intricate footwork and is often performed by solo dancers.


Rachenitsa is a style of Bulgarian folk music that is typically danced in a circle. It is characterized by fast-paced, often complex rhythms and can be quite energetic. The name comes from the word “rachka,” which means “to knit.” This is likely because the dance resembles the process of knitting, with dancers moving their arms in a circular motion.

The Legends of Bulgarian Folk Music

Bulgarian folk music is some of the most unique and interesting music in the world. The music is influenced by the country’s history and geography, as well as the cultures of the people who have lived there. Bulgarian folk music has a rich history, and many of the songs have been passed down through the generations.

The Legend of Orpheus

The Legend of Orpheus is one of the most popular and well-known Bulgarian folk songs. It tells the story of Orpheus, a great musician who goes to the underworld to rescue his wife from the clutches of death.

Orpheus was a famous musician in Greek mythology. He was able to charm all living things and even persuade the gods with his music. His wife, Eurydice, was killed by a snake while they were walking in the forest. Orpheus was so distraught with grief that he decided to go to the underworld and retrieve her.

He played his music for the lord of the underworld, Hades, and Persephone, queen of the dead. They were so moved by his playing that they agreed to release Eurydice back to him on one condition: he must walk in front of her and not look back until they had both reached the land of the living.

Orpheus agreed and started walking ahead but became impatient to see his wife again. He turned around before they had reached safety and looked back at her. As a result, she was pulled back into the underworld and lost forever.

The Legend of Orpheus is a popular folk song because it speaks to the human condition; it is a story of love, loss, grief, and redemption. The legend has been passed down for generations through oral tradition and continues to be performed today.

The Legend of the Rhodope Singers

Rhodope music is characterized by its use of the gaida – a type of bagpipe – and by the fact that it is often sung a cappella. The songs themselves are often about love, loss, and happiness, and they are incredibly beautiful.

One of the most famous Rhodope groups is the Mirage Folk Ensemble, which was founded in the 1970s. The group has toured extensively, both in Bulgaria and abroad, and their recordings are widely available. They are perhaps best known for their version of the traditional song “Izlel je Delyo Haydutin”, which was used in the film “The English Patient”.

The Rhodope region is also home to another legendary folk group, the Kutanova Ensemble. This group was founded in 1979 by Stoyanka Kutanova, who is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on Rhodope music. The Kutanova Ensemble has won numerous awards and has toured extensively throughout Bulgaria and Europe.

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