Folk Instruments in the Balkans


  • Roksanda Pejović



For the typical characteristics of the Balkan instruments to be discovered and their history to be penetrated, a wide range of musical instruments have been taken into examination, starting from those of Greece to those from the territory now occupied by Yugoslavia, from the folklore items of Bulgaria and Albania to those known by aborigines or medieval settlers. Sources such as representations in the fine arts have been consulted for the right age of the instruments that may have been in popular use to be determined. Historical examination of the Balkan instruments may never produce definite answers regarding their one-time diversity, but it may point to the possible uses of these instruments. The art of the southern and north-eastern Balkans contains representations of folk instruments the majority of which are of Oriental origin. Unless they are autochtonous, they can hardly be conjectured to be of Western European provenance. It may prove to be of no little interest to point to which of the folk instruments from the western Balkan territory are represented in the art of medieval Serbia or that of the Byzantine cultural domain, as well as to which sorts of instruments have played an integral part in the arts of the two cultural spheres. The art of the Byzantine tradition has been found to contain representations of "tambura"lutes (though only in a small number), in addition to those of "gusle", Dalmatian lira ("lirica"), panpipes, pipes of various kinds, bagpipes, "sopile", "zurle"and horns, whereas the Renaissance monuments in the territory of what is now Croatia show representations of dulcimers, pipes, bagpipes and horns. Some of the instruments existing in the folklore of Slovenia are the transverse flute ("strančica"), panpipes, the cow horn, pipes and bagpipes. These have found their place in the art of the Byzantine style. Western European works of art include representations of dulcimers, bagpipes, different sorts of pipes, and panpipes. The pipes, the horn and the bagpipes are common to both areas. The "tapan" drum has the lead as the instrument most numerously represented throughout the territories of Serbia and Macedonia. Cow-bells, stringed "čamparas", "taiambas" kettledrums, "uts", dulcimers, "zurle" and bagpipes are to be seen in a number of monuments. To be represented in a single or just a few examples are tambourines, tamburas, mandolins, "gadulka" fiddles, kemangehs, "gusle", violins(?), kanons, transverse flutes, double-pipe instruments, kavals, short horns, "bučinas" and tuba-horns. "Tapans", "talambases", dulcimers and bagpipes are some of the instruments that have been represented in the arts constantly. The chronological sequence of the instruments encompasses the short horns of since 1180 and most of the instruments of since the 14th century – cow-bells(?), "čamparas", "tapans", "talambases", "uts", mandolins, "gadulka" fiddles, kemangehs, kanons, beaked flutes, transverse flutes and "bučinas". This would mean that these instruments could have been in use even before the invasion of the Turks. Cithers are bound to the period after the invasion, or even possibly related to some Turkish influence, e.g. double-piped instruments and bagpipes to the period since the 15th century, tambourines, violins(?) and "zurle" to the period since the 16th century, and tamburas, "gusle ", kavals and tuba-horns to the period since the beginning of the 17th century. Most of the folk musical instruments are to be found in Serbian monuments in the areas of Serbia and Macedonia. If their representations are to be taken as an indication of their actually having been used in the corresponding area, then "čamparas", "tapans", tambourines and "talambases" have been played in Serbia, and "talambases" in Macedonia as well. It is possible for the "ut" and the "gadulka" fiddle to have been played by the Serbs, the kemangeh to have been played by both the Serbs and Macedonians, the kava I and the "zurle" to have been played by the Serbs, the bagpipes to have been played by the Slovenes, and the "bucina" and the tuba-horn also by the Serbs. This would, to a certain degree, necessitate a change in our conception of the present-day distribution of the folk musical instruments in the Balkans.


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How to Cite

Pejović, R. (1989). Folk Instruments in the Balkans. Musicological Annual, 25(1), 81–93.