Bulgarian dance rhythms
The most common rhythm in Bulgaria is straight 2/4. This is used for dances
such as Pravo, Danets, Râka, Buenek, Šira and many other Horos. These are
generally written in 2/4 by Bulgarians, but the melody is in triplets,
giving a 6/8 feel. However, Bulgaria is famous for its uneven rhythms formed
from combinations of two and three count beats. How these originated is
unclear, but similar rhythms are found throughout SE Europe and the middle
east. Macedonia has the most developed and complex patterns, Romania has
5/8, 7/8 and 10/8, the Greeks have many 7/8 dances with more complex rhythms
especially from Pontos, and Armenian dances are often in 5/8 and 9/8. The
rhythms either date back to early times or are derived from eastern and
Turkish influences. When playing these melodies the musicians often stretch
some of the beats from the exact notated rhythm.
The well known dance rhythms are:
Krivo Sadovska/Ispajče 13/8
Originally the horos were sung by the dancers. Nowadays these sung horos have gone out of fashion except in the south and south west, where the older dancers still continue the tradition. Often the songs are in the form of answering a theme sung by one or two women, or one singing the melody and two women singing simple lower harmonies like a drone.
End blown flute - Kaval
A straight bore tube made of three sections. The first section has a sharp rim over which the musician directs a narrow stream of air to produce the sound, the centre section has seven finger holes and one thumb hole and the third section has several extra holes for tonal quality. The instrument is fully chromatic, with each successive covering of a hole changing the note by a semitone. This leads to easy semitone trills which are used to elaborate Bulgarian music. In Thrace the instrument is played with a rolling of the base of the fingers across the holes and no stopping of the notes with the tongue, leading to a smooth sound. In the west and north the music is crisper, with some tonguing of the notes.
Rebec - Gadulka
This is the forerunner of the violin, with middle eastern origins, which is similar to the Greek and Yugoslav Lira. The instrument is held vertically and rested on the knee or in a harness which goes round the neck. It has a pear shaped body with both bowed and resonating strings. There is no fingerboard, with the musician's nails stopping the string. It can be used for accompanying singers and other instruments, or as the lead melody line. The gadulka is a key instrument in traditional music throughout most of Bulgaria except Pirin Macedonia.
Western Bulgaria has a similar instrument, the kemene, which follows the middle eastern tradition.
Long-necked lute - Tamboura
Long-necked lutes were brought to the Balkans during the 14th and 15th centuries by the Turks. They are related to the Tambora of Macedonia and the Bouzouki of Greece. The tambora dominates in Pirin Macedonia and is found in 'traditional' groups in Šop and Thrace. It can be used both as a rhythm instrument and to play the melody line.
Bagpipe - Gajda
The bagpipe's origins are a mystery, but it has been known since Roman times and is distributed throughout Western and Eastern Europe. Half tones are possible only by partial stopping of the instrument. It is therefore less flexible than the kaval, but has greater power. Most of Bulgaria has the small gaida. In the Rhodope mountains the Kaba Gaida, the largest of all bagpipes, is played, giving a very distinctive deep sound.
Pipe - Duduk
This is a typical wooden 6-hole pipe similar to the Romanian Fluier and Serbian Frula. Pipe music is most typical of the North Western areas which border Romania and Serbia, and these countries strongly influence the music.
Drums - Tarabulka, Tapan
The tapan is the large drum found from Macedonia through to Turkey. It is played with a heavy stick on the top side and light cane pivoting on the edge of the bottom side. The Tarabulka is a small-waisted drum played with the hands, which originates from the middle east and is heard in groups in Pirin Macedonia.
Shawm - Zurna
The zurna is an ancestor of the modern oboe. It has a double reed attached to a conical body with finger holes. It can be heard throughout Macedonia into the Pirin region, as well as in Turkey and Armenia. It is played with circular breathing, which enables the musician never to stop blowing. The high pressures required can cause haemorrhages in professional musicians. Often two musicians will play together, with one taking the melody and the other the drone. This is an instrument for the open air!
Typical groupings of these instruments are:
Pirin - Two zurna and tapan - Tamboras and tarabulka
Šop/Thrace - Gadulka, gaida, kaval
Rhodope - Kaba gaida
Dobrudza - Button accordion, gaida, gadulka
Following the two world wars, Bulgarians returning from military service have taken to playing the dance melodies in brass bands. These are particularly popular in the north.
Clarinet, saxophone, accordion, bass and violin have been added since the 1950s, but are played in a style true to traditional instruments. Šop and northern style has a crisp, sharp sound in contrast with the Thracian style of smooth melodies with many trills, or the heavier Dobrudza. The tape has many examples played by some of the best classical/folk musicians. Track 20 has the typical 'urban' sound, which has developed further into the last track, using jazz harmonies with electronic and traditional instruments playing in Bulgarian style. 'Disco' versions are also popular using a strong disco backing to the traditional melody.