Bulgarian Folklore Center

    About Bulgarian Folk Music

It is believed that the mythical singer Orpheus was born in Thrace, a region in Bulgaria. Those who have got acquainted with Bulgarian Folk singing do not doubt that this is a real fact. Bulgarian folk music has inspired musicians all over the world and was used by famous singers like Kate Bush and George Harrison.

Bulgarian folk music is unique with its complex harmonies and highly irregular rhythms. These kinds of rhythms, also called uneven beats or asymmetric measures, were introduced to musicologists in only 1886 when music teacher Anastas Stoyanov published Bulgarian folk melodies for the first time.

Examples of such beats are 5/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8 and 11/8, or composite ones like (5+7)/8, (15+14)/8 and (9+5)/16 - (9+5)/16.

Bulgaria has several folk music regions and each area has its own characteristic music and dance style.

Bulgarian vocal style has a unique throat quality, while the singers themselves are renowned for their range.

Diatonic scales predominate but in the Rhodope Mountain, for example, pentatonic scales occur, while in Thrace appear chromatic scales with augmented intervals (similar to the music of Classical Greece).

Also, the intonation varies, and is quite different from the modern Western equal temperament.

Depending on whether the melody moves up or down, an interval can augment or decrease by a quarter tone.


Musical instruments, also unique, include gaida (bagpipe), kaval (rim-blown flute), tambura (guitar-like), gadulka (violin-like), and tapan (large two-sided drum).

The Gaida and the Gadulka of Bulgaria are worthy of their own subsection.

The gaida has always been a symbol of Bulgaria and its heritage, and is one of the more well known instruments of the country. In the Rhodope Mountains one can hear the deep sounding “kaba” (low, deep sound) gaida. In the north, common of Dobrudja is popular the “djura” (high sound) gaida. Also in the Strandja region there is the Strandja gaida (which is also “djura”). The bag itself is made of goat skin traditionally, and most often the rims of the different parts of the instrument are usually a piece of horn while the other parts are typically made by Cornel wood.

The Gadulka is a unique folk Bulgaria string musical instrument played with a bow.

There are two types of gadulkas; the most common has three or sometimes four main strings, with many lesser strings, and a smaller variant in the Dobrudja region which only has the three main strings. In most variants, the lesser strings are placed underneath the main strings as sympathetic strings. The main strings are touched with the tips of the fingers or the fingernails and not pressed all the way down to the neck of the instrument.

The gadulka is played vertically, and the bow held horizontally with the hair facing the player.

The body and neck of the instrument are carved out of one piece of wood. The overall construction is quite heavy compared to; say, a violin, though some gadulkas are exquisitely built.

The gadulka is an important instrument in the traditional Bulgarian Horo round dances.


Bulgarian Folk Dances are intimately related to the Bulgarian music. They have complex steps matching the rhythm, and are often fast. Most are circle-dances or line dances called horo; but some are done singly or in pairs (ratchenitsa).

Folk dancers often speak in terms of "quick" and "slow" instead of a steady meter "1, 2, 3," etc.

Many of the dances are formed by each person holding the belt or sash of the dancer on either side. These belts are typically fit loosely around the waist so that each person can move easily within the belt, while the overall line can stay together. Although there are basic steps that make up the dance, certain people may improvise variations, sometimes forming a competition between the dancers. These variations must result in the same movement as the rest of the line, but may consist of additional or slightly different steps.

Some of the most popular Bulgarian folk dances are:

- Pravo horo - a common line (chain) dance that can go virtually and seemingly "forever".

- Shopsko horo - men's dance, often accompanied with bagpipes (gaida) and drums (tupan).

- Rachenitsa - quick-quick-slow, single or couple dance (2+2+3 or 4+3; 7/16).

- Daichovo horo -a circle dance where a leader calls what formations/variations the circle should do next.

- Elenino horo (Eleno Mome) - a line dance, excellent aerobic exercise when done daily.