The Music of the Western Balkans (Visitor put up

Welcome again to visitor author AleahFlute/Aleah Fitzwater! In her final put up, Aleah launched us to “7 Unusual Classical Composers”.

This time, be taught in regards to the music of the Balkan area of Europe – an space with many cultural, non secular, and historic influences. Whereas every nation has its personal distinctive tradition, the shared historic experiences of the folks within the area imply that in addition they have some shared parts. The stamp of Balkan folks/conventional music customs could be discovered within the artwork music (classical music) and up to date music works of the Balkan international locations and past!


Hey there! My title is Aleah Fitzwater. I’m a classical flutist and music instructor gone rogue. I used to show music within the public faculties. I’m nonetheless a classical cat, however now I write blogs about area of interest music matters like bizarre composers and music digitising. I additionally prepare and file classical flute variations of different/pop songs, like these by Linkin Park and Panic! on the Disco.

As we speak I’m going to show you just a little bit in regards to the music of the Balkans. I not too long ago found that one among my grandparents had Balkan ancestry. This wasn’t a lot of a shock, although, as a result of he was adopted into the household. Moreover, due to the struggle on Ukraine, I believed it could be attention-grabbing to delve into a number of the music of South-eastern Europe. Let’s go!

The Balkans

The Balkans are a gaggle of nations which lie on a peninsula, collectively bordering Italy, Ukraine, and Hungary. In line with, not everybody agrees on the precise parts of the area, although many can agree that the Balkans do embrace Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. Historians additionally sometimes embrace Greece and elements of Turkey within the definition of the area (Britannia).

The time period “Balkan” is typically thought-about to be detrimental because of the space’s turbulent historical past and the stereotypes that adopted. Some consultants say it’s extra acceptable to discuss with this group of nations as “The Western Balkans” or “Southeastern Europe” (Ertan Munoglu). Others argue that the time period “Balkan” is appropriate as it’s, so long as you don’t insinuate it’s a separate entity from Europe.

The Balkans are wealthy in tradition, combining Greek, Finnish, Turkish, and Slavic heritages collectively. So far as faith goes, Islam and Catholicism are each outstanding. You may hear a number of Jewish and Armenian influences within the music of this area at present. (IEmed/ Maria Djurdjevic)

One factor that binds the Balkans collectively is the truth that these international locations have been all below the rule of the Ottoman empire in some unspecified time in the future in time. Let’s delve into a number of the folks devices from this melting pot of a peninsula.

Be aware: This text discusses basic parts discovered within the music of the Balkan area. Some options are explicit to sure international locations and areas, and located much less in others. Here’s a abstract of parts talked about and a number of the locations the place they will generally be discovered (within the Balkans and past):

  • Balkan Accordion – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia

  • Balkan Fiddle – Bulgaria (referred to as the gadulka), Romania, Croatia

  • Tamburica – Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary

  • Gusle – Dinarides Area

  • Cimbalom – Hungary, Romania, Greece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia

  • Darbuka – Albania, extensively used throughout many of the Balkans

  • Doumbek – Iraq, Iran, Greece, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey

  • Giada/Balkan Bagpipe – Albania, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Turkey

  • Kaval – Albania, Romania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Serbia, North Macedonia, Turkey, Armenia

  • Balkan Brass/Truba – Serbia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Romania

Balkan People Devices


One key function of the Balkan fashion of the accordion is that it has a tone chamber. A tone chamber, or cassato, is a field that lengthens the trail that the air takes inside the instrument. The result’s mellow and distinctive. Within the context of a tune, it sounds surprisingly like conventional Jewish music (Klezmer). Right here is an instance of an accordion being performed within the Balkan fashion.

Bowed Strings and Lutes

Devices from the bowed string and lute households used on this area embrace the mandolin, guitar, and fiddle. The Balkan fiddle is a violin-type instrument, however is just a little completely different than what chances are you’ll be acquainted with. Fairly than being composed of a number of items of wooden, the instrument is usually carved from a single giant log, and even created from a gourd. The Balkan fiddle is usually paired with end-blown flutes and different strings. Two distinctive and lesser-known string devices embrace the tamburica and the gusle. The gusle is a chordophone (stringed instrument) with just one string.

The tamburica is a lute with a protracted neck. This instrument originated from a Persian lute referred to as the tanbur. You may see an image of it beneath:

Hammer Dulcimers

Hammer dulcimer-type devices got here from historic Persia and unfold far the world over. The cimbalom is an instance of one among these devices that developed from Persia and are sometimes performed within the Romani fashion. It originated in Hungary within the 1800s. You may take heed to an instance with these quintessential rolled strings right here.

Doumbek and Darbuka

The darbuka is a goblet-shaped drum that’s similar to the djembe. This drum is the important percussion instrument in Balkan music. You can even discover the extra generally recognized doumbek on this space. Whereas many individuals affiliate doumbeks and darbukas with Egyptian/ African music, these devices are additionally outstanding within the music of the Balkans. In line with Darkbukaplanet, the darbuka was initially from Albania and the Center East and unfold to the remainder of the Balkans and to Asia via commerce. Right here is a picture of a goblet-style drum:


Assume bagpipes are solely present in Scotland and Eire? Assume once more! The giada is a sort of Balkan bagpipe which is barely present in SE Europe. Take a look at the distinctive sound of this instrument on this TED speak.

Clarinets and Finish-Blown Flutes

Finish-blown flutes from this space are hand-carved and sometimes look very ornate. There are various iterations of fipple flutes all through the world. Fipple flutes are end-blown flutes with a plug (often known as a fipple) inside. The most typical fipple/end-blown flute within the Balkans is known as the kaval. It is extremely just like the nay from Egypt and Persia. The kaval is historically created from horn or wooden and was initially performed by shepherds.

The Ney:

The Kaval:

Clarinets performed within the Balkan fashion sound markedly completely different from clarinets within the Western classical context. There are extra glissandi (sliding sounds), and the instrument sounds very voice-like. The plethora of bends and ornamentation on this video will provide you with a good suggestion:

Brass Devices

Balkan brass is a large a part of the tradition. It’s a distinctive mixture of folks music that was fused with navy music. Such a music is known as “Truba”. Truba ensembles embrace the next devices:

  • Trumpets

  • Flugelhorns

  • Tubas

  • Baritones

  • Wagner tubas

  • Percussion

Of the devices in Truba, the least generally recognized is the Wagner tuba. These brass devices mix options of the French horn and the tuba, which makes them sound mellow and distinctive.

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Different distinctive options of Balkan music

Epic/Epos Poetry Set to Music

The gusle has an essential place in Balkan cultures. It’s the instrument that accompanies conventional epic poetry and legends. An individual, titled the guslar, is each the accompanist and storyteller. The guslar should additionally know how one can improvise.

Each tales and historic occasions have been advised via this fashion of enjoying. Albanian songs about heroes and valour are one instance. Serbian epic poetry is notably completely different from different Balkan poetry, because it solely consists of shorter epos, slightly than epics. The Serbian custom tells love tales within the type of ballads and recreates historic occasions. In line with Wikipedia, many of those songs element Serbia’s battle for liberation from the Ottoman empire. One well-known instance is the lifetime of Janko Mitrović (Јанко Митровић), a fearless chief from Croatia. His demise was the beginning of the Serbian revolution. (Wiki/Wikimili_Janko)

Harmonic Language

Gusle music is basically chromatic (makes use of tones that don’t belong to the diatonic/ main scale), and typically the vocals are microtonal (In-between notes). Turkish melodic constructions – Makam and Ayak – are units of guidelines for music efficiency. In line with Turkishmusicportal, Makam is crucial idea in Ottoman-Turkish music. Makam might be in comparison with classical modes (scales) in Western music concept. There are guidelines for rhythm (standard), melody (seyir), and intervals (cinsler). Ayak, then again, is extra associated to folks music. Pentatonic (five-note) scales are additionally utilized in Balkan folks music.

Right here is an instance of improvisation on one of many Makams on an oud:

Aksak Rhythms

Aksak is the Turkish phrase for “limping” and refers back to the mixture of uneven units of beats: 2+3. Aksak rhythms could be present in Turkey, the Center East, and lots of the surrounding areas. You may hear Aksak rhythms in Balkan dance music; time signatures reminiscent of 5 /8, 7 /8, and 11/8 are all frequent. Compared, Western music sometimes makes use of time signatures reminiscent of 4/4, 3/ 4, and 6/8.

Aksak is a part of one thing referred to as Ottoman music concept, which vastly differs from conventional Western classical concept. In Turkey, Aksak is the mix of two+2+2+3 solely (Wiki/Aksak) whereas Aksak in different international locations refers to uneven units of rhythms as a complete.

You may nonetheless hear the Aksak rhythmic affect in lots of genres, reminiscent of in this authentic jazz tune by Dave Brubeck titled ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk’ and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s ‘Finale Medley’.

Karşilama and Different Dances

People dances are an integral a part of the tradition of the Balkans. And, as you’ve most likely already seen, the music of Turkey had an enormous affect on the Western Balkans as a complete. Due to the Aksak rhythms and rhythmic ornamentations, dancers take heed to macro beats (The bigger, overarching rhythm) with a purpose to maintain their time.

Karşilama is a dance originating from Turkey, which unfold all through the encompassing areas, significantly to Greece. Karşilama means to welcome, or a greeting, in Turkish. It’s a couple’s dance that’s usually carried out at festivals (Karsilamas/Wiki). Ken Shorley provides a wonderful demonstration of the drum beat of this dance right here:

One other widespread dance from this area contains the circle dance referred to as The Horo, which was a means of courting (TheCultureTrip). It’s now thought-about the nationwide dance of Bulgaria. It sounds and appears shockingly Irish. This is usually because Bulgarian rhythms made their means into Celtic tradition, slightly than the opposite means round. Take a hear right here:

Fashionable Balkan Music

Truba has made its means into the world of digital music, the place traditional-sounding melodies get blended in with beats. The 2015 hit tune “Value It” by Fifth Concord options parts of Balkan music.

Muni Lengthy (Priscilla Renea) is a producer from Florida who wrote and produced the tune “Value It”. Her trademark is integrating Balkan parts into her R&B and rap songs. Along with this, they welcomed saxophonist Ori Kaplan, who performed the saxophone riff.

Kaplan is definitely a member of the group Balkan Beat Field, a fusion group that mixes parts of Jewish, Balkan, Center-Japanese, Digital, and punk music collectively. Take a hear right here:

Another bands which have Balkan influences embrace:

  • Gogol Bordello

  • Beirut

  • A Hawk and a Hacksaw

  • Amsterdam Klezmer


The music historical past discovered woven within the cultures of this area is much too expansive to seize in only one article. However I hope you discovered one thing at present!

You may comply with Aleah on social media or take heed to her flute covers right here:


The Balkans

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Aksak Rhythm

Blue Rondo / Piece

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Gusle Music/ Guslar

Dance: Karsilimas


Balkan Brass


Serbian Epic Poetry up/serbian-epic-poetry-101-an-element-of-oral-tradition

Accordion Tone Chambers material/9-voices-in-tone-chamber

Balkan Map

The Darbuka

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