Traditional instruments of Serbia

Radojka Živković (1923- 2002) is legend of Serbian traditional music was in 2005 posthumous awarded with World prize for 71 years long career that was recorded in the Guinness World Records as the professional accordion player with the longest music internship in the world ! Radojka Zivkovic was awarded with several rewards among which are the Reward out of competition at the International Music Festival in Langolen, Great Britan in 1954 for extraordinary musicality and virtuosity and the “Vlastimir Pavlović Carevac” Prize in 1966. It was UNESCO documentary film shot in 1956 with Radojka Živković. Radojka Živković composed numerous traditional dances – kolo, and folk songs in traditional spirit. During her rich career, she performed alone, or with her husband Tine or with her ensemble in more than 11500 concerts, of which 700 concerts were held abroad, from Bulgaria, France, Sweden, England, Switzerland and Austria to USA. Radojka performed in numerous radio and TV centers. Her interpretation provided her huge popularity within lovers of traditional music audiance and music experts.

The rich cultural heritage of Serbia until today inspires numerous artists to create works of high artistic values that attract attention of audience. Among them are members of the dance troupe UNA SAGA SERBIA whose performances are true spectacles, based on the diversity of the rhythms of Serbia and the Balkans, and they prove that ‘ The beauty of Balkans, its history, heritage, culture and above else its dances are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for many artists. By connecting steps from traditional dances, sounds and notes, colors and people, we came up with the idea to create a new concept for a show. A show with a new view on the rich traditional folklore dance culture from this region and present in a unique way, all the beauty of the time behind us…..


The tamburitza [tamburitsa] /tamburica; diminutive of tambura/ is one of the most popular instruments in the folk music of Serbia /especially Vojvodina/ and Croatia /especially Slavonia/. It is a plucked string instrument related to the mandolin of Italy, the bandura of the Ukraine and the balalaika of Russia. The word tambura probably comes from the Persian word “Denbar” or maybe from the Arabic “Tambur”. It is first documented in the 14th century, and is said to have first entered Bosnia before being introduced to Bačka and Slavonia

Janika Balaž /Janika Balázs/ was born on December 23rd, 1925 in Lukino Selo near Zrenjanin, died November 12, 1988 in Novi Sad/ was a famous tamburitza musician and band leader from Vojvodina. He was born 1925. in a Hungarian-speaking Roma family with strong musical tradition, which gave him genetic prerequisites to become a musician. Janika Balaž grew up in Bečej, where he started playing violin in a local kafana with 10 years of age. When he realized that he couldn’t become the best violinist, he switched to /”prim” or “bisernica”/ tamburitza which he played ever since. Later, Janika Balaž played with “Braća kozaci” band in the area of Subotica and Horgoš. From 1948 to 1951, Janika Balaž worked in Radio Titograd in Montenegro, where he perfected his tamburitza play.

From its foundation in 1951 to the end of his working career Janika Balaž worked in Radio Novi Sad and was a member of its Grand Tamburitza Orchestra. Janika Balaž was spending nights playing with his 8-men band in kafanas of Novi Sad, especially on Petrovaradin fortress, of which he became one of icons. During his career, Janika Balaž held concerts across the world, including 36 performances in Paris Olympia. Allegedly, he had several offers from United States and Soviet Union to move there and work as a tamburitza teacher, but he never wanted to leave Novi Sad, where he died in 1988. Janika Balaž participated in several documentary and feature films. Songs “Osam tamburaša s Petrovaradina” /Eight tambouritza-players from Petrovaradin/ and “Primaši” were dedicated to him. During his career, he worked with many renowned musicians, including Zvonko Bogdan and Julija Bisak. After Janka Balaž died, the city of Novi Sad raised a monument /authored by sculptor Laszlo Silagyi/, standing on a square opposite the Petrovaradin fortress across the Danube.

Trumpet – Brass

Trumpet is the aero phonic brass tubing instrument brought to Serbia at the end of 19th century by the ex-warriors that used it as the motivating instrument during heroic Balkan wars. Played together by the local musicians the trumpet is warmly welcomed and accepted by Serb population as one of the most significant instrument. After the Second World War the trumpet playing became specially popular in three Serbian regions : Uzice and Cacak region, Boljevac and Zajecar region and Vranje and Leskovac region. Sound is produced by blowing air through closed lips, producing a “buzzing” sound into the mouthpiece and starting a standing wave vibration in the air column inside the trumpet. The trumpet is most commonly used in orchestral playing. The first Dragacevo Trumpeters’ Competition is held on October 14th, 1961. in Guca Church yard. Nowadays the Dragacevo Brass Festival in Guca is one of the biggest music festivals in the world.

Bakija Bakich Brass Orchestra – A Wife’s Mother in Law Kolo-Dance

Bakija Bakich Brass Orchestra – Roma Chochek


Serbian very old national music instrument is stringed musical instrument which has important historical role. The most important events from the history of the Serbian people and state are recorded thanks to this ancient instrument, so it is reasonable to say that gusle were are are the source of our people memory, the eternal guardian of truth and faithful ally of our nation in its centuries-long struggle for survival. Singing to the accompaniment of the gusle is part of the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Gusle is old instrument with a round wooden back, a skin belly, and one horsehair string secured at the top of the neck by a rear tuning peg. It is played in a vertical position, with a deeply curved bow. Gusle instrument has no fingerboard, the string being stopped by the sideways pressure of the player’s fingers. Gusle players or Guslari are among the few performers continuing the oral tradition of the Serbian epic poetry. Most of their songs are about the era of Turkish rule and were handed down by teachers or older singers. Because the narratives are orally transmitted, variation in content is inevitable. Its songs were basic and often the only way to hand down traditions and memory of Serb people during the rule of foreigners. People gathered around gusle players and listened epic songs about Serb heroes and suffering of Serb nation. Very often, large crowd and gusle players began to cry touched by very emotional contents.

Under the long dark time of the Ottoman yoke (1459-1804), the Serbs kept an oral history through epic poetry, half-recited and half-sung over the mournful wail of the single-string gusle. Certain poetic license was taken with history in these songs: thus Lazar, a powerful prince, became a Tsar – even though the Serbs only had one real tsar, Stefan Dušan (“the Mighty”), and his empire had been split by squabbling nobles afterwards. Lazar wasn’t even a king – that title belonged to the two brothers, Vukašin and Uglješa, who perished in 1371 when their host was ambushed by the Turks at Maritza River in present-day Bulgaria. Another bit of poetic license was the reinterpretation of the Kosovo battle’s outcome. From a Pyrrhic victory of the Serbs, it became a triumph of the Turks – but only because Lazar had made a choice of the Kingdom of Heaven for himself and all the Serbs.


A flute /frula in Serbian/ is the Serbian name for a musical instrument which resembles a small recorder or flute. Flute or frula is an aero phone. Similar instruments are played throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Frula is typically made of wood and has six holes and it is held vertically. The frula is a traditional instrument of shepherds and farmers of Serbia who would play while tending their flocks. The outer surface of the pipe is angular, but the actual bore is round.

The double flute is made of two connected instruments – pipes, made parallel of one piece of wood. Each instrument has a mouthpiece for blowing air inside, just like an ordinary pipe, and holes for the fingers on both pipes. In Serbia, on the left pipe there are three holes, and on the right there are four. The double flute is played in two ways : a/ one tone on the left pipe, and a tune on the right. b/ a tune on the right pipe, and the accompaniment on the left.

In Serbia the flute was the center of social and public life in rural communities. As soon as the flute appeared – people started to sing. The flute was in use in all free, public spaces, in nature among shepherds, in rural gatherings, common works and festivities. The flute provided to people option to enrich their lives, and it was a symbol orthe Serbian people, up to the recent times.

The main occupation of an average Serb was cattle breeding, of prime importance that contributed to preservation and development of the Serbian traditions. Popular instruments in patriarchal communities were gusle – bag pipe, and pipe, as people were connected with the epic heroic songs. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, with modernization, flute and gusle – bag pipe were replaced with craft and factory mode instruments, like trumpet-brass, accordion and violine. Of traditional instruments, only pipes and double flutes come as part of the new music ensembles.

The myth has it that the flute was legacy of the forest and shepherd deity Pan who created the fist flute and played his first audio dream out of the Siringa nymph, transfigured into reed. The flute is manufactured out from nearly every kind of wood, most often from plum tree wood or cornel tree, maple, cherry tree wood…. Wood for flute manufacture needs to be as old as possible, about 20 years, while when it is of cornel tree wood – about 30 years old. The most popular flute producers in Serbia was Mitar Vasić. Pipes and double flutes are mostly manufactured in vicinity of Uzice, Zajecar and in the Banat area.

Zurla – Shawm – Zurna

Zurla is an oriental instrument which, most probably, came to the Balkans from Turkey and Persia. In the Balkans zurna is present in Kosovo and Metohia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. The pipe of the zurla is cylindrical, but it is very wide at the end, usually made of walnut or plum wood. The sound is very strong and intended for playing outdoors. The zurlas are often played in pairs with the accompaniment of the large traditional drums. The ensemble “Stupovi” uses special zurla with the “cap, which is placed on the top of the instrument, and used for producing of the sound. /quoted from Ensemble “Stupovi” archive/


Shargia is a sort of plucked string instrument. The name comes from the Turkish word sarki /the East/. It may have 4 to 12 strings. The tune is played on the highest string, and the other strings are used for the accompaniment. It was used for the accompaniment for dancing and singing. The shargia is used in musical practice of Kosovo and Metohia, Macedonia and some parts of Serbia, especially the Užice region. /quoted from Ensemble “Stupovi” archive/


Kaval is a chromatic end-blow flute, open from both sides. It is usually made of one piece of ash wood and is played by blowing on the sharpened edge of one end. Kaval is decorated along its whole length. The instrument tenderly sharpen at the end. Kaval has seven holes for fingers on its forefront and one hole for the first finger on the back side. Holes are equitably distanced. The sixth hole sits at the average middle position of instrument. Kaval is traditionally played throughout Azerbaijan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, southern Serbia, northern Greece, Romania and Armenia. The kaval is primarily associated with mountain shepherds throughout the Balkans and Anatolia spread with the inhabitants from the Taurus mountains of southern Turkey into the southern Balkans of southeast Europe. When played, the kaval is held with both hands at an angle of approximately 45° from the body, with the four fingers of the one hand covering the lower holes; the upper three holes and the thumb hole are covered with the other hand. The mouth covers ~3/4 of the end. Change of the breath air pressure also changes the pitch. The kaval is usually mounted on a wooden holder, which protects it from warping and helps keep the interior walls oiled. While in the past kaval was predominantly shepherd’s instrument, nowadays it is widely used as instrumental of folk songs in ensembles or solo playing and dances.

Theodosii Spasov Bulgarian kaval player

Nedyalko Nedyalkov Bulgarian kaval player

Gajda /bagpipe/

The gaida /bagpipe/ is aerophone music instrument that uses enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag which originates from the East and is used by all European nations. The gaida – bagpipe is one of the most popular traditional instruments in the Balkans along with the kaval. Gajda – bagpipe is typical to all parts of Balkan both for accompaniment and solo performance. Bag is usually made of lamb skin because of better performances. The gaida – bagpipe is composed by the following parts: gaidunitsa, ruchilo, duhalo, glavini and meh. Gaidunitsa is the most important part of the gaida and is a kind of a pipe with eight holes for the fingers, seven of them are on the front side and the eighth hole is on the back side of the pipe. Before playing, the gajda should be tuned. This is achieved by playing the fifth tone on the chanter (with the upper four holes covered) and adjusting the length of the drone, so that it plays two octaves lower. The gajda – bagpipe is held under the arm (the bag should be inflated from time to time). The chanter is held with both hands, so that the left hand fingers cover the lower 4 holes, while the upper three and the thumb hole are covered with the right hand fingers. The tone possibilities of the gaida are less then these of the kaval. There are two main kinds of gaida. Low (caba) and high (dzhura) – the low type of gaida is diffused in the mountainous regions. The most famous Bulgarian is the so called Rhodope (mountain) gaida, which is used as a lyrical accompaniment of Rhodope songs or melodies. The most used gaida is with the main tone “sol” (dzhura). It has got loud tone possibilities compared to the other kind of gaida. The gajda – bagpipe repertoire includes folk dances and songs, which are performed typically during festive occasions.

Bojana i Nikola Pekovic