An essential part of the Bulgarian customs and culture is the folklore. Bulgaria is known around the world with its rich variety of musical folklore styles that have preserved their originality over the years. Precisely this multitude is the fundamental cause for the existence of a certain “regionization” of the musical instruments. F.i. tarambuka and zurna are characteristic of the Pirin region, bells and bagpipe for the Rodopa region, shepherd’s pipe for the northwest. In the Thracian lowlands most popular instruments are flute, rebec and drums. The materials used in the creation of the instruments are natural – most often wood, fur, in some cases with the stringed ones ox- and horse-hair, metal for the bells, clay for ocarinas.
Musical instruments are divided into stringed, wind and percussion.
One of the most popular stringed instruments is the rebec. It is used as a solo and an accompanying instrument at weddings, at country festivities and at soldiers’ dispatches. The common rebec has three, sometimes four basic chords to be played on. It is made from a single piece of wood and is pear-shaped. All its parts are whittled down, after which the corpus is chiseled out. Another string instrument is the lute. It is made of sycamore or pear tree and comes in two varieties with eight or six strings. The tune rings out by pulling the strings with a small lamella called pick. It is common in the southeastern parts of Bulgaria and Pirin.
Gusla, a variation of the ridic, is yet another string instrument. It has one string only, played on with a bow. It is made entirely of wood and is pear-shaped, but with a thin and long neck. A taut skin replaces the resonator board. The string is a bundle of tightly twisted hairs from horse tails.
Originally the drum is an Arabian instrument. It is brought by the Ottoman Turks during the Ottoman rule. It is used in the music of almost all folk regions, with the exception of the Rodopa region, where is hardly used. It has a wooden cylindrical corpus with a taut skin, stretched by a wooden hoop, tightening and loosening the skin via cords. The tune rings out by beating the skin with sticks.
The tarambuka, like the drum is a percussion instrument. In the past the corpus of the tarambuka has been clay, in the form of a bottomless vase, and with a stretched skin (most often lambskin) on one side. Nowadays the instrument has a metal body in the form of a glass and two openings, as a membrane (skin) is stretched over the wider one through a mechanism of hoops and screws.
The tambourine is a percussion instrument. It consists of a hoop, skin and zils. It is played on with various techniques: hitting the skin with the fingers, shaking, alternating fingers a.o.
Yet another music instrument is the clapper. It is a long lath 10 – 15 cm. wide, narrowed in the middle so that it can be held in a way, allowing both ends to freely vibrate when struck. They are divided into two main groups – metal and wooden. Widespread in several countries, in Bulgaria they are primarily used in church music. Clappers can be most often seen in Bulgarian monasteries and in some churches.
Similar to the tambourine the bell is a percussion instrument. It has a conical shape and a specific full-toned sound. It is used in the Bulgarian folklore, the dances of the kukers and as a signaling instrument for pets.
The most popular Bulgarian wind instrument is the flute. It is emblematic for Bulgarian folk music. It is made of almond-, plum-, cornel- or boxtree and is made of three put into each other pipes, with metal inlayed bone rings. In folk art it is characterized with the epithets “copper”, “golden”.
Zurna is a wooden wind instrument with a double reed lamella. It is widespread in the Middle East, India, the Balkans, as in some Caucasian countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia a.o.). In Bulgaria the zurna is predominantly used in the southwestern border areas and the Rodopa region. Village Kavrakirovo, near Petrich is one of the main centres of zurna tradition in Bulgaria.
The most famous clay blow instrument is the Ocarina. It has an oval shape and a standard width of 12 – 15 cm. The ocarina is widespread in the whole world, for Bulgaria predominantly in northwestern Bulgaria.