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Owen James
Owen James

Balkan Music for Beginners: What You Need to Know About the Styles, Instruments, and Artists of Southeastern Europe

Balkan Music: A Rich and Diverse Musical Heritage

Balkan music is a type of music that originates from the Balkan region of southeastern Europe, which includes countries such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey. The music is characterized by complex rhythms, modal scales, ornamental melodies and expressive vocals. Balkan music reflects the diverse cultural influences that have shaped the region over centuries, such as Byzantine, Ottoman, Slavic, Romani, Jewish and Western European traditions.

Historical Musical Influences

One of the oldest and most influential musical traditions in the Balkans is Byzantine music, which is associated with the medieval sacred chant of Christian Churches following the Constantinopolitan rite. Its modal system is based on the ancient Greek models and its repertoire includes hymns, psalms and liturgical texts. Byzantine music has influenced the Orthodox chant of various Balkan countries, such as Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

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Another major musical influence in the Balkans is Ottoman music, which was brought by the Turks who ruled the region for over five centuries. Ottoman music is based on a system of modes called makams and features various instruments such as oud (lute), ney (flute), kanun (zither), kemençe (fiddle), darbuka (drum) and zurna (oboe). Ottoman music has influenced the urban folk music of many Balkan countries, such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Turkey.

Traditional Folk Music

Traditional folk music in the Balkans is very diverse and varies from region to region. It often reflects the local customs, beliefs and lifestyles of the people. Some of the common elements of Balkan folk music are:

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  • Use of various kinds of bagpipes (such as gaida in Bulgaria and Macedonia, kaba gaida in Rhodope Mountains, diple in Dalmatia and tulum in Black Sea region)

  • Use of various kinds of string instruments (such as gadulka in Bulgaria, tambura in Serbia and Croatia, saz in Turkey and gusle in Montenegro)

  • Use of various kinds of wind instruments (such as kaval in Bulgaria and Macedonia, duduk in Armenia and Azerbaijan, zurla in Serbia and Macedonia and clarinet in Greece)

  • Use of various kinds of percussion instruments (such as tapan in Bulgaria and Macedonia, tarambuka in Turkey and darbuka in Egypt)

  • Use of complex and irregular rhythms (such as 5/8, 7/8, 9/8 and 11/8)

  • Use of vocal techniques such as ornamentation, glissando and throat singing

Popular Music

Popular music in the Balkans is also very diverse and influenced by various musical genres from within and outside the region. Some of the popular genres are:

  • Balkan pop: A fusion of Western pop music with Balkan folk elements. Some examples are Toše Proeski from Macedonia, Elena Risteska from Macedonia and Severina from Croatia.

  • Balkan rock: A fusion of Western rock music with Balkan folk elements. Some examples are Bijelo Dugme from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Riblja Čorba from Serbia and YU Grupa from Serbia.

  • Balkan jazz: A fusion of Western jazz music with Balkan folk elements. Some examples are Vlatko Stefanovski from Macedonia, Bojan Zulfikarpašić from Serbia and Milcho Leviev from Bulgaria.

  • Turbo-folk: A fusion of Western electronic dance music with Balkan folk elements. Some examples are Lepa Brena from Serbia, Ceca from Serbia and Azis from Bulgaria.

  • Balkan brass: A genre of brass band music that originated from the military bands of the Ottoman Empire. Some examples are Boban Marković Orkestar from Serbia, Fanfare Ciocărlia from Romania and Kočani Orkestar from Macedonia.


Balkan music is a rich and diverse musical heritage that reflects the history, culture and identity of the people in the region. It is a music that celebrates diversity, creativity and emotion. Balkan music has influenced and been influenced by various musical genres from around the world, creating a unique and vibrant musical scene. Balkan music is a music that can make you dance, cry, laugh and sing along.


What are some of the characteristics of Balkan music?