»   Encyclopedic Dictionary »   Music Index »

Bulgarian Music

Rhythms, Melody, History and Dance Performance Music

Keep up with a FREE subscription to the BABA YAGA newsletter.


Bulgaria is about the size of Ohio with a population similar to that of Washington State. The majority Bulgarian population is of Slavic derivation; minority populations include Roma, Jews, Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Russians.

The men and women in Bulgarian rural society had distinct spheres of labor, and this in turn shaped their musical activity. Men worked outside, and one of their responsibilities was herding their animals. Homemade musical instruments provided distraction during the solitary hours with their herds. Women worked inside, and their hands were always busy; too busy to practice instruments. So they learned to sing songs.

During the Communist era in the last half of the 20th centure, traditional Bulgar folk music was nutured and encouraged as a matter of national pride on both the amateur and professional level. However, Romany music was not seen by the authorities as representative of Bulgarian folk music and the government made efforts to repress it. However, Romany bands continued to be hired to perform at weddings throughout the country, and their popularity did not diminish. These bands brought emotion, excitement, and a fusion of foreign music genres and instruments to wedding celebrations and people were willing to pay large sums for the best bands.



Timothy Rice: "Metrical (songs with a definate beat) and instrumental tunes are almost always a catalyst for dancing. Furthermore, meter is one of the most interesting features of Bulgarian music, because of the wide variety of so-called 'additive meters', such as the ruchensitsa in 7."

Additive meters are more easily understood if you think in terms of breaking the music down into units, with each unit starting with an emphasized beat.

Chris Haugh: "Here’s a quick tour of some of the main rhythms. In most cases the accent will come on every 1, with the strongest accents on the 1 of every 3. Most of the rhythms are used for circle dances called horos or oros.. A typical tune title will therefore be Paidushko Oro,  meaning, dance in the Paidushka rhythm.

Paidushko – also known as the “Old Man’s hobble” or “the lame one”. Phrased 12,123. Traditionally a men’s dance; it is named after a village in north east Bulgaria
Pravo; this is one of the most basic wedding dances- usually written in 2/4 with triplets.
If split 12,12,123 this is a Ruchenitsa,  a couple dance named after the village of the same name in S E Bulgaria. If 123,12,12 it’s a Cetvorno. 7/8 is possibly the most common of the asymmetric time signatures; if you’re going to try and master just one of them, this is it.
4/4 or 8/8;
Cocek, a very popular dance associated with gypsy wedding bands, is split 123,123,12, reflecting a strong Turkish influence.  In Alabania and Bosnia it is called Usul Derveshi, and was once used in the rituals of the “whirling” Dervishes.
Variously called the Gruncarsco, Svornato or Daicovo. This rhythm, 12,12,12,123 was almost certainly introduced from Turkey, where it is called Usul Kusten, and is widely used in both folk and classical music.
Aramaska Cocuk: also introduced from Turkey, this rhythm 123,12,12,123, is danced only by women.
Kopanica, or Jedenaistvo (“the 11-beat one”) 12,12,123,12,12.A line dance.
The Postupano, from central Macedonia; 12,12,12,123,12,12. It is helpful to create a mnemonic- a spoken phrase which makes it easy to remember the rhythm.
Bucimis ; 12,12,12,12,123,12,12
Sedi Donka; 123,12,12,123,12,12,12,12,123,12,12. Two questions loom large. How? and Why? This rhythm qualifies as an extreme sport, alongside naked bungee jumping and freestyle bear wrestling.


The pravo horo and the ruchensitsa are the most important dances at Bulgarian weddings.


The territory now known as Bulgaria was home to the Thracians, Macedonians, and Dacians.
First century A.D.:
The Romans conquer what is now known as Bulgaria, quite likely bringing bagpipes with them.
6th century A.D.:
Slavic tribes from Northern Europe overrun the area.
Seventh century A.D.:
The Balkans are invaded by the Bulgars (central Asian horsemen).
The Bulgars form the first Bulgarian kingdom. A slow, eight-century by the Byzantine Empire begins.
Bulgarians covert to Orthodox Christianity, the religion of the Byzantine empire.
Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, is captured by the Ottoman empire. All Byzantine territories are now part of the Ottoman empire or paying tribute. Turkish and Romany immigration into Bulgaria exerts strong influences on local music.
Russian empire frees Bulgaria from the Ottoman empire.
End of WWII and the establishment of a Communist government. Industrialization and public education encourage migration from rural to urban areas.
Bugaria begins transition from Communism to democracy.
Bulgaria becomes part of NATO.
Bulgaria joins the European Union.


Gaida: Bulgarian bagpipe. "A wedding without a gaida is impossible." Timothy Rice.

Kyuchek, Roma solo dance.

Pravo Horo: the most important traditional Bulgarian dance. Performed as an open-ended circle with the dancers holding hands. A duple (counted in two) meter dance; time signatures often written as 2/4, 2/8 or 6/8. Triplets abound.

Ruchensitsa (aka Rachenitsa): 7/16 time signature, with a pulse of 2-2-3. Timothy Rice: "Typical of wedding celebrations. Unlike a horo or line dance, dancers... do not hold hands but move freely about the dance floor, waving their hands or sometimes a handkerchief."

Additive Meters: Count, Internalize, Enjoy!

Haugh, Chris; Balkan Fiddle. Web.

Kanarite: A noted Bulgarian band with a mix of Roma and Bulgarian musicians.

Timothy Rice, Music in Bulgaria, Oxford University Press.

Bulgaria, Wikipedia.

Keep up with a FREE subscription to the BABA YAGA newsletter.
Maura Enright, Proprietor
©2012 - 2016 by Maura Enright.
Last updated in March 2016.
© means the content is copyrighted. Your links to this content are much appreciated.