This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
The traditional musical instruments of Bulgaria are:
The kaval is a wooden flute which is played by blowing across the end.
It has a very interesting woody sound. The name kaval is found for
similar musical instruments from Rumania all the way to India, but the
Bulgarian kaval is probably the most beautiful sounding version. The kaval
was the chosen instrument of shepherds, who needed some way to entertain
themselves while grazing sheep on the high pastures. Unfortunately the
number of Bulgarians who play the kaval well has dropped due to the fewer
number of shepherds.
The gadulka is a bowed instrument similar to a violin, but only three
strings are bowed, while the rest are sympathetic; ie, these strings
vibrate on a harmonic, giving a very rich texture, but are not fingered.
The gadulka held by a sling around the neck, much like a saxaphone, and
the fingerboard is up by the players neck. Of all the traditional
Bulgarian instruments, the gadulka has declined in popularity the most,
and is rarely heard, even on folk music recordings.
The gaida is a bagpipe with one drone. The bag is usually made out of
goat hide, although the very large Macedonian kaba gaida is often made
from sheep hide. The gaida sounds quite different from the more common
The tupan is a large drum which is played with a big drumstick on one
side and a very thin drumstick on the other. Any person who has ever
learned to play any kind of drum for "western" music (ie, R&R), please
spare all of us and do not try to pick up Bulgarian tupan. Bulgarian
rhythms consist of short beats of two counts and long beats of three
counts, and westerners invariably split the long beats incorrectly.
Other instruments which are common are the dumbek, a small lap drum,
the zurna, an incredibly loud reed instrument, and the tamburitsa,
a plucked string instrument similar to a bouzouki, but these are also
common in Turkey, Greece, and other countries are are not solely Bulgarian.
Originally these instruments were used mostly for village dancing, and
only one or occasionally two instruments would be played at a time.
People would dance to one of the melody instruments, sometimes accompanied
by a tupan. The zurna and tupan is still a popular combination in
Macedonia. In this century, bands became popular which had one or more
of each instrument, say, for instance, a kaval, a gadulka, a gaida, a
tamburitsa, and a tupan. Later, instruments such as the accordeon and
clarinet became popular. Nowadays, the "traditional" Bulgarian wedding
band might have clarinets, electric guitars, and so on.