Also:       caval      

Title: A Harvest, a Shepherd, a Bride: Village Music of Bulgaria—Triti Puti; Shtillyan Tihov, kaval. Label: Nonesuch. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 9 79195-2. Track: 2.

Contextual Associations

The kaval is an end-blown edge aerophone (flute) of Bulgaria, related to a number of other such instruments throughout the Balkan region (such as the Macedonian kavall) and ultimately to the Turkish nāy. Traditionally the kaval was a male instrument associated with the pastoral context, but was also used in small ensemble combinations with other instruments to provide dance music for village celebrations. Since the Communist takeover of Bulgaria in 1944, the kaval and other folk instruments have become tools of political ideology, leading eventually to the establishment of government-run music conservatories that produced professional performers who populated professional and semiprofessional government-subsidized folk music ensembles. It is in performances and media broadcasts of such ensembles that one is most likely to encounter the kaval today.


Although Bulgarian kaval was at one time made from a single piece of wood, today it is made in three joined sections of wood with the beveled mouthpiece and the joint connections made of horn or bone. It has a cylindrical bore with seven fingerholes and one thumbhole drilled into the middle joint; four additional holes, called ‘devil's holes,’ are drilled in the foot joint but are never covered.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the kaval with both hands at an oblique angle (about 30-degrees) with the instrument’s beveled end placed between the lips and the edge touching the teeth. Fingers of both hands are used to cover the fingerholes, and the thumb of the upper hand is operates the thumbhole. The fundamental pitch of a kaval is determined by its length, the pictured instrument producing a fundamental of approximately C3. A competent player can attain a range of three chromatic octaves. A variety of timbral qualities can be produced on the instrument (listen to the audio clip). In some regions of Bulgaria and Macedonia, two kaval tuned alike are played together, one musician producing melody and the other providing a drone.


The kaval and its many other Balkan counterparts are most likely of Middle Eastern origin, derived from the Turkish nāy. Much of the Balkan region was under Turkish Ottoman rule from about 1500 CE to 1877 CE, and it is most likely that the nāy was introduced during this long period of cultural interaction.

Bibliographic Citations

Atanassov, Vergilij, et al. 1984. NGDMI v.2: 365-366.

Rice, Timothy. 2004. Music in Bulgaria. New York: Oxford University Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Eastern Europe

Nation: Bulgaria

Formation: Bulgarian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.111.12 aerophone--single end-blown flute (a narrow stream of air is directed against an edge to excite a column of air in a tube or a body of air in a cavity); with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled rim at end of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


28 in. length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter