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Title: Traditional Songs & Dances from the Soko Banj Area (Balkan Heritage Series Vol. 1)--Frula Melody; performer not credited. Label: SELO Records. Format: LP. Catalogue#: LP-1. Track: A-11.

Contextual Associations

The svirala is an end-blown duct flute aerophone of Serbia, Bosnia (from whence the instrument pictured here originated), and other Balkan Peninsula countries that were once a part of Yugoslavia. Geometric carvings adorn the top face of this instrument. The svirala is strongly associated with rural life and is considered a shepherds’ instrument and is played by men as a solo instrument for their own entertainment. While modernity has transformed considerably the lifestyle of this region and quite possibly changed how the svirala fits into daily life, it has simultaneously become a symbol of regional distinctiveness as seemingly thousands of these instruments are manufactured for sale to tourists and are also procurable through the internet.


The svirala is crafted from a single block of wood that is in the form of a long square tube with a beak at one end. Into this block is drilled a cylindrical bore air column. The blowing/beak end of the air column is nearly entirely stopped with a wood plug (fipple) save for a narrow channel/duct that is left open between it and the inside wall of the column. A deep cut is chiseled into the upper side of the column just below the duct to create the sharp edge against which the airstream is directed. Six equidistantly gapped fingerholes are drilled into the topside of the distal-end half of the body; there is no thumbhole on the reverse side.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the svirala in front of him with both hands so that the blowing end is pressed against his lips and the fingerholes can be covered with his fingertips (three from each hand); both thumbs rest on the backside of the instrument for support. Sviralas are made in various, unstandardized lengths; the air column on the instrument pictured here produces a C4 when all the fingerholes are covered. An un-tempered heptatonic (seven-tone) scale is produced when uncovering the fingerholes in series from the distal end. Melodies are improvised by svirala players.


Single, end-blown internal-duct flutes with a beak-shaped mouthpiece (such as recorders) are found widely distributed throughout Europe, suggesting they have considerable historical depth in this area of the world. However, there were no published sources encountered in which information specifically focused on the origin and evolution of the svirala was presented. A tantalizing question which cannot be answered here is: Are the Balkan svirala and related Eastern European folk flutes (and Western European ones as well) of today and the Western European Renaissance recorder linked to one another historically, one serving as the inspiration for the other? The recorder, with its separate mouthpiece joint, would seem to be a design refinement/advancement on the integral mouthpiece design of svirala-like instruments, but whether or not this supports a theory of the former evolving from the latter must be left to conjecture.

Bibliographic Citations

Rihtman, Cvjetko, and Radmila Petrović. 1984. “Svirala [svirale].” NGDMI v.3: 480.

Petrović, Ankica. “Bosnia-Hercegovina II. Traditional Music 4. Musical instruments.” Grove Music Online accessed August 31, 2015:

Sugarman, Jane. “Albania II. Traditional Music 1. Rural music.” Grove Music Online accessed August 31, 2015:


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Eastern Europe

Nation: Serbia

Formation: Balkan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.221.12 aerophone--single open flute with internal duct: the duct is inside the tube; 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 edge in wall of instrument, indirectly blown against with aid of duct

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


12.6 in. length

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter