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Contextual Associations

The kavall is an end-blown edge aerophone (flute) of Macedonia and Albania, related to a number of other similar instruments throughout the Balkan region (such as the Bulgarian kaval) and ultimately to the Turkish nāy. In Macedonia, from where the instrument pictured here originated, the kavall is associated with the pastoral context and often played by shepherds of Albanian descent. The kavall pictured and described here was made in the Skopje workshop of Stojanche Vihiche (see detail #4). Historically, the kavall has at times also been used in small ensemble combinations with other instruments to provide dance music for village celebrations and for urban entertainment. The exterior surface of the instrument has lightly-inscribed, mostly geometric line decorations (detail #2 and #3).


The kavall is made from a single rod of wood that has been hollowed out over its entire length into a thin-walled cylindrical tube. At the blowing end the rim has been beveled to a sharp edge (detail #2). Seven fingerholes (gallery #1) and one thumbhole (detail #1) are drilled into the midsection of the tube, and four additional vent holes (never covered) are drilled near the distal end of the instrument. When not in use, the instrument is stored on a wood rod over which it is slid (detail #5 shows the flute with its support inserted; detail #6 the flute and the support alongside one another), probably to keep it from warping.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the kavall with both hands at an oblique angle (about 30-degrees) with the instrument’s beveled end placed against his lips. Fingers of both hands are used to cover the fingerholes, and the thumb of the upper hand operates the thumbhole. The fundamental pitch of a kavall is determined by its length, and a competent player can attain a range of three chromatic octaves. It is not uncommon for the kavall to be made as an identical pair of flutes, one used to produce melody and the other, performed by a second musician, a drone. This arrangement can be seen in the first minute of this YouTube video in which Salla Shabani is performing the melodic line. Both performers are for much of the performance incorporating the technique of cyclic breathing to produce long, uninterrupted periods of sound.


The kavall 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 to 1877 CE, and it is most likely that the nāy was introduced during this long period of cultural interaction.

Bibliographic Citations

Alexandru, Tiberiu, et al. 2014. “Kaval.” GDMI v.3: 121-122.

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

Rice, Timothy. 2000. "Macedonia." In Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.8: Europe. ed. Timothy Rice, James Porter, and Chris Goertzen. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 972-985.

Sugarman, Jane. 2000. "Albanian Music." In Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.8: Europe. ed. Timothy Rice, James Porter, and Chris Goertzen. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 986-1006.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Southern Europe

Nation: Macedonia

Formation: Albanian

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


29.3 in length

Primary Materials



Stojanche Vihiche of Skopje

Entry Author

Roger Vetter