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Prim tambura.png
String instrument
Classification Plucked
Related instruments

Tamburica (/tæmˈbʊərɪtsə/ or /ˌtæmbəˈrɪtsə/) or Tamboura (Bosnian: Tamburica, Croatian: Tamburica, Serbian: Тамбурица, meaning "little Tamboura"; Hungarian: Tambura; Greek: Ταμπουράς, sometimes written tamburrizza or tamburitza) refers to any member of a family of long-necked lutes popular in Southern Europe and Central Europe, particularly Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia (especially Vojvodina), Slovenia, Croatia (especially Slavonia). It is also known in Burgenland. All took their name and some characteristics from the Persian tanbur but also resemble the mandolin, in that its strings are plucked and often paired. The frets may be moveable to allow the playing of various modes.


The area where tamburica is played.

There is little reliable data showing how the tamboura entered Central Europe. It already existed during Byzantine Empire, and the Greeks and Slavs used to call "pandouras" (see pandoura) or "tambouras" the ancestor of modern bouzouki.[1] The instrument was referred to as θαμπούριν, thambourin in the Byzantine Empire (confer Digenis Akritas, Escorial version, vv. 826-827, ed. and transl. Elizabeth Jeffrey).

It is said it was probably brought by the Turks to Bosnia, from where the instrument spread further with migrations of Šokci and Bunjevci above the Sava River to all parts of Croatia, Serbia and further,[2] although this theory is not consistent with the generally accepted view that the ancestor of the tamboura is the ancient Greek pandouris. The modern tamburica shape was developed in Hungary (Budapest) in the end of 19th century.

Until the Great Migration of the Serbs at the end of the 17th century, the type of tamboura most frequently used in Croatia and Serbia had a long neck and two or three strings (sometimes doubled).[citation needed] Similar string instruments are the Czech bratsche, Turkish saz and the sargija, çiftelia and bouzouki.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia (especially the Pannonian plain: Slavonia, Slovenia and Hungary the tamboura (often referred to by the diminutive tamburica) is the basic instrument of traditional folk music, usually performed by small orchestras of three to ten members, though large orchestras capable of playing even classical pieces arranged for tamboura also exist.

Types of tamburica[edit]

Tamburitza instruments displayed at permanent exhibition at The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) Tempe, AZ 85284. Shell inlaid pear like brač and guitar like shaped brač and bugarija are made by Gilg, Sisak, Croatia. Smaller dark colored is brač made by B. Grđan, Gračani, Zagreb. The large dark colored is čelo.

The number of strings on a tamburica varies and it may have single or double-coursed strings or a mixture of both. Double-coursed strings are tuned in unison. The basic forms of tamburica are (Serbian and Croatian name is given with Hungarian name in the parenthesis, if different):

  • The samica - two double strings.
  • The prim (prím) - one double string, E, and three single strings B, F#, C#. This is the smallest tamburica (about 50 cm long), but is very loud. It is mostly used as a lead instrument or harmonizing instrument. The bisernica (from Serbian and Croatian "biser" meaning "pearl") is almost identical but may have two double strings and two single strings.
  • The brač or basprim (brács or basszprím) - three double strings, or two double strings and three single strings (basprim), a slightly bigger, lower instrument than the bisernica but played in a similar fashion.
  • The čelović - originally two double strings and two single strings; now four single strings are more common.
  • The bugarija or kontra (brácsó or kontra) - one double string D and three single strings, similar to a guitar, mostly used for. A bugarija has five strings, the bottom pair are D, the middle string is A and the top two are tuned F# and F#.
  • The čelo (cselló) - four strings, similar in size to the bugarija and used for dynamics.
  • The bas or berda (tamburabőgő), also called begeš (bőgős) - four strings. It is the largest instrument in the tamburica family, and is similar to contrabass. It can only be played standing and is used for playing bass lines.

There is a view that the first tambura orchestra was formed in Hungary in the 19th century.[3] The instruments' names came from the Hungarian names of the musical instruments of the symphony orchestra ("cselló" meaning cello, "bőgő" meaning contrabass) and from the Hungarian Gipsy bands (bőgős, prím, kontra).[3][4] These orchestras soon spread to what is now Bosnia, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Parts of tamburica[edit]

The tamburica is made in three parts; body, neck and head. The body (sound box) was pear-shaped until the middle of the nineteenth century CE, and was built by scooping out the log. Today they are mostly built in the way of the guitar and even the smallest, the bisernica, has a constructed box. The fingerboard has frets (Serbo-Croatian: prečnice, krsnice, pragovi). The head (Serbo-Croatian: čivijište, Hungarian: fej) usually had a sharpened form, which can be found still on some bisernicas, but the "snail" design later got the supremacy.[5] The snail headstock design dates from at least the 19th century and the Viennese guitars of Johann Georg Stauffer.

Composers and ensembles[edit]

Hungarian tamburica ensemble in Bečej, Serbia

Tamburica orchestras can have various formats from a trio to a large orchestra. A basic trio consists of a prim, a kontra and a čelo. Larger orchestras also have bas-prims and bass-prim-terc tamburas.

The first major composer for the tamburica was Pajo Kolarić, who formed the first amateur tamburica orchestra in Osijek in 1847.[6] Kolarić's student Mijo Majer formed the first tamburica choir led by a conductor, the "Hrvatska Lira", in 1882. Croatian composers for the tamburica include Franjo Ksaver Kuhač, Siniša Leopold and Julije Njikoš. The instrument is associated with Croatian nationalism. Vinko Žganec, an associate of Béla Bartók, collected more than 19,000 Croatian folk songs.

Monument of Janika Balaž with his prim tamburica in Novi Sad, Serbia

The Grand Tamburica Orchestra of Radio Novi Sad was founded in 1951 under the leadership of Sava Vukosavljev, who composed and arranged many pieces for tamburica orchestra and published a comprehensive book Vojvođanska tambura ("The Tambura of Vojvodina"). There are also orchestras of Radio Belgrade and Radio Podgorica, Radio Kikinda etc. Janika Balaž, a member of the Radio Novi Sad orchestra who also had his own octet, was a popular performer whose name became synonymous with the tamburica. Famous tamburica orchestras of Serbia include those of Maksa Popov and Aleksandar Aranicki.

The village of Schandorf in Austria, whose Croatian-speaking inhabitants are descended from 16th Century Croatian immigrants, is the home of a tamburica orchestra, a reflection of its ethnic heritage. The orchestra performs frequently, often outside the village.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

Films about tamburicas[edit]


Svet Tambure, a magazine about tambura music, published triannually in Serbia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elizabeth Jeffreys, John Haldon, Robin Cormack, The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 928. Nikos Maliaras, Byzantina mousika organa, EPN 1023, ISΒN 978-960-7554-44-4 [archive]
  2. ^ Trešnjevka tamburica ensemble: Over tamburica - short history
  3. ^ a b Volly István: Bajai tamburások - A bajai tamburazenekar története (1964.)
  4. ^ Magyar Néprajzi Lexikon, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 1977-1982
  5. ^ Trešnjevka tamburica ensemble: Over the Tamburica – in general
  6. ^ http://www.croatianhistory.net/etf/folk.html
  7. ^ Schandorf Čemba: TAMBURIZZAORCHESTER (German)
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 28, 1978). "THE POPOVICH BROTHERS OF SOUTH CHICAGO". http://www.rogerebert.com/. Retrieved 25 June 2014.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  9. ^ "Ziveli: Medicine for the Heart (1989)". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 

External links[edit]

Music samples[edit]