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Over tamburitza - short history


Tambura is an instrument, which is closely related to the leut or the lute, with Russian balalaika, with Ukrainian bandura, with Italian mandolin, with Spanish guitar and other instruments which developed from the same origin in the former Persia that is Iran now. The old Assyrians already played a very similar instrument before 2300 years. The name „tambura“ or „tanpura“ is also used for the instruments in India, which resemble the sitar and the surbahar, which are by the appearance and kind of playing very similar to the tamburitza. There is none reliable data how did tambura come into Croatian territory, so that this very day assumptions and ambiguity exist over it. The science will certainly prove whether the tamburitza was brought by Croats at their belts, who penetrated themselves at the long way from Persia (from the theory that Croats have Persian origin), or whether it was brought by the Turks to Bosnia. From there the instrument have spread further with migrations of Šokci and Bunjevci above the Sava River to all parts of Croatia and further to Hungary, Austria and Slovenia… Further assumptions do not exclude the possibility that the tamburitza arrived here with the Silk Road from Asia. That would certainly explain the names of instruments in India and Croatia .

We will leave further assumptions, which are important for our culture, to the science, but we can hold to the proven facts. „The Assyrian Tambura" from that 3 rd century B.C., which was found as a picture cut in the stone, we cannot obviously call „Farkaš's Brač”, although the similarity is striking, because Milutin Farkaš was born 23 centuries later, in the 1856. Still 23 years had to pass, until „Short reference to the tamburitza played by the scores“ was published. Its predecessors were the industrious collector and theoretician Franjo Kuhač, talented musician and composer Franjo Kolarić and the others, which made tamburitza an indispensable component of the national music culture of the Croats.

From that time the instrument itself was accepted also by Croats in the whole world, further customized, developed and improved to the demands of the music. The older „Farkaš “- system was filled and partly changed, and into the center 20th Century it was nearly completely pushed by the louder and more developed quart tamburitzas, which have been tuned after the A-E system. But the difficulties with the notation of this system, in which the basic tonality carries four sharps, led to the emergence of the G-Quarts tuning system with the increased number of the scores and much larger range. That was good for the concert making music and allowed the Tamburitza orchestra to pay also very demanding scores. Quart A-E system still remained still in the folklore music, particularly in the one, which serves the company of the Folkdance. Not few Tamburitza music scores recorded in the Studio of the Zagreb radio were on three-voiced quaint tamburitzas, that kind of orchestra was organized by Alfons Gutschy in Zagreb at the beginning 20th Century. The Tamburitza instruments „of the Gutschy system“are played this very day in Burgenland , Austria and in the professional orchestra of the HRT (Croatian radio and television). In practice however this system was not also generally accepted, so that the Bugarija from three-voiced was retuned into the four-voiced, with Cello and the Bas from the three-voiced were changed into the four-voiced. From quint to quart tuning.

The differences in the creating and tuning of the Tamburitza in Croatia speak of their large popularity in our people and represent a wealth of the music culture of the nation.


Over the Tamburitza – in general


Tamburitza consists of three parts body, neck and head.

The body (resonance box) is the hollow part of the Tamburitza, which serves for the resonance and thus to reinforce the sound developed by string which is too weak to be used on itself. The basic form of the body was pear-shaped to the center of the last century and was built by scooping out the log. Today mostly are built in the form of guitar and even the smallest of it, the Bisernicas, have partial and not scooped out resonance box. The reason for it lays in stronger sound, in addition, numerous possibilities of influencing the tone color by the selection of the wood. And also the building with gluing is much easier than scooping.

Neck is the narrow and long part, which connects the head and the body. On the upper, flat side, federations (prečnice, krsnice, pragovi) are lined up on the grip-plate, which serve for changing of tones, if the strings are pressed to them during the oscillation.

The head (čivijište) before usually had the course-sharpened form, which can be found still with some Bisernicas. However the snail form got the supremacy. On the head are either eddies for tension of the strings or the tension extension, fastened directly in the wood.


About the orchestra systems of the Tamburitza tuning


Here will we write an overview of the systems of Tamburitza tuning. The pictures are in such a way put on, as it would see the Tamburitza players, if he turns the instrument to himself.




Samica probably came to Slavonia with the Šokci from Bosnia and has spread later into other areas of the Panonia level (Baranja, south Hungary ), into a part of the Bilogora, into Kordun and Lika („kuterevka“, dangubica…) and parts of western Bosnia . This small rural pulling instrument of modest development, but very alive in the hands of a good player, is predecessor of all systems, which developed with us. Two pairs of the strings are tuned in the interval by quart of d2-a1, or as required by the singer in dancing (particularly the female voices) even a whole tone more highly, thus e2-h1. Retuning with wooden eddies run fast and simply if the Samica is really alone the company or all completely alone. With the interesting technique of playing, where strings with fingers of the left hand, tuned the same, are separated, the Samica player attains four-voiced chords in lively moving, and with the different striking of the emphasis with the right hand he completes the rhythm, which requests to the more alive dance. In the more recent time the Samica is included in the Tamburitza ensemble more frequently therefore the work of the right hand changed during playing.


Two-voiced Quint system (Farkaš)


Mijo Majer, Slavko Šeper, Franjo Kuhač and Milutin Farkaš (Križevci, 1865 - 1923) are responsible all for forming the two-voiced system of tuning, but the system got its name after the main promoter, M. Farkaš. After this system to the 1940's of the last century all four strings on Bisernicas and the Brač were tuned in unison: Bisernicas d2 and Brač d1.

The federations on the one-voiced Tamburitzas to g were lined up in half-tones and from g in diatonic. More exactly said, on the lower strings apart from g the tones of the G major were put on, while half-tones were on the upper strings.

Even before the Second World War one began to tune both Bisernicas and the first Brač in two voices and with that the third Bisernica developed (the name kontrašica is now assigned to it), so that the whole tuning system terminated its development in such a way:


Bisernica I - II ................... D 1 - g 1

Bisernica III ......................... g 1 - c1 (with transposition to F)

Brač I - II - III .................... D 1 - g

Čelović ................................. g - C (with transposition to F)

Bugarija I ................................ g 1 - D 1 - h

Bugarija II ............................. D 1 - h - g

Cello......................................... D-G

Berde ...................................... Gg - dd


The Tamburitzas of this system with a beautiful and noble tone was built specifically, but soon after the war they disappeared from our music folk music. E-A quart system with more penetrating sound, shorter necks and thus better mobility corresponded to a more dynamic time and the needs of the young players.


Three-voiced quint A system

The three-voiced Quint system g-d-a was created by the extension of the two-voiced Quint systems with another pair of strings and noticeable changes in the building of the instruments, with string thickness and thus also in the tone strength and color. Bugarijas are three-voiced as in the Farkaš system. In the Tamburitza orchestras of the radio Zagreb inserted the conductor of the orchestra Vlado Mutak in the 60's the four-voiced G-cello with quart tuning system and replaced the three-voiced Bugarija with the four-voiced and the three-voiced G-Bas by the four-voiced (alternative Contrabass).

Four-voiced quart E-A system


Longtime staggering and opposing of experiences between quint and quart system, and the last about the number of strings and the body shape, is still very active. But today's practice accepted quart A system of tuning as default, and guitar shaped brač and bugarija. Berda is shaped after contrabass, and cello after violoncello, but in some orchestra is used in guitar form with the sane tuning. The shape of Bisernicas was intensely influenced in the second half of the 20 th century by the tambura builder from Sente, Bocan Lajoš whose Bisernicas from hand building faze were had extremely sharp sound.

Four-voiced E system was developed from three-voiced system at the beginning of the 20 th century into E and D tuning. Tamburas in E tuning are louder, and by that suitable for playing outside. And in the amateur practice are suitable to follow women's voices and dancing. Scoring of that system is still in development. Because of that there are numerous tambura players with master technique which do not know ho to read scores. In the later, appearance of the third bisernica is noticed in such orchestras, which definitely means wealth in the harmony.


Four-voiced quart D - G system

Four-voiced quart D - G system lowered by one tone

Four-voiced quart G system


Four-voiced quart G system is logical, and to the day last link in the development of organized orchestral tambura playing. It was created after Second World War on the basis of four-voiced D system. Two G bisernicas were introduced into D system, and D bisernica was remained as third bisernica. Because of inappropriate way of writing scores for D bisernica, scores for D bisernica is now written in transposition in G. That way player can ignore D tuning and play it as if it was in G tuning. The same thing happened to the scores of the first and second cellovic. That reformed D-G system was named G-system of tuning. That system has spread over Burgenland and central Croatia . The same tuning system is also used by tambura players in Duquesne University Tamburitzans in Pittsburgh but without transposing third bisernica or cellovic. In history, resistance to the transposing were from directors and arrangers and not from the players, because transposing makes those instruments much easier to play and their scores are much easier to read. But directors had their job much more difficult because harmonies are difficult to write if several instruments are transposed. It is assumed that writing of the scores for Bugarija, which at the moment is bellow chart, will be transposed for the whole octave.


Here you can see all the tambura instruments we play, and other related chordophones.