Course:PHYS341/Archive/2016wTerm2/Tamburica organology

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The Croatian Tamburica's Organology and Construction

The tamburica (also called tambura) is a string instrument that is commonly found in art, folklore, and folk music in Southern and Central Europe, specifically in Croatian and Serbian music and culture. The tamburica is an adaptation of the long-necked lute, which was adapted in the Balkans as various versions; it became the pandora in Bulgaria, the bandura in Ukraine, and the balalaika and the domra in Russia. [1]

The tamburica was originally a solo instrument; however, it has been adapted for playing in an orchestral and group setting, and various tamburica orchestras exist all over the world. [2]

Types of Tamburicas

There are various types of tamburicas that are played in orchestral settings, with different string arrangements and tunings. Each instrument serves a different function. The prim, or bisernica, is the smallest and most high-pitched instrument. It is used typically as a lead instrument or melody instrument. This instrument has two single strings and two double strings, and is tuned in fourths (E, A, D, G), with E as the lowest string. This instrument typically has multiple small holes as opposed to one large one that may be found on other stringed instruments, such as the guitar, or even other tamburicas such as the brać. The brać, or basprim, is larger than the bisernica, but also serves as a melody or lead instrument. Its strings are the same as the bisernicas, and it is tuned the same way. This instrument is structured similarly to the guitar, and has a similar-looking body and one large hole. It also has two double strings and two single strings. The čelo and čelović are larger than the brac, and tend to serve different functions - they fill out the harmonies and tend to play lower parts. These instruments typically have four single strings each. The tuning is the same as the bisernica and brać. The bugarija or kontra serves the function of a rhythm instrument, and tends to play on the off-beat. This instrument is not tuned the same as the others; rather, it is tuned in thirds, typically G-B-D. The number of strings depends on the construction; either it has three sets of double strings, or two sets of double string and a single string. The bas, or berda, is the largest instrument, and works in conjunction with the bugarija to provide rhythm for the band. It is played upright, much like a Western upright bass. It has a similar shape to the upright bass as well, with f-holes much like a violin. It has four strings, and is tuned E-A-D-G, with E as the lowest string.

The instruments, with the occasional exception of the berda, are played using picks. These picks can made from plastic, animal horns, or leather; however, instruments with heavier and thicker strings (such as the čelo and the berda) are typically played with animal horn picks, as the picks are more durable.

Additionally, other instruments are also included in orchestral playing. In some regions, the violin (as played in Western music) is used, as well as the glockenspiel and other European instruments. Regions of Croatia and Serbia were greatly influenced by neighbouring regions and travellers from across Europe.


The tamburica is made up of three primary parts.

  • The body is typically hollow, and retains a similar structure to its predecessor, the lute. It is covered with a sound board[It has a sound board - CEW] made of softwood, such as fir or spruce, and its hull is typically made of maple or cherry. [3]The upper part of the body usually contains a darker piece that is usually a piece of hardwood, because the softwood soundboard could be hit by the picks during playing, which could lead to discoloration of the instrument or damage of the soundboard itself.[4] Depending on the instrument, either several small holes (bisernica) or one large hole (brač/čelović/čelo/bugarija) are drilled onto the soundboard. These holes serve the same purpose as holes in Western instruments; they are used to project the amplified sound in the body of the instrument. A bridge, for the strings, is located on the soundboard. The bridge has notches specialized for the specific number of strings of the instrument. The strings, past the bridge, are wrapped around nails at the end of the instrument, and these nails (also called buttons or buckles) are covered by either a metal part or a piece of leather, not only for aesthetic purposes, but to ensure that nothing disrupts the nails (as this could potentially affect tuning).
  • The neck is connected to the body, and is typically made of hardwoods such as ebony. One side is curved without edges, and one side is flat. The flat side has raised notches for frets, and pressing on these frets results in different pitches. The frets provide chromatic steps. Several frets contain white circles (sometimes made of pearl), and the function of these circles is to aid in playing and to serve as guides. At the very end of the neck, connecting the neck to the head, there is a small piece or either wood or bone, and similarly to the bridge, it has notches for the strings as well.
  • The head is at the very end of the neck. Although the head has taken various shapes over time, typically it either is flat at the top or curved in a semi-spiral shape. It is typically made from the same wood as the neck. The head contains pins that vary in number - each string receives a pin, and the number of strings on each tamburica is variable in number. The pins are turned by keys to tune the tamburica - the tighter the string as controlled by the pin, the higher the pitch of the string.

After construction, the tamburica is typically varnished. The varnish may change the colour of the wood, to the customer/musician's liking. Some tamburicas are darker in colour, while some try to retain the natural colour of the wood, but either way, the instrument typically has a sheen to it due to varnish.

Physics and Acoustics

The wood of the instrument is conducive to sound production, much like other string instruments: the softwood of the soundboard, usually as fir or maple, is mobile and radiates sound well. Additionally, the way the strings are paired as they get higher in frequency allow for the sound to remain loud and audible at those high frequencies even when the strings are thin and pulled quite tightly, making the setup of the instrument ideal for sound production.

Despite being different instruments than the guitar or other string instruments, the tamburica behaves similarly to other stringed instruments such as the violin or guitar. The primary air mode of the bisernica sits at 340 Hz, and the primary wood mode is at 740 Hz. The bisernica in particular is a source of interest due to the fact that the instrument does not contain one large hole; rather, the instrument has several small holes in its soundboard to mimic the effect of the single large hole in a brać or bugarija.

In measurements comparing vibrations of the instrument with closed holes as opposed to open holes, a clear difference is seen in the air mode. Closing the holes of the tamburica does not allow the air to escape. This creates a lower volume than if the holes were open. Closing the holes prevents the air mode of the instrument from occurring, as shown on the corresponding numbers of the graph plotting volume against frequency. When this mode is no longer present, the lowest sounds of the instrument are no longer radiated.

A graph of the tamburica's primary air and wood modes/volume


  1. Tambura through centuries.
  2. White, Karen. Tamburitza Music And The Tamburitza Family.
  3. tambure Žmegač. Bisernica G.
  4. About tambura.