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Are you looking for the North Indian Tambura, the Turkish Tambur or the Iranian Tanbur?
Bisernica or Prim, a small tamburica
Tamburica ( or ) or Tamboura ( and , meaning Little Tamboura, , , sometimes written tamburrizza) refers to any member of a family of long-necked lutes popular in Eastern and Southern Europe, particularly Croatiamarker (especially Slavoniamarker), northern Serbiamarker (Vojvodinamarker) and Hungarymarker. It is also known in parts of southern Sloveniamarker and eastern Austriamarker. All took their name and some characteristics from the Persianmarker 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 body of the instrument is made of a hollow gourd.


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 Slaves used to call "tambouras" the ancestor of modern bouzouki. It was probably brought by the Turks to Bosniamarker, from where the instrument spread further with migrations of Šokci and Bunjevci above the Sava River to all parts of Croatiamarker, Serbiamarker and further. The modern tamburica shape was developed in Hungarymarker (Budapestmarker) in the 20. 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). Similar string instruments are the Czech bratsche, Turkish saz and the sargija, çiftelia and bouzouki.

In Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, Croatia, and Serbia (especially the Pannonian plain: Slavonia, Vojvodina 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

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

  • The samica (three double strings).
  • The prim (one double string, G, and three single stringsE, A, D). This is the smallest tamburica (about 50 cm long) but it is very loud. It is mostly used as a lead instrument or harmonising instrument. The bisernica (from "biser" meaning "pearl") is almost identical but may have two double strings and two single strings.
  • The bas-prim or brač (two double strings and two single strings), a slightly bigger, lower instrument than the bisernica but played in a similar fashion.
  • The čelović (two double strings and two single strings).
  • The bugarija 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 (four strings), similar in size to the bugarija and used for dynamics.
  • The bas or berda (four strings), can only be played standing and is used for playing bass lines.

There is a view that the first tambura orchestra was formed in Hungarymarker in the 19th century. The instruments' names came from the Hungarian names of the musical instruments of the symphony orchestra - originally from the Hungarian Gipsy bands (bőgős - begeš, prím, kontra). These orchestras soon spread to what is now Bosniamarker, Austriamarker, Sloveniamarker, the Czech Republicmarker and Slovakiamarker.

Parts of tamburica

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 are built in the way of the guitar and even the smallest, the Bisernica, has a constructed box. The fingerboard has frets(prečnice, krsnice, pragovi). The head (čivijište) usually had a sharpened form, which can be found still on some bisernicas, but the "snail" design later got the supremacy.

Composers and ensembles

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 Osijekmarker in 1847. . 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.

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 Vojvodinamarker"). There are also orchestras of Radio Belgrade and Radio Podgoricamarker, Radio Kikindamarker etc. Janika Balázs, 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 Schandorfmarker in Austria, whose Croatian-speaking inhabitants are descended from 16th Century Croatian immigrantss, is the home of a tamburrizza orchestra, a reflection of its ethnic heritage. The orchestra performs frequently, often outside the village..

In popular culture

Films about tamburicas

  • The Popovich Brothers of South Chicago (1978)
  • :Directed by Jill Godmilow, Martin Koenig and Ethel Raim. Produced by Mary Koenig, Ethel Raim and Jill Godmilow.
  • Ziveli! Medicine for the Heart (1987)
  • :Filmed and directed by Les Blank. Produced by Flower Films in association with the Center for Visual Anthropology, University of Southern Californiamarker. Based on ethnography by Andre Simic. El Cerrito, California: Flower Films & Video. ISBN 0933621388.

Songs about tamburicas

  • O tampouras tou Stavrou (Stavros' tamburica, Greek: Ο ταμπουράς του Σταύρου) by Chainides


File:Bisernica, instrument (size).jpg|Bisernica (prim)Image:Brac, instrument (size).jpg|Bas-prim (Brač)Image:Celo, instrument (size).jpg|ČeloImage:Celovic, instrument (size).jpg|ČelovićImage:Bugarija, instrument (size).jpg|Kontra (Bugarija)Image:Berda, instrument (size).jpg|Bas


  1. Elizabeth Jeffreys,John Haldon,Robin Cormack, The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, Oxford University Press, 2008, p928. Nikos Maliaras, Byzantina mousika organa, EPN 1023, ISΒN 978-960-7554-44-4 [archive]
  2. Over tamburica - short history
  3. Volly István: Bajai tamburások - A bajai tamburazenekar története (1964.)
  4. Magyar Néprajzi Lexikon, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 1977-1982
  5. Over the Tamburica – in general

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