Croatian Tambura

Tamburaški Orkestar Kardinal Stepinac

Preserving rich Croatian culture
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The "tambura" (expression for all instruments, that exist in a tamburica-orchestra) is an instrument with strings, related to the Russian balalaika, the Ukrainian bandura, the Italian mandolina, the Spanish guitar and other similar instruments. All these instruments originally come from the region of former Persia (today Iran), where the Assyrians already had a very similar instrument 5000 years ago. Up to now it is unknown, at which time the tambura came from her former country to the Croats and to other slavic people. In every case Bosnia is the old origin, from where this instrument spread over Slavonia (eastern-Croatia) and the region of Backa (todays Vojvodina). There the first tambura-groups had been founded more than 100 years ago. In the next 70 till 80 years these groups made the Tamburica known on the whole territory of south-eastern Europe.


PRIM (bisernica) is the smallest instrument in a tamburica-orchestra with very high, fine sound. It usually has 3 double-strings. Typical playing-technique is "trzanje". This technique makes the characteristic, soft sound, which is similar to that of other instruments like the mandolina or the balalaika. The bisernica mostly plays the first or highest voice or other "ornaments" (like transitions) of a musical piece.

BRAC (basprim) is a little larger than a bisernica, but is basically played in the same way. A little deeper sound than the bisernica. This instrument usually plays the main melody of a song or the second or third voice of polyvocal pieces. You can see these instruments in a large number in our orchestra.

BUGARIJA is very similar in shape, size and tuning to a guitar, but it has fewer strings (the three courses of strings are a pair, a single and a pair). The bugarija is a typical instrument for accompaniment which mostly plays counter blasts to the berda. It is the only instrument in a tamburica-orchestra playing chords. Sound is a little bit higher than that of a guitar.

BERDA (bass) is the largest instrument in a tamburica-orchestra (just over 6 feet high). The musician plays standing and plucks the strings using his own fingers or a thick leather plectrum. The berda is not a string instrument and is not played with a bow, like in classic orchestras. The whole orchestra depends on this instrument which gives the beats. Particularly characteristic for Croatian national music is the correlation in play between berda and bugarija (main hit and contra/counterblast).

You can play a tambura by plucking the strings (usually with the thumb), but mostly that is only the case if you want to play something very quietly. Characteristically and usually you play an instrument using a plectrum (Croatian: "trzalica"), a thin little piece of plastics (celluloid), with which you pluck the strings. In former times it also consisted of horn or bark. The berda player uses leather plectrums.

There are two techniques: simply plucking the strings or the so-called "trzanje". 

Plucking means, that for every note the appropriate string is plucked once (from up to down) - either with a finger or with the plectrum. All short notes (eighth, sixteenth,...) and notes, that are marked as staccato (point over the note) are played this way.

"Trzanje" (rarely in Croatia also called "titranje") is the name for a technique by use of the plectrum. The strings of an instrument are brought in vibration as quickly as possible through fast, successive up-and-down-movements of the hand. A continuous, uninterrupted tone develops. Using this technique longer notes (fourth, half, full) and notes, which are marked as legato (joined) are played. A good technique is characterized by an as fast, as rich and as fine as possible play. Careful attention is important, that only the fist and not the whole arm (from the elbow) moves.

Croatian Canadian Folklore Federation West

Croatian Canadian Folklore Federation WestWe are members of the Croatian Canadian Folklore Federation West which promotes, enhances and preserves Croatian folklore ensuring cultural awareness within Canadian context.

Calendar Of Events

Every Monday: Tamburica, Klapa & Kolo, 7pm, Croatian Church Hall
Every Tuesday: Tamburica Škola, 7-8pm, Croatian Centre
Next Fest: Calgary, May 20-22, 2016