What is it about folk music from the Balkans and Caucasus that makes it sound strange?

4114 what is it about folk music from the balkans and caucasus that makes it sound strange

Folk music from the Balkans and Caucasus may sound strange to some listeners due to several factors. First, the use of non-Western scales and modes such as the Phrygian, Dorian, and Mixolydian modes can create dissonance and unfamiliarity to the Western ear. These scales often have intervals that are smaller or larger than the standard intervals used in Western music, which can result in a unique sound.

Additionally, the rhythmic complexity of Balkan and Caucasian music can be challenging to Western listeners. These styles often incorporate asymmetrical time signatures and irregular accents, which can make it difficult to predict the underlying beat. This rhythmic complexity can create a sense of tension and unpredictability, contributing to the perceived “strangeness” of the music.

The use of unconventional instruments can also contribute to the distinct sound of Balkan and Caucasian folk music. For example, the duduk, a double reed instrument used in Armenian music, has a mournful and haunting sound that is unlike any instrument found in Western music. Similarly, the kaval, a wooden flute used in Bulgarian and Turkish music, has a breathy and ethereal quality that is unique.

The use of ornamentation and improvisation is another characteristic of Balkan and Caucasian folk music that can contribute to its perceived strangeness. Musicians in these styles often add trills, slides, and other embellishments to their melodies, which can create unexpected twists and turns. Improvisation is also commonly used, allowing musicians to add their own personal touches and variations to traditional tunes.

Finally, the cultural context of Balkan and Caucasian folk music can also contribute to its unique sound. Many of these traditions have been passed down through generations and are deeply rooted in local customs and beliefs. This cultural context can give the music a sense of history and authenticity that is distinct from Western music.


  • “The Rough Guide to World Music: Europe, Asia & Pacific.” Rough Guides Ltd, 1999.
  • “The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Europe.” Garland Publishing, 1998.