The kaval is not inferior to the regular flute or to any other wind instrument. In some cases it can even sound better and more adequate than any other instrument. Especially if you play in a world music ensemble. Its eastern characteristics make it fit much more and everything sounds very natural. In my humble experience I’d say that me being a kaval player has opened so many doors for me. It took me to over 30 countries around the world and helped me meet so many great people. Here are the reasons to start playing the kaval in my opinion:
1. Be different
I remember a specific case at a club in Rotterdam. I played at a jazz jam session and there were great musicians at the session. Some of them were real “monsters”. They played great lines and their technique was really impressive. Honestly I was afraid of what I might sound like after them. Then at some point, I started playing a solo. I saw that I drew the attention of everyone in the audience. In the beginning I felt they were a little prejudiced. I could literally read their minds saying – “what on Earth is this? Is it a stick? What’s this guy doing there, is he going to play this thing? I bet it’s going to sound awful and out of tune”. Then I started playing, I did a couple of jazz lines and then I started adding my folky melodies and tricks. I could see some of them with their jaws dropped. To be honest I didn’t play anything so special or amazing. There were better players at the session than me but I didn’t even have to compete with “real” flute players or saxophonists because my instrument does the job for me. I realised it was the combination of the sound of the kaval and placing it in a jazz context that amazed people.
Also, come on, guitar, piano, saxophone, flute etc. are cool, but there are other exciting and interesting instruments that are not as popular and you’ll be missing out if you don’t try them…
2. The kaval can be used for many music styles
If you’re looking for an instrument that sounds great and has the capacity to fit in many different styles, then the kaval is just for you! I’ve performed in many different styles with my kaval and with the right attitude and preparation it can sound great in each of them. I graduated with a master’s degree from Codarts (Music university in Rotterdam, Netherlands) with a major in jazz kaval. You can imagine that being accepted and graduating with that instrument amongst jazz musicians and being taught by saxophone players and flutists means that it sounds pretty convincing. I’ve also experimented with baroque and classical music and it also sounds great. Last but not least, the various registers and crazy sounds that it can produce make the kaval sound cool and acceptable in most styles. Here’s an article about the registers and the range of the kaval: LINK
3. Easy to carry around and to maintain
I’ve always had neighbors who don’t enjoy music like I do. To put it another way, they hated me for playing for so long. At some point they started enjoying it but in the beginning it was really hard. One of the greatest advantages of the kaval is that it’s extremely easy to maintain and move around everywhere. It requires almost no taking care of. I would just put it in my back pocket to get away from those “mean” neighbors.Especially if you get a plastic kaval. Then you can carry it around for a month, not caring about the weather or humidity, I still take my kaval everywhere. I’ve taken with me to ridiculous places such as the Iguazu waterfalls in Argentina. Here’s an article about the maintenance of the kaval: LINK
4. Perfect for beginners
It is a very exciting and easy instrument to start learning. The only issue you could have in the beginning is producing a tone. I’ve got another article which can give you some directions on that topic. Here’s a link to it: LINK. Of course, just like any other instrument, mastering it requires a lot of practice, patience and hard work. Generally, though, you can play fun melodies and enjoy it even if you’re not a professional and you don’t have ambitions to become one.
5. Learn more about Bulgarian music and traditions.
Bulgaria is a country, situated in Southeastern Europe, in the east of the Balkans. Despite the fact that it’s a relatively small country, it is extremely rich and diverse in music and traditions. There are three main aspects that distinguish Bulgarian music from any other in the world:
- Rhythm Complexity
Maybe the one thing that a western musician will notice immediately is the rhythm complexity. Asymmetric meters play a very important role in our tradition. As difficult as they sound to an untrained ear, I assure you that once you get used to them, they are very fun to play.
- Special Folk Instruments
We use all kinds of cool instruments to play our music. Each of them blends very well both with other folk instruments and western concert instruments. The kaval is probably the most capable of all bulgarian folk instruments. It is almost entirely chromatic and has a range of nearly three full octaves.
- Rich Ornamentation
That is something that always fascinates me. The ornamentation of our music. It is so rich, so diverse and makes everything so exciting. Playing those ornaments on the kaval as well as any other folk instrument works flawlessly and completely changes the way music sounds. You can combine those ornaments with any music style and create a unique style.
6. It carries a lot of history
The Bulgarian Kaval is a great instrument, carrying a lot of history. It’s so old that it’s exact origins are not known. Something interesting about it is that it’s believed to chase away evil spirits and it’s the only instrument in our tradition that is allowed to perform at funerals, because it’s believed that it purifies the soul of the dead man. Here’s an article about the history of the Kaval: LINK
7. It’s affordable
Well, that might not be an important aspect for some people but if you don’t want to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars or euros on an instrument that you don’t even know if you would enjoy, then kaval is the perfect choice. You can get a decent kaval for less than €100. A professional kaval which is made of really expensive wood and buffalo horn can be found at around €600. I mean seriously… That’s really cheap for a professional instrument. Do you know how much a professional flute costs? It could be thousands.
In conclusion I would say that the kaval is a great instrument, very easy to start with, easy to maintain and to move around, has a great history behind it and it’s unique sound would make you stand out everywhere. On top of that it’s very affordable and you can take it anywhere with you.