Kaval Fingering

The kaval is usually played with the left hand operating the top holes (closest to the mouthpiece) and the right hand operating the lower holes. The left thumb covers the single hole on the back of the instrument, and the next three fingers cover the top three holes on the front. The left little finger is not used. The right hand covers the next four holes, with the right thumb supporting the kaval in back, and the right little finger covering the lowest hole. The holes and fingers are numbered from 1 (left thumb) down to 8 (right pinkie).

Finger Position

The way the fingers cover the holes is important to proper playing and ornamentation. The middle flat parts of the fingers (the second phalanges) are used on all holes, rather than the finger tips, except for holes 4 and 8. The left thumb covers its hole on the side of the pad near the outer joint. This position allows the hands to be relaxed with the fingers nearly straight. Typical Bulgarian Thracian playing style uses this position to produce many of the characteristic ornaments, such as vibrato (done entirely with the fingers), fast grace notes, and glissando.


The charts included here show that the same finger pattern produces up to three different notes, depending basically on how hard the stream of air is blown across the mouthpiece. By blowing very softly, the lowest, or "first", or "fundamental" register sounds. Blowing a little harder or with more focus causes the second register to sound, an octave above the first. Blowing harder still produces the third register, a perfect fifth above the second register. And finally, with the most intense blowing (and some special fingerings), the highest register is obtained, essentially an octave above the second register.

Most tunes are played in the second and third registers, and changing between them becomes intuitive and easy even for beginners. The fourth register is used occasionally for the highest and sometimes most dramatic parts of a melody. However, notes above a3 are rarely used, and are very difficult to sound. Some kavals require different fingerings than those shown to play the highest notes, and some kavals may not be able to sound them at all.


The low first register is also infrequently used, except for occasional "drop notes." However, a special multiphonic mode where both the first and second registers sound at the same time is frequently used, and it is called "kaba" (kah-BAH). Kaba sounds like a reedy first register -- similar to a clarinet, but softer. Performing it requires much practice on the part of the player, and it is very expressive. The techniques for producing kaba are difficult to explain, but basically a soft air stream is blown across the mouthpiece, but with a certain kind of focus or a modified embouchure which produces the effect.


Thanks to Lyuben Dossev, Professor of Kaval at the Academy of Music and Dance, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, for help with the following charts.

Chart for the first, second, and third registers

Chart for the high fourth register

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