Fricative string instruments and percussive string instruments
The Lira (Hurdy-Gurdy)
The lira, or relia, is a variant of the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument that
can trace its history back to the 10th century. It is thought that the
lira was introduced into Ukraine in the 17th century and served as an
instrument to accompany of religious psalms and epic ballads performed
by wandering blind musicians called ‘lirnyky’. Occasionally lirnyky were
hired to play dance music at weddings. These lirnyky often organized
themselves into guilds or brotherhoods with their own laws and secret
The traditional lira has three strings, one on which the melody is
played with the aid of a special keyboard, the other two producing a
drone of a fifth. The sound is produced by a wooden wheel that is
rotated by a crank held in the right hand. This wheel rubs against the
strings, setting them in motion like a bow on a violin. Several
different types of chromatic liras have been produced in Ukraine,
however interest in the instrument has declined considerably. Prominent
contemporary performers on the lira include Vasyl Nechepa and Mykhailo
The Fiddle (Skrypka)
The traditional fiddle has now been replaced by the standard violin,
however the folk tradition of playing the instrument is still alive. The
fiddle is a prominent instrument at weddings, found in ensembles of
troyista muzyka that usually perform dance music. Fiddlers also play
solo works of a program type for listening. Many traditional fiddles
were very crude in construction, some being just boards with strings
attached. The Ukrainian writer, Ivan Franko, said that “in Galicia one
has to make the fiddle from a pine tree struck by lightning. Then it
will be loud.”
One of the most ancient bowed string instruments of the Eastern Slavs is
the hudok. The hudok had three strings and was played with a bow. It was
popular in the times of Kievan Rus’ where it is thought to have used
primarily for the playing of dance music.
It was often used by the buffoon musicians and accompanied by the husli.
An 11th century fresco on the walls of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
shows a hudok player with a group of other musicians. The instrument was
approximately 80cm (31.5 in.) in length and was balanced on the knee
while it was played. The back of the hudok was carved from a single
piece of timber and the three strings were bowed all at once. Two of the
strings providing a constant drone while a melody was played on the
third. The hudok was made redundant by the violin and the lira and is no
longer used in Ukraine.
The basolia has now been replaced by the standard cello. Previously the
Basolia was these instruments were homemade and of very rough
construction, and usually had having only three strings and usually
being larger than the standard cello. Sometimes the soundboard was sewn
rather than glued to the body. The basolia has now been totally replaced
by the standard cello.
The basolia was an instrument that was often ridiculed for its quality
of sound and the skill of the player. All the same, wedding music
without it was unthinkable. The basolia was introduced into Ukraine from
the West after the fiddle had established itself, however, there are
mentions which date back to the 17th century in descriptions of the
wedding of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s son Yuri where an orchestra containing
this instrument performed.
The Kozobas (Byjkoza)
The kozobas is a bowed and percussive instrument that is popular in folk
ensembles in Western Ukraine. It is a recently developed instrument and
is basically a wooden pole joined to a drum at one end with a cymbal
hanging from the other end. The drum membrane acts as the soundboard for
one or two strings strung from the end of the pole to the end of the
drum. The strings are played with a bow that occasionally hits the
cymbal hanging from the other end of the pole. Recent developments
include instruments with four strings tuned like those of a double bass.
The Musical Saw
A musical oddity is the musical saw. It uses a violin bow to set the saw
blade into motion. The frequencies of the vibrations from the saw blade
are controlled by bend the blade of the saw. It is in common use in the
Priashiv region in West Ukraine.
PERCUSSIVE STRING INSTRUMENTS
The Tsymbaly (Hammer Dulcimer, Cimbalom)
stretched. These divide the strings so that each course of strings can
produce two different notes. The strings are struck with wooden hammers.
Usually the instrument is played in a seated position – placed on the
knees of the performer – or in a standing position, with the aid of a
long belt that goes around the neck of the performer.
In the 1950’s the Ukrainian tsymbaly was chromaticised, and had legs and
a damper pedal added. The Chernihiv factory began to manufacture these
instruments in three different sizes: prima, alto and bass. In recent
times however, the concert cymbalom developed in Hungary is becoming
more popular. This instrument contains a full chromatic range of four
and a half octaves. Such instruments are made at the Melnytso-Podilsk
musical instrument factory.
The small tsymbaly are still played and known as “Hutsulski tsymbaly,”
to differentiate them from the concert version. Similar instruments can
be found in Greece, Rumania, Lithuania, Poland, Byelorus’, Bohemia,
Latvia and Hungary. The tsymbaly are extremely popular in Western Canada
where annual contests are held. Various regional tunings exist and a
tradition that has diverged from those which exist in Ukraine.
Instrument construction has developed independently.
Mishalow, Victor – The Ukrainian Hurdy-gurdy. Epic ballads, psalms and
songs from the repertoire of Vasyl Nechepa. (Kobza – Toronto, 1990)
Mishalow, Victor – The Ukrainian Hurdy-gurdy – in “Sinfonye” The journal
of the Hurdy-gurdy society pp.6-15 No. 7 Summer 1993 (Dorset, England
Mizynec, V – The Kobzar Brotherhoods – in “Bandura” (# 7-8 N.Y. 1984 p.
Moyle, Natalie K. – Ukrainian Dumy – Editio Minor CIUS and HURI
Nezovybat’ko, O. – Ukrainski tsymbaly (The Ukrainian Hammer Dulcimer)
Palmer, Susann – The Hurdy-gurdy – Davids and Charles (Devon, UK 1980)
Prokopenko, N. – Ustrojstvo, khranenie i remont narodnyx muzykalnyx
instrumentov (Adjustment, storage and repair of folk music instruments)
Sadie, S (ed) – The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. –
Macmillan Press (NY, 1984)
Skliar, Ivan – Podarunok Sopilkariam (A gift to Soplika players) (Kyiv,
Skliar, Ivan – Kyivs’ka-kharkivs’ka bandura (The Kyiv-kharkiv bandura)
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