Plucked string instruments STRING INSTRUMENTS


There are three types of string instruments differentiated from each
other by the way in which sound is produced on their strings. In the
first group of chordophones we find the instruments plucked with the
fingers or a plectrum. These include the husli, the kobza, the torban,
and the bandura.

The second group is that of the fricative chordophones. It contains the
lira (hurdy-gurdy), the hudok, the violin, the basolia, and the kozobas.
The third group — percussive string instruments chordophones are
represented by the hammer dulcimer.


The Husli

The word husli was, in the times of Kievan Rus’, the generic word for a
string musical instrument. This Later the word became associated with a
psaltery-like instrument that existed in Kievan Rus’ and continued to be
played in Ukraine until well into the 19th century. The root of the word
is derived from the early Slavic word «gosl,» which meant «string» and
can be found in other Slavic languages have formed terms dealing with
string music instruments. In Bulgaria and Yugoslavia «gusle» denotes a
one-stringed fiddle. In Western Ukraine and in Byelorus’ it is often
used to denote a fiddle and sometimes a ducted flute. A special school
of music was opened in Hlukhiv in 1738, Chernihiv province, which taught
bandura, violin and husli. It is thought that the husli influenced the
introduction of treble strings on the bandura and that because of this,
the bandura replaced the husli. In the 19th century it was played
primarily by townsfolk and clergy. The husli had 11 to 36 gut or metal
diatonically tuned strings and was made in various sizes. It is thought
to have come to Rus’ from Byzantium. The husli were primarily used by
the landed gentry and was made redundant by the introduction of keyboard
instruments. They are no longer in widespread use as a Ukrainian folk
instrument, though they continue to be used in Russia

The Kobza

The history of the kobza can be traced back to 6th century Greek
chronicles and it was often mentioned by wandering Arab scholars who
visited Rus’ in the 10-11th centuries. The term itself is thought to be
of Middle Eastern extraction and was thought to have been introduced
into the Ukrainian language in the 13th century with the migration of a
large group of people from Abkhazia to the Poltava region. The term came
to differentiate this instrument from other string instruments
generically known as husli.

The kobza became a favorite instrument of the Ukrainian Cossacks and was
widely played by the rural masses and in the courts of Polish kings and
Russian tsars. Here it served a role similar to the lute in Western
Europe. Unfortunately, the kobza, like its close cousin the lute, fell
into disuse and was gradually replaced by the bandura, guitar and
mandolin. The term kobza later became a synonym for the bandura. The
instrument kobza was traditionally carved out of a single piece of wood
and consisted of a soundboard with strings strung across it. The number
of strings could vary from three to eight. Occasionally it would have
frets made of gut, and three to four additional strings strung along the
soundboard. The strings were either plucked with a plectrum or with the
ends of the fingers.

In recent times attempts have been made to revive the original fretted
kobza. In 1968-70 Kyivan instrument-maker Mykola Prokopenko has designed
several fretted kobzas which have become the standard in Ukraine.
(However this has met however with only limited success.) The
contemporary fretted kobza is made in two versions. The first is a
seven-stringed instrument that uses an open G tuning similar to that of
the seven-string guitar. Other variants of this instrument having a
six-string guitar tuning are becoming popular as well as a double course
twelve string model.

The legendary Cossack Mamai playing the fretted kobza

The second is a four-stringed orchestral variant. The orchestral kobza
is tuned in fifths like the strings of the mandolin and violin, and is
played with a plectrum. It is used in orchestras of Ukrainian folk
instruments, and is produced in prima, alto, tenor, bass and contrabass
sizes. The Romanians and Moldovans also have a similar fretted
instrument that they call a Cobsa which appeared in the 16th century and
has eight to twelve gut or metal strings tuned in fourths or fifths.
This instrument is thought to have originated in Bukovyna and is also
the term used in Rumania to describe the guitar.

The Torban (Teorban)

The Torban is a variant of the bandura and is often called the
gentlemen’s or pans’ka bandura. The torban differs from the standard
bandura in that the body is glued from ribs like that of a lute or
mandolin. It has two pegboxes on the end of the neck, the additional one
of which houses a second set of bass strings. Some torbans have frets on
the neck which made them into a more universal instrument by combining
aspects of the bandura and kobza. The torban has approximately 30
strings, usually made of gut, although instruments having up to 60
strings are known to have existed. These instruments were very popular
among the gentry and nobility of Poland, Russia and Ukraine, and it is
known that prominent Ukrainians such as Hetman Mazepa and Kyrylo
Rozumovsky played the torban.

It is thought that the Torban was influenced by the French theorbo
(teorbe) which the Cossacks under the command of Colonel Ivan Sirko
would have observed during their campaigns with the French during the
Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The Cossacks would have had bandurists
among their ranks and it is thought that these bandurists may have been
the first to develop the hybrid instrument. The torban began to fall
into disuse in the 19th century. It was more difficult to play and make,
and more expensive. In the early 1920’s the torban was branded
antiproletarian, because of its association with court aristocratic
musical traditions. This marked the end of its use in Ukraine, where it
was replaced by the guitar and bandura. Certain structural peculiarities
of the torban have made an appearance in the contemporary bandura. These
include such peculiarities as the doubled bass pegbox and the glued
back. The later feature is being used extensively on the Lviv banduras.

The Classical Bandura (Folk Bandura)

The bandura is a uniquely Ukrainian instrument that does not have any
direct analogies in neighboring countries. The classical or folk bandura
is thought to have evolved developed from its predecessor, the kobza, in
the 14-15th centuries. First mentions of a Ukrainian bandurist date back
to Polish chronicles of 1441. The bandura differed from the kobza in
that it had no frets along the neck and the major playing was done on
treble strings known as prystrunky. These were placed to one side of the
strings strung across the neck. The classical bandura became very
popular among the Ukrainian Cossacks and was often played in the courts
of Poland and Russia.

The size and shape of the classical bandura has remained remarkably
stable for the past 300 years. Instruments which date from the 1600’s
are very similar to those used at the turn of the century by the
wandering minstrels known as kobzars. The classical bandura had 20 to 24
metal strings tuned diatonically. The back was hewn from of a single
piece of timber, with a soundboard of spruce or pine. Wooden tuning pegs
were used and there was hardly any metal on the instrument. The
instrument often had a belt to aid in holding it when being played or

Left — Classical bandura made by William Vetzal.

Right — Kobzar Tkachenko with his students.

The classical bandura was chiefly used by kobzars in solo performance as
an accompaniment to epic ballads called dumy, also for religious psalms
and historic folk songs. It was also used for the playing of dance
tunes. Several exponents of the traditional classical bandura such as
Julian Kytasty, Volodymyr Kushpet, and Mykola Budnyk are now coming to
the forefront. Interest in this traditional bandura playing in Ukraine
and the West is growing. Instruments of this type are now being made by
individual craftspeople in Ukraine and Canada. Occasionally in music
sources one comes across the incorrect politicaly motivated use of the
word «bandore», instead of bandura.

This has resulted because of the suggestion by the Russian academic A.
Famintsyn that the Ukrainian people had borrowed the bandura from
England from a guitar-like instrument developed invented in 1561 by John
Rose that he called a bandore. This has since been disproved. The first
mentions of the bandura in Ukraine now date to more than a hundred years

The Kharkiv Bandura

The Kharkiv style of bandura playing was developed by Hnat Khotkevych.
At the turn of the century Khotkevych published the first textbook for
bandura in 1909 in Lviv. This text introduced the method of playing the
classical bandura with 20 strings. In the 1920’s the bandura was
introduced as an instrument taught at the Kharkiv Conservatory. A new
concert instrument evolved having 30 to 31 strings, tuned diatonically
through four octaves. The instrument was held so that the player could
use both hands over all the strings. It was later made in three
orchestral sizes: piccolo, prima and bass. These early Kharkiv banduras
were designed by Leonid Haydamaka. The Kharkiv bandura was developed
into a fully chromatic instrument by the Honcharenko brothers in 1946.
Further developments continue to take place in North America mainly in
the instruments made by Bill Vetzal in Canada.

Hryhoriy Bazhul with the Kharkiv bandura

The Kharkiv style of bandura-playing disappeared in Ukraine and was used
at one time only by emigre bandurists. Recently HYPERLINK
ml» Professor Vasyl Herasymenko in Lviv has made several Kharkiv-style
instruments and has actively tried to reintroduce the style back into
mainstream Ukrainian musical life. The most renown exponents of this
style in Ukraine are Oleh Sozansky and Taras Lazurkevych in Lviv. The
contemporary Kharkiv bandura is now a chromatically tuned instrument
with a mechanism on each string that allows the instrument to be retuned
into various keys quickly.

Ken Bloom with his Kharkiv bandura

The Kyiv Bandura

The Kyiv bandura was developed in the 20th century based on the
classical instrument. The instrument differed from the classical bandura
in that it had many more strings. Additional chromatic strings were
introduced onto the instrument, initially just the leading note string
in 1916 and then all 5 chromatic strings in 1925 bt bandura maker
Olexander Kornievsky. In 1956 the Chernihiv musical instrument factory
began manufacturing a scientifically redesigned instrument developed by
master bandura-maker — Ivan Skliar. Since then the instrument has been
stable in its shape and method of playing. The contemporary Kyiv bandura
is made in several sizes and types. The most common is the standard
‘prima’ instrument made by the Chernihiv Instrument Factory with 12 bass
and 43 treble strings tuned chromatically through almost five octaves.
The professional concert bandura is the same size and shape as the
‘prima’. It has 62 to 65 and a universal mechanism like that of a harp
to rapidly change the tuning of the strings. Smaller sized instruments
for children with 42 strings are also available, and alto, bass and
contrabass banduras are used in professional bandura choruses in

The Lviv musical instrument factory now manufactures small size concert
banduras with mechanism with 65 strings and a full range geared toward
younger players. These instruments were designed by Professor Vasyl
Herasymenko, and will no doubt help establish a professional class of
bandurists. The Kyiv bandura has developed into a very capable virtuoso
instrument, with original music such as suites, sonatas and concertos
being composed for it by professional composers. Gradually it is leaving
the confines of its folkloric environment. Courses in bandura are now
being taught in several conservatories in Ukraine and brilliant
performers are now emerging.

Orchestral banduras

With the popularity of Ukrainian folkloric instrumental and vocal
ensembles the need for orchestral banduras to even out the sound in the
upper and lower registers became important.

The first orchestral banduras were Kharkiv-style banduras designed by
Leonid Haydamaka in the late 1920’s made for the Metalsit Ukrainian Folk
Instrument Orchestra. N. Lupych made a fretted bass bandura for the Kyiv
Bandura Chorus in 1935. The Honcharenko brothers developed bass and
contrabass banduras with a fretboard and treble strings, in the
experimental workshop of the Shevchenko Bandurist Chorus in Ingolstadt,
Germany. Ivan Skliar also developed alto, bass and contrabass banduras
for the Kyiv Bandurist Chorus in the early 1960’s. These instruments
were built on the principles of the Kyiv concert bandura and some
included a retuning mechanism. In the 1970’s a fretted bass was
developed by Mykola Chystota for the Kiev Bandurist Chorus. This
instrument had three bass stings tuned in fourths and 12 chromatically
tuned treble strings. The ease of playing and sound quality of these
instruments was so good that they soon replaced the bass banduras
developed by Ivan Skliar.


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