Recently introduced foreign folk instruments
In the late 19th and early 20th century several non-Ukrainian folk
instruments began to gain popularity in Ukraine. Most of these
instruments were introduced from Russia. With the introduction of mass
production they became readily and cheaply available, having superior
acoustic properties when compared to the traditionally handcrafted
instruments. Thus many of these instruments began to replace the more
traditional Ukrainian folk instruments to the extent that many
traditional instruments disappeared. Examples of this are the
replacement of the torban and fretted kobza with the seven-stringed
guitar, the small fretted kobza with the mandolin, and later the
Most instruments however underwent changes to suit Ukrainian tastes in
music. Consequently, the balalaika received a different tuning and six
strings rather than the three it had in Russia. The domra received four
strings and a tuning in fifths rather than three strings and a tuning in
In recent times, the development of Ukrainian folk Instruments and the
reintroduction of traditional instruments to replace these foreign
instruments has become a major question. The orchestral four-string
kobza tuned in fifths, has been introduced to replace the four-string
domra. The seven-string kobza was designed to replace the seven-string
“Russian” guitar. These efforts however are being met with a certain
amount of opposition.
Originally the bayan was introduced into Eastern Ukraine from Russia in
the 1920’s and into Western Ukraine after the WWII. It is now used
prolifically and has replaced many traditional Ukrainian folk
instruments many regions of Ukraine. The accordion was initially
introduced into Russia in the 1830’s from Germany. It was developed into
its modern form by the St. Petersburg instrument maker P. Sterlingov in
In Ukraine the balalaika was previously known as the “balabaika.” It was
developed into a modern instrument by salon violinist Vasyl Andreev in
the 1880’s after Andreev had seen Neapolitan mandolin orchestras in
Italy. His first balalaika was made in 1883. In 1889, after successful
performances in Paris, the instrument began to gain popularity in Russia
and Ukraine. The most famous contemporary balalaika virtuoso is the
Ukrainian Pavel Nechyporenko who hails from Chernihiv. There are no
longer any professional Russian Folk instrument orchestras in Ukraine,
and balalaika courses have either been discontinued or are being phased
out in conservatories in Ukraine.
The four-stringed domra. The domra was also developed by Vasyl Andreev.
In 1895 a round bodied three-string instrument was discovered i n a
stable in Russia. Although later it was thought to have been a version
of the balalaika, it continued to be known as the domra. Initially given
a tuning in fourths that differed slightly from the tuning of the
balalaika. A mandolin-like technique was incorporated which used a
plectrum. In Ukraine a four-string version of the domra tuned in fifths
similar to the mandolin became popular. It gradually replaced the then
popular mandolin in the 1930’s. This four-stringed version was first
introduced in 19 20 and became extremely popular. The four-string domra,
although thought of as a Russian folk instrument, is not used in Russia
itself where the three-string version is universally used and taught.
This has led to a perplexing situation. Why play on a Rus sian folk
instrument that is not played in Russia? With the lack of job
opportunities in Ukraine and in Russia, many four-string domra players
are changing over to the four-string orchestral kobza in order to
continue working in Ukrainian folk instrument orchestras and ensembles.
The guitar first made its appearance in Spain in the second half of the
15th century and found its way to Russia in the 19th century. The
guitars played in Ukraine are similar in construction and tuning to the
Russian guitar where it is thought that they were first developed. These
instruments have seven metal strings and are usually tuned to an open G
tuning. The development of the seven-string guitar has been accredited
to a Czech national – Andriy Sykhra [1773-1850]. The tuning used was
taken from the Ukrainian torban. It is thought that Sykhra may have been
a torbanist. The term “Russian” guitar was applied to this instrument
due to the rise of Russian patriotism after the war of 1812. The Russian
seven-string guitar tuning in recent times has become unpopular,
especially among the youth, and is being replaced by the standard
six-string guitar tuning used in the West.
The Side Drum (Baraban)
The side drum was used in march and dance music and was introduced into
Ukrainian folk music only in this century.
The bandurka is often described as a Russian folk instrument that is,
now becoming popular in Ukraine. It originated in a district on Russian
ethnographic territory in the Urals appearing in the 1830-40’s, and was
played by Ukrainians working in factories and mines in the Ural
mountains. Its shape is that of a small guitar having five strings.
The mandolin is thought to have replaced the fretted kobza in Ukraine
and was first developed in Italy and became very popular in Europe and
in Ukraine. There are two types. The Neapolitan, – with a round back, –
and the Portuguese with a flat back. In Ukraine the mandolin was
displaced by the four-string domra.
The clarinet has become popular in recent times in Western Ukraine, the
most widely used being the clarinet in C. The version used in Ukraine
has a simpler construction lacking many of the metal keys that the
contemporary clarinet has. It was used widely in Western Ukraine, being
introduced there from Czechoslovakia.
Brass instruments were introduced through contacts with military music.
Brass ensembles were particularly popular in the Kuban region played by
the Kuban Cossacks. Today small brass ensembles have become very popular
in the playing of funeral music and dances.
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