Wind instruments (Aerophones)
The luska is a very simple instrument made by cutting a thin plate from
the horn of a cow or by using a root from a birch tree. It is not
possible to play a scale on this «instrument,» however rhythmic figures
around the melody are quite easy to produce. In recent times this
instrument has been replaced by pieces of clean photographic film cut to
the size of a safety razor. Placing the instrument between the bottom
lip and teeth, the player can produce a sound by blowing across it. The
upper teeth just touch the edge of the instrument. All one does to
obtain a high-pitched sound is to tighten the upper lip and blow.
Slackening the lip produces a lower sound. Another way to play the luska
is to place it on the lower lip and to suck air in against it.
The Whistle (Svystun)
This instrument is usually thought of as a child’s toy and is used found
throughout Ukraine. It is usually made of clay in the form of an animal
such as a rooster, bird, horses or sheep. It has a hole to blow into and
sometimes side holes, which when opened and closed can change the pitch
of the note produced. On some instruments it is possible to play simple
Selection of whistles (Author collection.)
The Zozulka (Okaryna, Ocarina)
Originally invented about 1860 in Italy, the ocarina is a vessel flute
in the shape of an egg with ten finger-holes. The name in Italian means
«little goose.» The Ukrainian ocarina belongs to the group of whistle
instruments and in fact is a sophisticated svystun. Usually these
instruments are made of clay with seven or eight and sometimes ten
finger-holes. The instrument is in widespread use in the Carpathian
Mountain area of Ukraine especially among the Hutsuls where it is known
as a zozulka: a name derived from the Ukrainian word for a small cuckoo
Zozulka — Author’s instrument
The Sopilka family
The group of flute-like woodwind instruments is known generically as
«sopilkas» in Ukrainian. The use of this term however, has caused much
confusion in differentiating the various types of folk wind instruments.
This is because technically the term sopilka, by its meaning, should
only apply to a non-fipple folk-flute while the term dentsivka should
apply to instruments of the fipple variety. Unfortunately this is not
so, and great confusion surrounds the naming of these instruments.
Photo: Sopilka player (from Tovarystvo Ukraina)
The Sopilka (Frilka, Sopivka)
These are instruments that have no fipple or dentse. They consist of a
hollow pipe with six to ten holes. The pipe itself can be made of any
material, metal and plastic included. The usual number of holes is six
and additional holes allow chromatic notes to be easily produced on the
instrument. The important difference is the blowing end, where the
player must break his breath against the wall of the tube. This produces
a sound similar to that of the flute. The frilka is usually smaller than
the sopilka and has a higher sound, but is made in the same manner.
The Dentsivka (Dudka, Sopilka, Mala Fleita, Denchivka)
The dentsivka is often called a sopilka, however, it differs from the
true sopilka in that it has a fipple, like the western recorder. It is
thus classified as a duct flute. Usually it is made from a tube of wood
approximately 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in.) length. Holes are cut or burnt
into the tube and a fipple made at one end. The internal diameter is
usually 12 to 14 mm (4 to 5 in.) with the walls of the tube being 2 to 3
mm (0.08 to 0.12 in.) thick. In the traditional instruments the tuning
varied with the length of the tube, but was usually diatonic, with a
range of two and a half octaves.
Some dentsivkas (from Western Ukraine) having only five sound holes. In
recent times chromatic ten-hole fingering was developed for this
instrument that has carried on to most of the other instruments in the
sopilka family. The dentsivka is made in a number of sizes from piccolo
tuned in F, prima in C, alto in G, tenor in F to the bass in C. Concert
versions of the prima are available, the best being sold in Ukrainian
music stores under the title of «mala fleita.»
Kosa Dudka (dentsivka)
The kosa dudka differs from the dentsivka in that the fipple is in the
top of the instrument on the same plane as the playing holes, instead of
the underside. The fipple is cut away like that of a recorder. Often
this instrument is called a dentsivka.
The Telenka (Telynka, Tilinca, Tylynka)
The telenka is a primitive form of dentsivka only it does not have
fingerholes. The sound is changed by placing the finger into the open
end and covering it by a half or third etc. and by the strength of the
players breathe. Its length is approximately 35 to 40 cms (14 to 16 in),
although instruments can range up to 60cm (24in) in length. This
instrument is also found in Romania especially in the areas bordering
with Bukovyna area where it is known as the tilinca.
The Zubivka (Skosivka, Skisna Dudka, Frukanka)
The zubivka is one of the oldest folk instruments in Ukraine. It was
described by wandering Arabic scholars in the 11th century. This
instrument is very similar to the telenka, only instead of having a
fipple, it is played like the sopilka or frilka, by having the breath
break against the side of the pipe. This surface is wedge-shaped. The
zubivka is usually approximately 60cm (24in) long.
Illustration Zubivka Frilka 1. mouth 2. resonator from «Hraj muzyko»
Note this is not a Zubivka but a Frilka or Floyarka. Please place the
illustration after the frilka earlier.
The Floyara (Floyarka)
The floyara is a more perfected form of the sopilka. It is characterized
as an open ended notched flute. The floyara is a pipe of approximately a
meter i n length. One end is sharpened and the breath is broken against
one of the sides of the tube at the playing end. Six holes in groups of
three are burnt out in the center of the instrument. It was often played
at funerals in the Carpathian mountains. The f loyarka is a smaller
version of the floyara and is similar to the sopilka and frilka. The
floyara is approximately 60 cm (24 in) long. The mouthpiece is sharpened
into a cone-like edge and the instrument produces a sound similar to
that of the flute. Shep herds were also able to accompany themselves
with glutteral humming which produced an ostinato tone or drone. The
floyarka is often called a frilka or sometimes zubivka in central
The Pivtoradetsivka is translated as one and a half dentsivkas. It
consists of two dentsivkas joined together into one instrument. Only one
of the pipes has fingerholes. The other acts as a drone. The drone pipe
in a pivtoradentsivka is usually shorter than the playing pipe. The
instrument has the same fingering as the standard dentsivka.
Pivtoradentsivka from «Hraj Muzyko»
The dvodentsivka means literally two dentsivkas and this is what it is.
Two dentsivkas are joined together into one instrument but still only
one has playing holes. The other pipe, although it is the same length,
has no holes and acts as a drone.
The zholomiha or zholomiga is similar to the dvodentsivka only here
there are fingerholes on both pipes, usually four on one and three on
the other. The instrument is usually carved out of a single piece of
The Kuvytsi — Rebro (Svyryli, Naj)
The kuvytsi are one of the most ancient of folk instruments and are
better known in the West as the Pan pipes. Pan pipes have been found in
archeological excavations in Ukraine that date back some 5,000 years.
The instrument consists of several pipes each of which, when blown
endwise, produces one sound. Various versions of the kuvytsi exist in
Ukraine, such as the one-sided kuvytsi, which consist of a system of
pipes from large to small in one direction or double-sided kuvytsi,
which have their largest pipe in the center.
These instruments were used by ensembles in Chernihiv Province and also
widely in the Western Ukraine. In recent years the Moldovan concert
version of the pan-pipes called the «Naj» has been introduced
successfully. These instruments allow chromatic notes to be readily
obtained, a semitone lower than the primary sound of the pipe. This is
done by bending the angle of the pipes with relation to the player’s
lips. The air stream is thus broken on the far end of the pipe, rather
than the end closest the lips.
The Horn (Rih, Rizhok, Lihava, Cossack Horn, Hornpipe)
An instrument that was popular in Eastern Ukraine, with between three
and six fingerholes, or sometimes none. Usually they were made from a
cylindrical reed with a cow’s horn to form the bell. The mouthpiece
usually has a single reed although occasionally double reed instruments
can be found.
Rizhok from «Hray muzyko» of Humeniuk
The trembita is the Ukrainian version of the alpine horn. It is usually
made of spruce that has been split, a central bore dug out and then
glued together and bound with birch bark. It is usually some three
meters (10 feet) long, being 2.3 to 5 cm (1-2 in.) wide at the
mouthpiece and 6cm (3 1/2 in) wide at the bell. Shorter trembitas of
half to one meter in length can be found. This shorter instruments are
often called «vivcharska dudka» (shepherds pipe) or «syhnal’na truba.»
The mouthpiece is often made from a separate piece.
The range is approximately three octaves, encompassing the natural
harmonic series such as in the french horn.
The trembita was primarily used in signaling events such as the coming
of visitors, enemies or death in the mountain regions of Ukraine and
thus a system of elaborate signals was devised. Carol motifs were also
played on the instrument at Christmas. Like many of the instruments of
Western Ukraine, the trembita is not unique to the Ukrainian people.
Instruments such as the trombita, trabita, trebita can be found in
Poland and the bucium in Romania.
Hutsuls playing trembitas
The Wooden Trumpet (Truba, Lihava, Cossack Trumpet, Sihnal’na truba)
The truba or lihava is an instrument of the surma type, only with a
mouthpiece like that of a standard trumpet made of wood. The instrument
has seven to ten finger-holes and is presently used in contemporary folk
The Surma (Shawm)
The surma is a type of shawm that had widespread use in the armies of
the Cossack host. It is thought that the instrument was introduced into
Ukraine from the Caucasus or Turkey where the surma exists under the
names zurna and surnai. The term is often used to describe the wooden
trumpet. The instrument surma is made of wood with a conical bore,
having a bell at one end and a double reed similar to that used in the
oboe at the other. It usually has nine to ten finger-holes and is
capable of chromatic sounds through a range of dynamics. The instrument
is reminiscent of the sound of the oboe. Presently the surma has found
its way into orchestras of Ukrainian folk instruments in a range of
sizes such as prima, alto and bass.
The Bagpipes (Volynka, Duda, Koza)
The bagpipes are popular in many countries of the world. They are
constructed around a goat skin air reservoir into which air is blown
through a pipe with a valve. A number of playing pipes [two to four]
extend from the bag holding the air. The main playing pipe has five to
seven, sometimes eight fingerholes on which the melody is played. The
other pipes produce a drone. This is usually either a single tonic note
or a perfect fifth. Each of these playing pipes has a double reed
usually made from a goose quill. In recent times this instrument has
lost the popularity it had previously, and is rarely used today. It was
originally found in Western and Central Ukraine.
The Jaw Harp (Drymba, Varhan, Vargan)
The drymba is commonly known in the West as the Jaw harp or in its
corrupted version: the Jew’s -harp. It is made of metal in a form
similar to a distorted horseshoe. In the center is a stainless steel
tongue. The instrument is held up to the mouth with the left hand so as
to touch the teeth while the right hand plucks the stainless steel
blade. The players mouth served as a resonator. While playing the
drymba, the performer often hums a melody.
The Ocheretyna or Ocheretianka (Berest)
The ocheretyna is similar in principle to the kazoo. It has been used in
Ukraine by folk musicians for a long time. Sometimes folk violinists
would place one in their lips and hum while playing, producing a duet.
The ocheretyna is made from a length of fresh reed that is cut so that
the joints are at the ends. In one end a hole is made. One of the walls
is cut away so that the internal membrane of the reed is visible. This
membrane is near the closed end of the reed and vibrates when the
instrument is hummed into. An interesting version of this instrument is
the reed dudka which is similar to the instrument described above only
having six finger holes with which to play a melody.
Another instrument related to the ocheretyna and in widespread folkloric
use is the hrebinetz. This is a plastic comb with a piece of waxed paper
wrapped around it. The paper is buzzed between the lips and the teeth of
the comb. It is played in imitation of the harmonica.
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