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Uncovering the Unique Sounds of Russian Folk Music Instruments

Russian Folk Music Instruments

Russian folk music is known for its unique qualities, with its early forms being vocal-centric and not dependent on instruments. The traditional instruments used in Russian music have evolved throughout history, with some instruments being considered simple, while others are more complex.

In this article, we will explore the various types of Russian music instruments, with a focus on the


History of Russian Music Instruments

Early Russian music was primarily vocal, and no instruments were used. However, as time passed, various instruments were introduced.

These instruments ranged from simple and easy to play to more sophisticated and complicated instruments. The popular Russian music instruments include the balalaika, accordion, and the Treshchotka.

With the introduction of more instruments, Russian folk music evolved, allowing for a wider range of sounds and musical expressions. Simple vs.

Sophisticated Instruments

Russian folk music instruments can be classified into two categories: simple and sophisticated. Simple instruments are easy to learn and play, while sophisticated instruments require a certain level of motivation, skill, and dedication.

The balalaika is an example of a simple instrument, with its three strings and triangular body. On the other hand, the accordion is a sophisticated instrument, requiring a level of technical skill.

15 Russian Musical Instruments

Russian folk music is famous for its wide range of instruments. The 15 most popular instruments include:


Domra – a Russian stringed instrument. 2.

Balalaika – a triangular-shaped stringed instrument. 3.

Accordion – a box-shaped keyboard instrument. 4.

Treshchotka – a traditional percussion instrument. 5.

Gusli – a plucked stringed instrument. 6.

Zhaleika – a type of wind instrument. 7.

Okonkov – a wooden percussion instrument. 8.

Bayan – a type of accordion. 9.

Gudok – a stringed instrument played with a bow. 10.

Kontrabass – a large stringed instrument. 11.

Tuba – a brass instrument. 12.

Duda – a type of bagpipe. 13.

Lira Organizzata – an early keyboard instrument. 14.

Bandura – a type of lute. 15.

Harmonica – a small wind instrument.



Domra is a Russian stringed instrument commonly associated with the balalaika orchestra. The instrument was initially developed in the 19th century by Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev.

It has a round body and is typically made of wood. The

Domra has three or four metal strings and is often played with a plectrum.

Domra Features


Domra has an excellent sound quality and produces a rich tonality due to its metal strings. It is often played as a solo instrument, but it also combines well with other instruments in an ensemble.

Its sound is unique and immediately recognizable. Its small size and light weight make it easy to carry around, and it’s suitable for playing in any setting, indoors or outdoors.


Domra Player

Tamara Volskaya is a famous Russian

Domra player who has made a name for herself both in Russia and internationally. She is known for her virtuosic playing skills and her musical style, which combines traditional Russian music with other musical forms.

Her performances are famous for their emotional depth, technical mastery, and sheer musicianship. In conclusion, Russian folk music instruments have evolved over the centuries, with some being simple and easy to learn, while others are sophisticated and require a more in-depth level of skill.


Domra, with its unique sound quality and rich tonality, is an excellent example of a traditional Russian instrument that has become popular worldwide. Whether you’re a seasoned musician or an amateur, playing Russian folk music instruments can be both enjoyable and inspiring.

3) Balalaika

The balalaika is a Russian stringed instrument with a triangular body and three strings. It is part of the lute family and has a distinctive twangy sound.

The balalaika is often played in a Skomorokhi ensemble, which is a traditional Russian musical group that performs on the streets.

The Balalaika and

Domra Relation

The balalaika is often compared to another traditional Russian instrument, the domra.

Both instruments have a triangular body, but the main difference between them is that the domra has a shorter neck and fewer strings. The domra was developed in the early 18th century, influenced mostly by Italian and German mandolins.

The balalaika, on the other hand, had its origins in the Russian Middle Ages and developed into its modern form during the 19th century. Both instruments are essential in Russian folk music.

History of Balalaika

The balalaika faced a tumultuous history, with political and cultural factors affecting its popularity and use. In the mid-18th century, Tsar Peter the Great ordered the burning of many traditional Russian instruments, including the balalaika.

However, despite this order, it remained popular among peasants and rural folk, who used it in their traditional music. It was only in the early 20th century that the balalaika gained mainstream recognition as a national instrument.

Its popularity continued to rise, and it was even showcased in the 1957 Soviet movie, The Balalaika. Andreyev’s Nickname

Vasily Andreyev is known as the father of the balalaika.

He revolutionized the instrument by increasing its size and adding two more strings. While he was known for his excellent work with the balalaika, he was not only a musician and builder, but also an entrepreneur.

His dedication to the instrument gave him the nickname “Tsar of the Balalaika.”

4) Accordion

The accordion is a popular musical instrument in Russia, with its rich and distinctive sound featuring in many different styles of music. It is a keyboard instrument that produces sound by the movement of air through reeds.

The accordion has undergone many changes over the years, leading to different types of accordions being available.

Different Types of Accordion

The most common types of accordions in Russia are the Garmoshka and the Bayan. The Garmoshka is a small, lightweight button accordion with a diatonic scale.

It is popular in folk music and is often played by street performers. The Bayan, on the other hand, a more complex accordion, has a full chromatic scale and is often used in classical music and pop music.

Accordion History in Russia

The accordion has a rich history in Russia, with the first accordions produced in the country dating back to the mid-19th century. Timofey Vorontsov and Ivan Sizov were the pioneers of accordion production in Russia.

Their factory was located in Tula, which soon became the center for accordion production in the country. The factory was the largest accordion manufacturer in the world during the 20th century.

Popularity and Usage of Accordion in Russia

The accordion is widely used in Russian music, with many traditional and modern songs featuring the instrument. It is often played as both a solo instrument and as part of an ensemble.

The chromatic accordion has become popular in recent years, and it adds a unique dimension to composition, as it allows for musical expression in a full range of keys. The accordion is also popular in dance music, with many traditional and modern dances accompanied by its rhythmic sound.

5) Treshchotka

The Treshchotka is a traditional Russian percussion instrument used in folk music. It is a rattle that produces a cracking sound and an effect similar to hand clapping.

Often made from wood or metal, the Treshchotka is played by shaking it in a horizontal motion, causing the internal rattling parts to hit the outer frame.

Treshchotka as a Russian Percussion Instrument

The Treshchotka is widely used in Russian folk music as an accompanying instrument. It adds a rhythmic and percussive texture to the music, providing an added layer of sound and depth.

It is also used in dances, with the shaking of the Treshchotka providing a rhythmic beat for the dancers.

Treshchotka Playing Techniques

Playing the Treshchotka requires a specific technique. It is held at different angles and shaken with varying intensity to create a range of sounds.

By stretching or squeezing the frame, the pitch of the rattling can be changed, which alters the overall sound of the instrument.

Treshchotka in Weddings

In Russian culture, the Treshchotka is often used in weddings as a tradition to ward off evil spirits. The instrument is shaken by guests and wedding party members to create a loud noise that is believed to drive away any negative energy.

6) Gusli

The Gusli is a traditional Russian stringed instrument belonging to the zither family. The instrument has a rich tonality and is known for its accompanying role in fairy tales and folktales.

Characteristics of Gusli

Gusli is one of the oldest East Slavic musical instruments, dating back to the 11th century. It has a rectangular body with strings running parallel along the length of the instrument.

The gusli has no frets, and altering the sound requires a slight change in the positioning of the player’s fingers.

Gusli Playing Techniques

The gusli is played by plucking the strings with the fingers. It is often used to accompany fairy tales and stories to provide a rich musical backdrop.

In recent years, the gusli has also found its way into contemporary music, with contemporary composers and artists incorporating its unique sound into their work.

Types of Gusli

There are three types of Gusli: Krylovidnye, Shlemovidnye, and rectangular desktop. The Krylovidnye and Shlemovidnye are named after their wing-shaped or helmet-shaped bodies.

The rectangular desktop gusli is made to be played on a desk or table, with the strings running parallel to the surface. In conclusion, Russian folk music is known for its unique and diverse range of musical instruments.

From percussion instruments such as the Treshchotka to stringed instruments like the Gusli, each instrument has its own characteristics, history, and playing techniques. As a part of Russian culture and tradition, these instruments continue to be an essential part of Russian music and are a testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of the country.

7) Zhaleika

Zhaleika is a popular Russian folk clarinet, known for its high-pitched and nasal sound. It is a wooden pipe with finger holes along its length that can be stopped up with the fingertips to produce different notes.

Zhaleika as a Popular Wind Instrument

The Zhaleika is a widely used wind instrument in Russian folk music. It has a distinctive sound with a unique tonality.

The instrument is usually made from cylindrical cane with a reed-like mouthpiece that mimics the sound of the human voice.

Zhaleika Making Materials

The materials used in making Zhaleika vary. The traditional instruments are made from cane, while some modern versions are made from wood or synthetic materials.

In the past, reeds made from goose feathers were used, and cow horns or birch bark were used for shorter, higher-pitched versions.

Historical Use of Zhaleika

The Zhaleika was a common instrument used by shepherds to collect animals. The sound of the high-pitched instrument carried over long distances, making it useful in herding animals.

The Zhaleika also played a significant role in traditional Russian festivals, where it was played in group performances.

8) Lozhki and Buben

In Russian folk music, Lozhki and Buben are traditional percussion instruments that perform a vital role. Lozhki or wooden spoons are used for singing and dancing, whilst the Buben or tambourine is played during war and hunting rituals.

Lozhki as a Russian Percussion Instrument

Lozhki are a unique percussion instrument, often played by hitting two wooden spoons together. It is a common folk instrument used in singing and dancing.

Traditionally, the Lozhki was made from harder wood, with longer handles and a polished surface for optimal resonance.

Buben as a Russian Percussion Instrument

Buben is a handheld percussion instrument shaped like a tambourine, which is common in Russian folk music. It is made with a frame covered with rawhide or man-made membrane, and small jingles or discs are attached to the sides.

The Buben is played by banging, tossing, or beating it to produce a rhythmic beat.

Buben Playing Techniques

The Buben is played by hitting the membrane with one hand or both hands, depending on the desired sound. The jingles or discs on the sides produce a rattling or jingling noise when the instrument is hit, adding to the overall sound of the music.

The Buben can be played in various styles and tempos, depending on the mood and genre of the music being played. In conclusion, Lozhki and Buben are staple percussion instruments in Russian folk music, adding a distinct rhythm and sound to the overall music.

The Zhaleika, originating from shepherds to collect animals, is a popular wind instrument that has continued to be a mainstay in Russian folk music. These instruments are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Russia and continue to play an important role in its music and culture.

9) Volynka

The Volynka is a traditional Russian version of the bagpipes. It was initially developed by the Finns and then adopted by the Russians.

The bagpipes made their way to Russia in the 18th century, and they were used mainly in military bands.

Volynka and Its Origin

The Volynka was named after the city of Volyn, which is a region in northwest Ukraine. The instrument was brought to Russia by Matthew Guthrie, a British merchant who lived in St. Petersburg during the 18th century.

The Volynka eventually became a popular musical instrument in Russian folk music.

Volynka Making Materials

The Volynka is made from a goat, pig, or sheep stomach, with reeds and a chanter made of wood. The drone pipes are also made of wood, and the whole instrument is held together with cords and straps.

The stomach bag is inflated using a blowpipe.

Volynka Parts and Playing Techniques

The Volynka has several parts, including the chanter, re

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