Traditional Russian Folk Instruments Essay

1957 words - 8 pages

Traditional Russian Folk Instruments

There are many instruments found in the Russian culture that we as Americans know nothing about. I know that before I wrote this paper I didn't even know some of the names that I came across. There are many different groups of instruments, not just in Russian culture, but in all cultures. There are the woodwinds, the brass, the percussive instruments and the stringed instruments. We are going to focus on the last, the stringed instruments, more specifically, the balalaika.
The Balalaika, the most well known Russian stringed instrument has a triangular body, basically flat, with a small round sound hole near the narrow top of the belly; a long, narrow neck; and three gut or metal strings, normally plucked with the fingers (a leather plectrum is sometimes used with metal strings). A member of the guitar family, this instrument is sometimes called the "Russian lute". The balalaika is built in six different sizes, from the piccolo to the contrabass. When all the different sizes are used at the same time, a balalaika orchestra is formed. Typically, the balalaika is used to accompany song and dance. It was made popular in the 1800s in both city salons and in the countryside it developed in the 18th century from the similar domra or dombra of Central Asia and Siberia. The representative balalaika, the treble or prima, is usually tuned e1 (e1 = E above middle C). The range and versatility of the instrument are astounding in view of the fact that two strings are tuned alike in the prima, secunda, and alto instruments. The prima blalaika is tuned E, E, A; the secunda balalika is tuned a fifth below the prima (A, A, D); the alto an octave below the prima. The bass balalika is tuned E, A, D; the counter-bass sounds an octave below the bass.
When played, it sounds similar to a tremelo sound. Because the soundboard is not crowned like it is in the piano, and the wavelengths of the sounds are short, it makes this tremelo sound. When playing the balalaika, you can't just play one note at a time like a quarter note. Out of that came the whole style of the background of Russian traditional music --- which could be why it's so upbeat. "Belly Scratchers" was their nickname given to them by the musicians. They were given this name because it mad sense, because the balalaika hangs down by the belly, and they make rapid "scratching movements" when they play. The origin of the balalika takes us way back probably to the XIIth century, but the "father" of the Russian balalaika orchestra was Vassily Andreyev (1861-1918), a balalaika virtuoso who modified and improved the traditional balalaika and enlarged its family by introducing piccolo, secunda, alto, bass and counter-bass instruments. With one of the greatest balalaika makers ever, S. Nalimov, he gave birth to an entire family of instruments pretty much like the...

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