Belarusian Folk Musical Instruments and Folk Music


Double pipes or "Parnyia dudki"
are also referred in Belarus as "Parniouka", "Parnyaty", "Dvojni", "Dvzajchatki", "Dudki", "Pasvisceli","Hoosli", "Dvajchatyia Hoosli". They are made of two pipes of different length. The upper end of each pipe is plugged by a circular insert, with 1/5 of it cut off - "cork" ("shpoont" or "sapoh"). The space between "cork" and the outside wall of pipe makes a narrow crack - "halasnik" fpor blowing air. There is an alongate whistle cut in the pipe's wall at it's upper end. The bottom end has three holes: 2 at the front - "perabirki" ("finger runs")for finger playing and one - "klapan" ("valve") - in the back. The bottom outlet holes are tied with rope, the tension of which allows to tune two pipes into harmony. Below is a military song suitable for double pipe:

Bagpipe or "Duda"
Is a musical instrument of complex design with the following necessary parts: leather bag, and no less that three pipes of different size: "soska"('nipple"), "perabor"(
"finger runs") and "huk"("sound"). Bag was usually done from skin of badger, goat or calf. The skin was stitched with fur in and had only single minimal seam (double stitch). Additional leather band was stitched on top of double stitch to air-seal the bag. Two holes were left open - neck and behind - then bag was turned inside out with fur out.  "Soska" - was a small maple pipe gradually narowing to the top. It was used to blow air inside the bag. It was coming out through a hole in the back and skin was sealed around tied with thin rope. Two other pipes (or more) were for playing music. Smaller one - "perabor" - was used to play melody.  It was made from a stick burned through entire length by a metal rod. 6 to 8 playing holes were burned through the side. The holes were placed at the same distance from each other but had different diameters. In 8-hole design the 7th hole was on the opposite back side, similar to double pipe, and 8-th was at the bottom on a side. The split goose feather or a straw - "pishchyk" - was inserted into upper entrance opening. This opening was inserted into a pipe and skin was tightly sealed by thin rope. The bottom end of the pipe was attached to a horn - "rahaven'" - a bent widening opening made out of specially hard wood of "Karellian birtch". Rahaven's were priced very high and were transferred from one musician generation to another. An finally "huk" was made out of large maple stick with "pishchyk" and "rahaven'", but without any holes to run fingers o. And so it produced only single base tone - "boordon". Traditionally all playing - "perabor" and "huk" - were not only made of one sort of wood (maple), but also from the same very tree to sound in tune.

Drum or "Baraban"
- often reffered in Belarus also as "Buben" - it had wooden, sometimes metal body ("karobka", "abechak", "reshata") with both sides covered with skin stretched by metal screws. The sound of the drum was defined by its size, which varied considerably. The musician held baraban in a vertical orientation on a shoulder belt and played with a wooden stick "kalatushka", which often had leather head. This is so called simple baraban. Considerably more popularity had so called Turkish Drums. Those had metal plates attached on top. In many regions other percussive instruments were attached to "Turkish" drums - triangle and bells in Vitebsk region, wooden "kliakotka" (cow bell type) in Minsk area. Kalatushka was sometimes mechanized - had a leather strap ("pedal") that musician pressed with right foot.  "Turkish" drums appeared in Belarus around XVIII century when so called "Yanychar capellas" - traveling Turkish bands - were popular in Belarus.

"Turkish" Drum 


Horn or "Roh"
- in Belarus horn is whole - it doesn not have finger playing holes, and is made out of natural horns of cattle - bull, cow, ram - or wood - birch, maple, spruce. The horns made of cattle horns have a grove arond narrow entrance end. The player inserts it into the right side of mouth and can extract from one to three sounds. Thes three sounds comprize simple signal melodies played by shepards and hunters.  The animal horns were used in Southern Belarus - Palesse and Mahilyow region. While in Northern Belarus much more complicated wooden horns were built. Here's how Ch. Piatkevich describes the design of woioden horn: "A horn for calling hounds and trumpeting certain hunting signals each hunter can make from particularly bent branch of pine, which is easy to find among those old pines cut down for resin collection. The selected piece of would should be dried well, shaped with axe, then plane or nife, and finally filed. It is then ctu in to halves along its legth. The center is taken out by chisel (hand only, no hammering!) to achieve evenn thickness of walls.  After that two holves are glued together with bone glue. When the glue is dry - the horn is filed outside again and entire pipe is wrapped with a layer of fine hemp rope, one turn touching another, wetted in a rare glue. 

When after that horn is sowed around with wet leather and is binded with white tin. Binding is comprized from three hoops - two wide ones at the ends (inside and outside), and one narrow at the middle (outside, with a ring attached for a carrying belt). To preserve horn from humidity, which degrades sound, a hunter covers inside of horn with a mix of rosin and animal fat (hare fat, preferably). The narrow blowing end has a short mouth-piece, made of animal horn. The described horn Ch. Piatkevich used in the horse-mounted hunt for moose with hounds.

Below is the simple shepard's horn call for cows:

Hammer Dulcimer or "Cymbaly"
It is not known exactly whether Belarusian cymbaly were invented by our ancestors or brought by travelling musicians. There is a theory that cymbaly were brought to Belarus (back then Grand Duchy of Lithuania) by Germans in XII-XIII centuries. Hand picked version of cymbaly - "goosli' - existed from even earlier times in Eastern Slavic culture. The first written mention of cymbaly in Belarusian docum,ents dates XIV century. Knowing how widely spread is hammer dulcimer in the Old World - from Israel to Ireland - it is hard to track where the instrument originated from. Even more ancoient lyra and harp are also related to cymbaly in design. 

Basic design of cymbaly is an trapezoidal void wooden resonator and steel strings on metal screws ("kalki"), stretched along it and tuned to particular tone by a key. The design of cymbaly varies significantly from one region in Belarus to another. Size, number of strings, number of strings per note, harmonic sequence - all could vary. The most important part that determines sound of cymbaly is upper deck - "hrudzi"("breasts"). It is normally made from thin-layered (thin growth rings) spruce. Each master has his own recipe of how to choose spruce that has great sound. M.M. Miron from Dziahil'na (Minsk voblasc') chooses spruce that grew in the sun and has bright color of wood. V.M. Novik from pazharcy village (Vitebsk voblasc') looks for spruce with slow growth -  did not grew higher than 15m high and 20cm thick. Some masters knock on spruces trunk and listen to it's sound. The wood is supposed to be dried slowly in shadow - the longer the better. Dry wood is then cut by saw into thin boards, which are then straightened with plane. Already at this stage one can knock on board and hear its sound. The good board vibrates and sounds almost as a string itself. 

The upper deck is mounted on frame, which consists of two side wooden blocks - ""bakaviny", "luchki", "lucy", "halouki", top and bottom blocks and two internal blocks - "rejki", "prakladziny", belechki". All parts of frame are made from hard wood - oak, beech, maple, special types of birch("chachotka", "mezhavataia"). The upper deck can be made either from single board or glued from several boards with bone glue. Two spruce blocks - "dushki" ("souls") - are glued to the inside of the upper board to support it from collapsing under tension of strings and distribute acoustic vibration. There are also two openings in upper deck to let the sound out from resonator - normally round holes in Belarusian cymbals - the most ancient form. The lower deck, closing resonator - "niz", "spod", "plechy" ("shoulders) - don't impact on the quality of sound and are made of different types of wood. The strings are sitting on two or three wooden blocks - "koniki", "kabylki", "kozliki" - installed onto upper deck. The number of rows of strings-"voices" ("halasou")varies from 12 to 24. The number of strings in one band ("pasma") forming single sound - varies from 4 to 8. An increased number of strings was caused by necessity to compete with more recent violins in the total sound of the band. Wooden sticks - "kruchki" - are used to strike cymbaly to make the sound.











Cymbaly tune

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Button accordion or "Harmonik"
"Harmonik" in Belarus is called any pneumatic instrument based on vibration of thin steel plate - "tongue" ("iazychok", "pishchyk", "holas") activated by airflow. Air bellows could be compressed by hands - button accordeon, foot pedal - fisharmony, ventilator - organella, blown by lungs - harmonica. Button Accordeons have appeared in Belarus starting from 1860ies. "Viena" ("venskaia") harmonik came from Germany (through Poland). "Foot Pedal"("Pedaliouka") harmonik, in which air was blown through a tube by foot padal, came from Poland. "Petrahradka" harmonik with both two and three row of buttons came from Russia. Sometimes "Italian" ("Ital'ianka") harmoniks (difference was in top register missing), were found in Belarus too. The most establish in today's Belarus "Chromatic"("Chromka") accordeon also came from Russia. It has buttons on both sides: 23-25 buttons on "melodic" right side, and 12 buttons on "bass" right side. Today foreign Harmonik squized out most of the original Belarusian folk musical instruments in different village bands. The usual composition of village bands is: harmonik, buben (or Turkish drum), violin or cymbaly. The more sophisticated traditional bands - so called "capellas" - add to harmonik clarinet, violin and drum (small bands) or in biger bands - violins (usually two), several cymbaly, clarinet, buben and triangle.

"Kryzhachok" is a popular Belarusian folk dance. It is performed by bands in any compositions or even solo on harmonik, cymbaly or mandolin:

Two other dance tunes are here and here.



Buben and violin from Palesse region 

Polka for violin and buben:

Pipe or "Dudka"

This is one of the most ancient instruments used in Belarus. Easy to make from any branch it was wide spread and popular. Click on the image to listen to a short tune on Belarusian pipe 

A variety of Dudka made from rye straw is called "Zhalejka" or "Dudachka" in Minsk region, "Pishchyk" in Palesse:

  Wedding tune for dudka

Trumpet or "Truba"
was used by shepards. Below is a simple tune played by shepards in the morning as they were passing through the village a collecting cows from different yards for a day. This would signal the owners to let their cattle out:





was attached to a poll in the field and activated by wind. When it started to turn it would shift on the axis due to elongated hole on which it was rotating. This would produce continuous knocking sounds transferring acoustic vibration into the ground and to scare off moles. it's acoustic "scare-crow" for moles.






References used in this file:


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