10 Most Interesting Slavic Folk Instruments

Have you ever heard any of these play?

Olga3003 (CC0), Pixabay

Folk music is cherished as one of the top treasures of Slavic tradition and culture and has been preserved in its original state for centuries. During this period a great number of instruments have been developed, and some of them are especially unique. Whether it is for their specific sound or an unusual design, here is a list of instruments we find particularly interesting.

1. Fujara 

Fujara is a folk flute originating in central Slovakia. It was traditionally played by shepherds for centuries, and it kept its original design over this time. It is up to 2 meters long and has only three tone holes. The sound, on the other hand, is far from minimalistic. Thanks to the length of the instrument it is possible to play the complete diatonic scale on only three holes. The sound is very unique, and contrary to many folk instruments, very gentle and pleasant to listen to.

2. Zither

Zither is a string instrument originating from the Alps and is an important part of Slovenian folk music. The word zither derives from the Greek word cithara, from which the word guitar also comes from. The modern Zither actually looks like a folded up guitar, with a similar fretboard and soundhole. Some zithers are still fretless, however, both types usually have around 30 strings. The sound could be described as something between a guitar and a harp.

3. Hurdy-gurdy

Hurdy-gurdy is an unusual instrument originating in Europe and popular in many Eastern European countries. It is a combination of a string and a keyboard instrument. The music played on the strings resembles the sound of the violin, while the melodies are played on the keyboard. Some hurdy-gurdies produce a sound similar to bagpipes. Thus they accompany the traditional Slavic folk music quite well.  The Slovak version of Hurdy-gurdy is known as Ninera, while Russians have their Donskoy Ryley.

4. Okaryna

Okaryna is an ancient instrument, originally coming from China, and was also widely used by Mayans and Aztecs. The Aztecs were responsible for bringing the ocarina to Europe, where it was commonly played by children. The oldest Okaryna in Europe was discovered in Kosovo. However, it can mostly be found as a part of folk music in Poland. It is a type of a vessel flute with a mouthpiece and up to 12 finger holes. It produces an enjoyable and soft sound and was featured in the Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

5. Treshchotka

Treshchotka is a folk instrument widely played in Russia. It was designed to imitate the sound of hand clapping with several small wooden boards attached on a string through holes at the top. The player holds the instrument on both ends and creates a variety of soft and harsh sounds through different hand motions.

6. Bock

Bock is a type of a bagpipe that was originally played in the Czech Republic and Poland. The instrument has quite a unique and complex design. It is forged with goatskin and the top is commonly shaped as a goat’s head.

7. Fanfrnoch

Fanfrnoch is percussion instrument originating in the Czech Republic. It comes in a shape of a metal or clay pot with a stretched bladder on top. It looks a bit silly with a bundle of horse hair going through the center, but it produces a particularly interesting sound. It is played by pulling the hair with wet fingers and was a part of many Czech folk songs in the past.

8. Gunjac

Gunjac is a Croatian folk instrument resembling the violoncello. However, it is a bit unusual because it has only two strings. Regardless of its simplistic design and sound, it is still widely played in Croatia and a crucial part of Croatian traditional folk music.

9. Zhaleika

Zhaleika is a popular Russian wind instrument and a common part of a traditional balalaika band. The wooden barrel with several finger holes is fairly usual for this type of instruments, but Zhaleika stands out with a flared bell at the end. Some believe that this instrument is the original antecedent of the clarinet.

10. Kuvytsi

Kuvytsi is ancient Russian and Ukranian version of the pan pipes. It consists of about a dozen pipes, each producing its own sound when blown at the end. The first Kuvytsi found in Ukraine is about 5000 years old. For an instrument this small, it produces a surprising diversity of tones and is commonly played by ensembles in Western Ukraine.

What do you think?

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