Music is a very important part of Ukrainian culture. From olden times for every important event in their lives Ukrainians had background music, was it happy (birth of a child, wedding) or tragic (funeral). Ukrainians used music and songs to organize their work and to make it more efficient and pleasant.
Major part of folk Ukrainian music instruments dates back to the Kievan Rus’ times. Ukrainian interconnection with different countries and nations had a great influence on construction of Ukrainian music instruments and even their names.
Folk Ukrainian instruments are represented by three main groups:
- percussion instruments;
- wind instruments;
- stringed instruments.
Ukrainian percussion music instruments
Percussion instruments are considered as the most ancient among all the types of music instruments. Ukrainians used them starting from XI century at least.
This percussion instrument is depicted on walls of Saint Sophia Cathedral towers in Kiev. The pictures date back to the first half of XI century.
Tarilka is round or disc-shaped instrument mainly made of copper. In the middle of each Ukrainian tarilka there is a hole where a band helping to hold tarilka is inserted. To create sound musician uses two tarilkas crashing them or only one tarilka, striking it with wooden or metal stick.
Bukhalo is a large drum, usually used in dance music. It is particularly popular in Western regions of Ukraine. This instrument is fixed to the musician belt so he can move and even dance. On the top of bukhalo there is often a metal cymbal.
To create sound performer strikes the drum with wooden stick and the cymbal with metal stick.
Ukrainian wind instruments
Wind instruments were used by Ukrainians from ancient times, too. First instruments were made of household goods such as animal horns and bones, bulrush stems.
In the village of Molodove (Western Ukrainian region Bukovyna) archeologists found the unique bone sopilka (pipe). According to archeologists’ conclusions this sopilka was made about 20 thousand years ago.
Trembita is a variation of alpine horn made of straight piece of spruce or pine (smereka). Primarily this wind instrument was used by Carpathian Mountains dwellers known as Hutsuls as a signaling device to announce weddings, funerals and other important events. Trembita is usually 3 meters long and 2,5-5 centimeters wide, but shorter trembitas can also be found. The sound of trembita can be heard as far as ten kilometers.
Sopilka is Ukrainian wind instrument (similar to flute) usually 30-40 centimeters long and with 6 to 10 finger holes. The pipe of sopilka can be made of any material – wood (elder, maple, beech), metal and even plastic (modern variations). Nowadays sopilkas are used by many Ukrainian folkloric bands to recreate traditional Western Ukrainian music.
Surma is a wind instrument widespread in the Cossack host (Ukrainian Cossacks used it for military signals). It can have many forms but the most common is a conical wood tube with a pirouette (small disc that lies against the player’s lips) and double reed, widening towards the end. Surma has 9 to 10 finger holes. It is thought that the instrument was introduced into Ukraine from Turkey or the Caucasus.
Ukrainian stringed instruments
String instruments were created as music instruments consciously, not for practical activities demands, but for people’s own pleasure. Ukrainians didn’t use stringed instruments neither during hunting as wind instruments, nor during collective work as percussive instruments.
Traditional folk instruments of Ukrainians qualified as stringed are very popular in modern Ukrainian folk music.
Bandura is uniquely Ukrainian string instrument that combines the acoustic principles of the lute and the harp both. This Ukrainian plucked instrument is considered to have evolved from a line of lute-like instruments. Early instruments had from 6 to 12 strings, but modern variations can have up to 68 strings.
From XV to XVIII century banduras were widely played by kobzari (blind wandering minstrels who sang songs about exploits of Ukrainians) and Cossacks.
Kobza is one of the oldest Ukrainian instruments similar to guitar, lute and some other plucked music instruments. The body of instrument is usually made of pear, willow or walnut. Kobza was first noted in a VI century Greek chronicle and was referred to warriors from Ukrainian territories. This instrument is smaller than bandura and has fewer strings, but it was also used by kobzari in XV-XVIII.
Torban is a music instrument that combines the features of the psaltery and of the lute. This Ukrainian instrument was influenced by the European stringed instruments, but was manufactured and used only in Ukraine, though it is occasionally encountered in Russia and Poland. Torban was an integral part of urban oral culture in Ukraine, though this multi-strung instrument was very expensive in manufacture.
Tsymbaly is Ukrainian music instrument similar to husli by its construction. This instrument looks like a large wooden box with a soundboard. On this soundboard strings are strung across in groups of three or five strings. To strike the strings player uses small wooden hammers. The instrument can be played in a seated or in a standing position. Tsymbaly existed in Ukraine since IX century and were widely used in performing Hutsul music.