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The Balalaika
The Most Russian Musical Instrument

The balalaika is a Russian stringed musical instrument with a characteristic triangular body and three strings.

The balalaika family of instruments includes instruments of various sizes, from the highest-pitched to the lowest: the piccolo balalaika, prima balalaika, secunda balalaika, alto balalaika, bass balalaika, and contrabass balalaika. The prima balalaika is the most common. All have three-sided bodies; spruce, evergreen, or fir tops; and backs made of three to nine wooden sections (usually maple). They are typically strung with three strings.

The prima balalaika, secunda and alto are played either with the fingers or a plectrum (pick), depending on the music being played, and the bass and contrabass (equipped with extension legs that rest on the floor) are played with leather plectra. The rare piccolo instrument is usually played with a pick.

The exact origins of the Balalaika are unknown. It is commonly agreed that is came from the 'Domra', an instrument from the Caucasus region of Russia. There is also similarity to the Kazakh 'Dombra', which has 2 strings, and the Mongolian 'Topshur', or Chuvash 'Tomra' with three strings.

Early representations of the balalaika show it with anywhere from two to six strings, which resembles certain Central Asian instruments. Similarly, frets on earlier balalaikas were made of animal gut and tied to the neck so that they could be moved around by the player at will (as is the case with the modern saz, which allows for the playing distinctive to Turkish and Central Asian music).

In the 1880s, Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev, who was then a professional violinist in the music salons of St Petersburg, developed what became the standardized balalaika, with the assistance of violin maker V. Ivanov. The instrument began to be used in his concert performances. A few years later, St. Petersburg craftsman Paserbsky further refined the instruments by adding a fully chromatic set of frets and also a number of balalaikas in orchestral sizes with the tunings now found in modern instruments. Andreyev patented the design and arranged numerous traditional Russian folk melodies for the orchestra. He also composed a body of concert pieces for the instrument.

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia