Type: Chordophones > Composite > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Specimen: 1 in collection.
Acquisition Date: Circa 1996.
Description: The balalaika [in Russian: балала́йка, pronounced] it is a Russian stringed musical instrument. The instrument generally has a short sustain, necessitating rapid strumming or plucking when it is used to play melodies. Balalaikas are often used for Russian folk music and dancing.
Etymology: The earliest mention of the term balalaika dates back to a 1688 Russian document. The term “balabaika” was used in Ukrainian language document from 18th century. According to one theory, the term was loaned to Russian, where – in literary language – it first appeared in “Elysei”, a 1771 poem by V. Maykov.
Balalaika family: The balalaika family of instruments includes instruments of various sizes. Starting from the highest-pitched piccolo balalaika, prima balalaika, secunda balalaika. On the midrange to bass side of the family we have the bass balalaika and contrabass balalaika.
There are balalaika orchestras which consist solely of different balalaikas; these ensembles typically play Classical music that has been arranged for balalaikas. The prima balalaika is the most common; the piccolo is rare. There have also been descant and tenor balalaikas, but these are considered obsolete.
Prima Balalaika: 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.
Construction: 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, and the necks are fretted.
Citations: Bibliography: Findeizen, Nikolai. History of Music in Russia from Antiquity to 1800. Ed. Miloš Velimirović and Claudia Jensen. Vol. 1. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP 2008. P. 172 ;