Name: Balalaika.
Types: Chordophones > Composites > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.5
Country: Russian Federation.
Region: East Europe.

Description: The balalaika [In Russian: балала́йка; pronounced in IPA: bəɫɐˈɫajkə] is a traditional lute, having three strings and a distinct triangular shaped body. Having a narrow neck and small head stock due to only using three strings.

Etymology: The earliest documentation of the term balalaika dates back to a 1688 guards logbook from the Moscow’ Kremlin records that’s two commoners were stopped from playing the balalika whilst drunk. Further documents from 1700 to 1714 also mention the name of the name balalaika.

Another appearance is the word is registered in a document from verkhosturksy district of Russia, dated October 1700. The word balalaika was mentioned in a  document signed by Peter the Great dated in 1794 regarding wedding celebrations of N. M. Zotov in Saint Petersburg.

In the Ukrainian language the word balalaika was first documented in the 18th century as “balabaika“, this form of the word is present in South Russian dialects and Byelorussian language as well as in Siberian Russia. Having made its way to literature and first appeared in “Elysei”, a 1771 poem by V. Maykov. The word “Balalaika” also appears in Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls, written between 1837 and 1842.

Imperial Russian Balalaika Court Orchestra
Imperial Russian Balalaika Court Orchestra @ Advertisement for Wax Cylinder Recording by Victor Victrola.

Repertoire: The repertoire for balalaika in its traditional setting is from the villages in the countryside. Some of the alternate tunings from V. Andraev’s time are still in use today. Although these tunings are dispersed and played in a regional context.

In the 1880s Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev who was a professional violinist in the music salons of St. Petersburg, developed what would become the standardized balalaika, with the assistance of the violin maker V. Ivanov. The instrument began to be used in his concert performances. Sometime later a St. Petersburg craftsman Paserbsky further refined the instrument by adding a fully chromatic set of frets and another of sizes of the balalaika were made for orchestral use.

The Balalaika Family: Orchestra’s consisting entirely of balalaikas from the smallest size “descant”, piccolo, prima, secunda, alto, tenor, bass and contrabass have been made. This occurred as a result of the attempts at standardizing the balalaika by V. Andreyev.

Tunings: Two of the strings are the nylon B string tuned to A and they are tuned to the same note. A plain unwound steel E string can be used for the melody string. 

Alternate Tunings / Balalaika
Names Tunings
Standard E A A
D Major D F# A
G Major G B D
A Minor A C# E



Citations: Bibliography: Websites:

Welcome to the…