The Instruments

Russian folk wind instruments? What are they? Well, first of all, they're a lot of fun.

Note: You can click on the images below and view a larger (say, 60-80K) JPEG image.

Also - there are audio samples of the volynka, zhaleika, and rozhok available at, the pages of my bud Pavel Stepanov. (Lots of Russian explanation if you read it, too.)



The zhaleika (pronounced "zhal-YAY-ka," crudely put) is the most commonly possessed and used Russian folk wind instrument. It's a "folk clarinet" or hornpipe. It has a single reed which may be covered by a mouthpiece (or "wind cap"). There's a wooden barrel with finger holes and a flared bell. It can be made of various natural or man-made materials; cow horn bells are common, but all-wood and even birch bark zhaleikas exist too.

Types of Zhaleika

The zhaleika has a diatonic tuning, comes in various keys (G, A, D, sometimes also C, E, F) and can come in soprano (i.e. "normal"), alto, and even piccolo forms. They can be tuned by adjusting the reed. Regionally, there exist some 'double' zhaleikas (i.e. 2 barrels side-by-side).

The Scale

The instrument can be tuned to the major scale or the Mixolydian mode (with a flatted 7th note) and you only get one octave's worth of notes. Some zhaleikas can be "cross-fingered" for a couple of additional accidentals, but some cannot.


The volynka (pronounced "val-In-ka"; or "val-Yn-ka" if you can manage...) or Belarusian "duda" is a basic Slavic bagpipe. Its chanter is called a zhaleika (and is functionally equivalent). It also has 1-2 drones; all those and the mouthpiece are attached to a bag.

You may not have encountered any Russian or East Slavic pipers (who'd be called a "volynshchik" (Russian) or "dudar" (Belarusian)). That's because the instrument has been neglected for at least a century and is only now being revived. However, the "sound" of the volynka has been preserved both in the zhaleika (which has allowed the playing technique to be preserved as well) and to some extent by the droning sound of the hurdy-gurdy (known in Russia as the "kolesnaia lira").


The brelka (pronounced "brIOl-ka") is a double-reeded zhaleika; a sort of diatonic "folk oboe." Most I've seen have a (wooden) bell which narrows back down at the end like a bulb or egg, but some recent instruments just have a larger tubular section at the end past the fingered part of the barrel... "Brelka" used to be just a regional name for a zhaleika, until Andreev used it to distinguish the double-reeded instrument from the single-reeded zhaleika.

Like the zhaleika and volynka, you have a diatonic instrument with one octave available.

Trumpets - the Rozhok

The rozhok (pronounced "ra-zhOk", plural rozhki: "razh-KI") or "Vladimir horn" is a wooden horn with trumpet-style mouthpiece and finger holes. It has historically been most common in the northeast-central parts of European Russia near Vladimir (hence the name "Vladimir horn") and Iaroslavl.

Types of Rozhki

The basic diatonic set of rozhki would include one or two sopranos in G, an alto in C, and a tenor (an octave below the soprano) in G. Besides the diatonic instruments, there are now chromatic rozhki (as pictured).

The Scale

The rozhok can play its first octave in pure tones; then by overblowing you can go into further (higher) registers. (So, unlike the previous instruments, you get more than an octave.)



The svirel' (pronounciation approximately [svir-YEl']) is a basic Russian pennywhistle.


(Information contributed by David Cooper)

The sopil'ka is more common in the Ukraine, this is their version of a recorder. The fingering system is basically chromatic unlike the svirel' which is mostly diatonic. The sopil'ka comes in Piccolo (Fa or F), Soprano (Do or C), Alto (?), Tenor, and Bass. I have seen some interesting performances with sopil'ka choirs, especially with the Ukrainian National Folk Orchestra in Kiev (with Victor Hutsal as conductor).


(Information contributed by David Cooper)

The dvadyensivka is a diatonic double sopil'ka. The one I have is in Do (C) major. Using both hands to finger, one on each "barrel" one can play a Do major scale in thirds. Fingering with seconds, thirds, or fourths allows one to fit the harmony of most folk songs. I have seen other versions of this from Romania but they have been tourist models.


Kugikly (sometimes called kuvikly) are panpipes. They can have anywhere from 1 to 8 pipes, though 2-5 pipes glued together seems to be a common set. (They're not as complex in construction as either the Romanian or full South American types of panpipes.) They seem to be most often played by groups of women.

Other Winds, other sources

More obscure Russian/East Slavic folk wind instruments I won't get into further include the svistul'ka (ocarina), posvistel', surna (shawm), as well as various bits of noise-making leaves, straw, and plastic wrap (often collectively described as "beresta")...

Another general source describing Russian instruments (including winds and percussion) is in French, at the MDC Records website.

Folk Percussion Instruments

Where Can You See and/or Hear Them?

Bibliography, Discography, Links

Ensembles in Russia

You might wonder, since perhaps you haven't heard about Russian folk wind instruments, where... they've been hiding, so to speak. Well, there are a few Russian folk instrument orchestras and ensembles which have consistently used folk wind instruments. You can hear the instruments on recordings, or if you're lucky, perhaps you can see and to hear these groups live in Russia or on tour:

Of more historical interest, the ensemble Zhaleika was very influential in the Russian folk music revival of the 1970s-1980s. But, if you want to talk about influence you might as well start at the beginning, with Smolenskii's Gdov Gusli Players' Choir, shown below in a 1906 photograph. (If you'd like to find out more about those stringed instruments surrounding the zhaleikas, click on the image.)

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Copyright © 2006 L. Robin C. LaPasha.

Updated as of 3/5/2006. Comments and responses to Robin LaPasha