Composition of the Russian folkorchestra

There are two different types of orchestras playing on Russian folkmusic instruments. They are different from one another because of the number of instrument groups forming an orchestra and because of the variety of instruments belonging to these groups.

The first orchestra is the Domra-Balalaika Orchestra known as “Balalajkaorkester” in Western Europe. It consists of a string group that can add one or two bayan accordions, some percussion instruments and the Gusli.

Besides the before mentioned string group, the other orchestra also consists of different types of accordions, wind instruments, all types of guslis and some other instruments. All instruments are equal with the string instruments.

The first type of orchestra is very popular among amateur musicians. The other, besides very few exceptions, only exists as State orchestras, radio- and television orchestras and orchestras in Academies of Music.

You will find more about the instruments by continue reading.  But if your interest primarily is in the string instruments, then you should consider going to this page.  Leif Mejlbro (a member of our orchestra for many years) has found some newer texts about the string instruments, and he has translated these texts to Danish and assembled the result in one document.

The Domra – Balalaika Orchestra

The maingroup consists of the stringinstruments, domra and balalaika in different sizes:

The Domra group consists of the following domras: Piccolo, primo, alto and bass – and mezzo-soprano, tenor and contrabass ( the last ones mentioned are not obligatory).

Domra: Tuning and playing technique

The history of the domra

The Balalaika group consists of balaikas: Primo, secund, alto, bass and contrabass. The last type exists in two sizes: Ordinary contrabass and subcontrabass. There is also a piccolobalalaika, that is used in small orchestras only consisting of the balalaika group.

Balalaika: Tuning and playing technique

The history of the balalaika


The bayan accordion has little by little found a natural position in the orchestra.

The third group of the orchestra consists of percussion instruments. Kettle drum, little drum, tambourine, cymbal and others.

Certain details about the string instruments:
The string instruments domra and balalaika – as well as other types such as violins, mandolins, guitars consist of three parts: The body, the neck with the fingerboard and the head with tuning mechanics. The domra and balalaika fingerboard is divided with metal bands that facilitates finding tones in a cromatic order. This makes it easier to learn how to play the instruments. Orientationmarks are placed on the fingerboard for the same purpose.

The sonorous part of the string is called measurement (from the “saddle” by the head to the “chair” on the deck. The length of the measurement varies according to the size of the instrument.

All information is from the following sources:

V. Andrejeff: “Russisk folkeorkester”, Petrograd 1913.
N. Retjmenski: “Folkemusikinstrumenterne”, Moscow 1956.
V. Avksentjeff: “Orkester af russiske folkeinstrumenter”, Moscow 1962

and Evgeni Pavlovski’s own experience, as described in “Balalajka Blade” from 1963 to 1971, publiced by Evgeni Pavlovski.