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Main page » IT'S INTERESTING » Balalaika



Balalaika is the Russian national three-stringed fingered instrument, with the length from 600—700 mm (prima balalaika) up to 1,7 meters (balalaika-contrabass), with triangular slightly bent (in XVIII-XIX centuries also oval) wooden body. Balalaika is one of the instruments turning (along with the accordion and, to a lesser degree, zhaleyka) into the musical symbol of the Russian people.


Balalaika’s body is made of 6-7 main segments, the head of the long fingerboard is slightly turned back. Strings are metal (In XVIII-th century two of them were of animal gut; the modern balalaikas have nylon or carboxylic ones). The fingerboard of the modern balalaika has 16-31 metal frets (till the end of XIX-th century — 5—7 bound up frets).
The sound is ringing, but soft. The most frequent methods to have a sound: clanging, pizzicato, double pizzicato, unary pizzicato, vibrato, tremolo, staccato, guitar techniques.


BeforeVasiliy Andreev transformed balalaika into the concert instrument at the end of XIX-th century, it had no constant, overall widespread pitch. Each performer pitched the instrument in compliance with his manner of performance, the general mood of the played works and local traditions.

The pitch introduced by Andreev (two strings in unison — the «E», one — one fourth higher — the «A» (both "E", and "A" of the first octave) was widely adopted among the balalaika players giving concerts and began being called as "academic". There is also a "national" pitch — the first string "G", the second — «E», the third — "C". At this pitch the triads are easier taken, shortcoming of it consists in the difficulty to play on open strings. Besides specified above there are also certain regional traditions of the instrument pitch. The number of the rare local pitches.


Contrabass-balalaika. The modern orchestra of the Russian folk instruments engages five versions of balalaikas: prima, sekunda, alto, bass and contrabass. Only the prima of them is the solo, the master instrument, and the others have only the orchestral functions: sekunda and alto realize the chord accompaniment, while the bass and contrabass have the bass function.


Balalaika is a widespread enough musical instrument, studied at the academic musical educational institutions of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Training period for balalaika makes 5 — 7 years at the children's music school (depending on the age of the pupil), 4 years at the secondary education institution, 4-5 years at the higher education institution.

Repertoire: Versions of the folk songs, arrangements of the classical works, author's music.


There is no unequivocal opinion as to the period of the balalaika appearance. It is believed that balalaika starts spreading from the end of the XVII-th century. Probably, it originates from the Asian dombra. It had the form of  «the long two-string instrument, had the body of about one and a half spans in length (approximately 27 cm) and one span in width (about 18 cm) and a neck (fingerboard) at least four times longer» (M.Gyutri, «Dissertation about Russian antiquities»).

Balalaika received its modern look thanks to the musician-educator V.Andreev and masters V.Ivanov, F.Paserbsky, S.Nalimov and the others. Andreev offered to make the sounding board from fur-tree, and the back part of balalaika to make from the beech, and also to shorten (to 600—700 mm). The family of balalaikas manufactured by F.Paserbsky (piccolo, prima, sekunda, alto, bass and contrabass) became the basis of the Russian folk orchestra. Later F.Paserbsky obtained the patent in Germany for the balalaika invention.
Balalaika is used as solo concert, ensemble and orchestral instrument.


P.E.Zabolotsky. The boy with balalaika (1835).
The form of the balalaika's body was initially roundish. It is interesting that the name of the instrument is typically folk, the sounding of syllables consequence transfers the character of playing it. Long ago the root of the words "balalaika", or as it was also named, «balabaika», drew attention of the researchers with their relationship with such Russian words as balakat, balabonit, balabolit, balagurit which mean "to talk about something insignificant, to chatter, to talk idly, to chat"  (go back to general Slavic *bolbol the same meaning, compare the similar onomatopoeia for barbarians). All these concepts, adding each other, transfer the essence of balalaika — the easy, strumy, not so serious instrument.

Addition to the aforesaid!

The word "balabaika" originates from the Turkish "balaba" - the musical folk instrument, similar to dombra, of the roundish form (see above). The Etymology of the word "balaba" - "balabaika" - "balalaika", the same as with the majority of the slavic words with the repeating vowel in the syllable originate from the Turkish languages. Probably, "boltat" and "bolobolit" have the same history.

The first written mentioning of balalaika is contained in the document from 13 June 1688 «Memory from the Streletsky department to the Malorossiysky department» which, among the other things,  informs that in Moscow in the Streletsky department there were brought the resident of Arzamas, posad person Savka Fyodorov, Seleznev's son and Ivashko Dmitriev, peasant of the Shenkursky district of the palatial Vazhesky volost, and with them there was brought the balalaika as they were moving on carrier's horses in the cart through the Yausky gate, sang songs and played balalaika and also scolded the guard Strelets standing at the Yausky gate on sentry.

Another mentioning of balalaika refers to October 1700 in connection with the fighttaking place in Verkhotursky district. As the coachmen Pronka and Alexey Bayanovy said,  I.Pashkov the domestic person of the voivode stolnik K.P.Kozlov chased them and "beated them with balalaika".

The next written source mentioning the balalaika is "the Register" signed by Peter I dated in 1714: in St.-Petersburg, during celebrating of the clownish wedding of the "prince-father" N. M.Zotov except the other instruments born by the mummers, four balalaikas were named.

Y.Shtelin said about Peter I that he «since the youngest years he had no case to hear anything other, except the rough sound of drums, field flute and balalaika...»
At the end of XVIII-th century the word started penitrating to the high literature, for example, it was met in V.I.Maykov's poem "Yelisey", 1771, song 1: «you pitch me the hooter or balalaika».
In the Ukrainian language the word is registered for the first time in the diary records of the beginning of the XVIII-th century, narrating about «the Tatar playing balabaika». Such form «balabaika» exists also in the South Russian dialects and the Belarus language.