Wind instruments (Aerophones)
The Luska

The luska is a very simple instrument made by cutting a thin plate from the horn of a cow or by using a root from a birch tree. It is not possible to play a scale on this "instrument," however rhythmic figures around the melody are quite easy to produce. In recent times this instrument has been replaced by pieces of clean photographic film cut to the size of a safety razor. Placing the instrument between the bottom lip and teeth, the player can produce a sound by blowing across it. The upper teeth just touch the edge of the instrument. All one does to obtain a high-pitched sound is to tighten the upper lip and blow. Slackening the lip produces a lower sound. Another way to play the luska is to place it on the lower lip and to suck air in against it.

The Whistle (Svystun)

This instrument is usually thought of as a child's toy and is used found throughout Ukraine. It is usually made of clay in the form of an animal such as a rooster, bird, horses or sheep. It has a hole to blow into and sometimes side holes, which when opened and closed can change the pitch of the note produced. On some instruments it is possible to play simple melodies.

Selection of whistles (Author collection.)

The Zozulka (Okaryna, Ocarina)

Originally invented about 1860 in Italy, the ocarina is a vessel flute in the shape of an egg with ten finger-holes. The name in Italian means "little goose." The Ukrainian ocarina belongs to the group of whistle instruments and in fact is a sophisticated svystun. Usually these instruments are made of clay with seven or eight and sometimes ten finger-holes. The instrument is in widespread use in the Carpathian Mountain area of Ukraine especially among the Hutsuls where it is known as a zozulka: a name derived from the Ukrainian word for a small cuckoo bird.

Zozulka - Author's instrument

The Sopilka family

The group of flute-like woodwind instruments is known generically as "sopilkas" in Ukrainian. The use of this term however, has caused much confusion in differentiating the various types of folk wind instruments. This is because technically the term sopilka, by its meaning, should only apply to a non-fipple folk-flute while the term dentsivka should apply to instruments of the fipple variety. Unfortunately this is not so, and great confusion surrounds the naming of these instruments.

Photo: Sopilka player (from Tovarystvo Ukraina)

The Sopilka (Frilka, Sopivka)

These are instruments that have no fipple or dentse. They consist of a hollow pipe with six to ten holes. The pipe itself can be made of any material, metal and plastic included. The usual number of holes is six and additional holes allow chromatic notes to be easily produced on the instrument. The important difference is the blowing end, where the player must break his breath against the wall of the tube. This produces a sound similar to that of the flute. The frilka is usually smaller than the sopilka and has a higher sound, but is made in the same manner.

The Dentsivka (Dudka, Sopilka, Mala Fleita, Denchivka)

The dentsivka is often called a sopilka, however, it differs from the true sopilka in that it has a fipple, like the western recorder. It is thus classified as a duct flute. Usually it is made from a tube of wood approximately 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in.) length. Holes are cut or burnt into the tube and a fipple made at one end. The internal diameter is usually 12 to 14 mm (4 to 5 in.) with the walls of the tube being 2 to 3 mm (0.08 to 0.12 in.) thick. In the traditional instruments the tuning varied with the length of the tube, but was usually diatonic, with a range of two and a half octaves.

Some dentsivkas (from Western Ukraine) having only five sound holes. In recent times chromatic ten-hole fingering was developed for this instrument that has carried on to most of the other instruments in the sopilka family. The dentsivka is made in a number of sizes from piccolo tuned in F, prima in C, alto in G, tenor in F to the bass in C. Concert versions of the prima are available, the best being sold in Ukrainian music stores under the title of "mala fleita."

Kosa Dudka (dentsivka)

The kosa dudka differs from the dentsivka in that the fipple is in the top of the instrument on the same plane as the playing holes, instead of the underside. The fipple is cut away like that of a recorder. Often this instrument is called a dentsivka.

The Telenka (Telynka, Tilinca, Tylynka)

The telenka is a primitive form of dentsivka only it does not have fingerholes. The sound is changed by placing the finger into the open end and covering it by a half or third etc. and by the strength of the players breathe. Its length is approximately 35 to 40 cms (14 to 16 in), although instruments can range up to 60cm (24in) in length. This instrument is also found in Romania especially in the areas bordering with Bukovyna area where it is known as the tilinca.

The Zubivka (Skosivka, Skisna Dudka, Frukanka)

The zubivka is one of the oldest folk instruments in Ukraine. It was described by wandering Arabic scholars in the 11th century. This instrument is very similar to the telenka, only instead of having a fipple, it is played like the sopilka or frilka, by having the breath break against the side of the pipe. This surface is wedge-shaped. The zubivka is usually approximately 60cm (24in) long.

Illustration Zubivka Frilka 1. mouth 2. resonator from "Hraj muzyko" Note this is not a Zubivka but a Frilka or Floyarka. Please place the illustration after the frilka earlier.

The Floyara (Floyarka)

The floyara is a more perfected form of the sopilka. It is characterized as an open ended notched flute. The floyara is a pipe of approximately a meter i n length. One end is sharpened and the breath is broken against one of the sides of the tube at the playing end. Six holes in groups of three are burnt out in the center of the instrument. It was often played at funerals in the Carpathian mountains. The f loyarka is a smaller version of the floyara and is similar to the sopilka and frilka. The floyara is approximately 60 cm (24 in) long. The mouthpiece is sharpened into a cone-like edge and the instrument produces a sound similar to that of the flute. Shep herds were also able to accompany themselves with glutteral humming which produced an ostinato tone or drone. The floyarka is often called a frilka or sometimes zubivka in central Ukraine.


The Pivtoradetsivka is translated as one and a half dentsivkas. It consists of two dentsivkas joined together into one instrument. Only one of the pipes has fingerholes. The other acts as a drone. The drone pipe in a pivtoradentsivka is usually shorter than the playing pipe. The instrument has the same fingering as the standard dentsivka.

Pivtoradentsivka from "Hraj Muzyko"

Dvodentsivka (Dubeldentsivka)

The dvodentsivka means literally two dentsivkas and this is what it is. Two dentsivkas are joined together into one instrument but still only one has playing holes. The other pipe, although it is the same length, has no holes and acts as a drone.

Zholomiha (Zholomiga)

The zholomiha or zholomiga is similar to the dvodentsivka only here there are fingerholes on both pipes, usually four on one and three on the other. The instrument is usually carved out of a single piece of wood.

The Kuvytsi - Rebro (Svyryli, Naj)

The kuvytsi are one of the most ancient of folk instruments and are better known in the West as the Pan pipes. Pan pipes have been found in archeological excavations in Ukraine that date back some 5,000 years. The instrument consists of several pipes each of which, when blown endwise, produces one sound. Various versions of the kuvytsi exist in Ukraine, such as the one-sided kuvytsi, which consist of a system of pipes from large to small in one direction or double-sided kuvytsi, which have their largest pipe in the center.

These instruments were used by ensembles in Chernihiv Province and also widely in the Western Ukraine. In recent years the Moldovan concert version of the pan-pipes called the "Naj" has been introduced successfully. These instruments allow chromatic notes to be readily obtained, a semitone lower than the primary sound of the pipe. This is done by bending the angle of the pipes with relation to the player's lips. The air stream is thus broken on the far end of the pipe, rather than the end closest the lips.

The Horn (Rih, Rizhok, Lihava, Cossack Horn, Hornpipe)

An instrument that was popular in Eastern Ukraine, with between three and six fingerholes, or sometimes none. Usually they were made from a cylindrical reed with a cow's horn to form the bell. The mouthpiece usually has a single reed although occasionally double reed instruments can be found.

Rizhok from "Hray muzyko" of Humeniuk

The Trembita

The trembita is the Ukrainian version of the alpine horn. It is usually made of spruce that has been split, a central bore dug out and then glued together and bound with birch bark. It is usually some three meters (10 feet) long, being 2.3 to 5 cm (1-2 in.) wide at the mouthpiece and 6cm (3 1/2 in) wide at the bell. Shorter trembitas of half to one meter in length can be found. This shorter instruments are often called "vivcharska dudka" (shepherds pipe) or "syhnal'na truba." The mouthpiece is often made from a separate piece.

The range is approximately three octaves, encompassing the natural harmonic series such as in the french horn.

The trembita was primarily used in signaling events such as the coming of visitors, enemies or death in the mountain regions of Ukraine and thus a system of elaborate signals was devised. Carol motifs were also played on the instrument at Christmas. Like many of the instruments of Western Ukraine, the trembita is not unique to the Ukrainian people. Instruments such as the trombita, trabita, trebita can be found in Poland and the bucium in Romania.

Hutsuls playing trembitas

The Wooden Trumpet (Truba, Lihava, Cossack Trumpet, Sihnal'na truba)

The truba or lihava is an instrument of the surma type, only with a mouthpiece like that of a standard trumpet made of wood. The instrument has seven to ten finger-holes and is presently used in contemporary folk instrument orchestras.

The Surma (Shawm)

The surma is a type of shawm that had widespread use in the armies of the Cossack host. It is thought that the instrument was introduced into Ukraine from the Caucasus or Turkey where the surma exists under the names zurna and surnai. The term is often used to describe the wooden trumpet. The instrument surma is made of wood with a conical bore, having a bell at one end and a double reed similar to that used in the oboe at the other. It usually has nine to ten finger-holes and is capable of chromatic sounds through a range of dynamics. The instrument is reminiscent of the sound of the oboe. Presently the surma has found its way into orchestras of Ukrainian folk instruments in a range of sizes such as prima, alto and bass.

The Bagpipes (Volynka, Duda, Koza)

The bagpipes are popular in many countries of the world. They are constructed around a goat skin air reservoir into which air is blown through a pipe with a valve. A number of playing pipes [two to four] extend from the bag holding the air. The main playing pipe has five to seven, sometimes eight fingerholes on which the melody is played. The other pipes produce a drone. This is usually either a single tonic note or a perfect fifth. Each of these playing pipes has a double reed usually made from a goose quill. In recent times this instrument has lost the popularity it had previously, and is rarely used today. It was originally found in Western and Central Ukraine.

The Jaw Harp (Drymba, Varhan, Vargan)

The drymba is commonly known in the West as the Jaw harp or in its corrupted version: the Jew's -harp. It is made of metal in a form similar to a distorted horseshoe. In the center is a stainless steel tongue. The instrument is held up to the mouth with the left hand so as to touch the teeth while the right hand plucks the stainless steel blade. The players mouth served as a resonator. While playing the drymba, the performer often hums a melody.

The Ocheretyna or Ocheretianka (Berest)

The ocheretyna is similar in principle to the kazoo. It has been used in Ukraine by folk musicians for a long time. Sometimes folk violinists would place one in their lips and hum while playing, producing a duet. The ocheretyna is made from a length of fresh reed that is cut so that the joints are at the ends. In one end a hole is made. One of the walls is cut away so that the internal membrane of the reed is visible. This membrane is near the closed end of the reed and vibrates when the instrument is hummed into. An interesting version of this instrument is the reed dudka which is similar to the instrument described above only having six finger holes with which to play a melody.


Another instrument related to the ocheretyna and in widespread folkloric use is the hrebinetz. This is a plastic comb with a piece of waxed paper wrapped around it. The paper is buzzed between the lips and the teeth of the comb. It is played in imitation of the harmonica.


1. Mishalow, Victor - The Ukrainian Hurdy-gurdy. Epic ballads, psalms and songs from the repertoire of Vasyl Nechepa. (Kobza - Toronto, 1990)

2. Mishalow, Victor - The Ukrainian Hurdy-gurdy - in "Sinfonye" The journal of the Hurdy-gurdy society pp.6-15 No. 7 Summer 1993 (Dorset, England 1993)

3. Mizynec, V - The Kobzar Brotherhoods - in "Bandura" (# 7-8 N.Y. 1984 p. 24-26)

4. Moyle, Natalie K. - Ukrainian Dumy - Editio Minor CIUS and HURI (Edmonton,1979)

5. Nezovybat'ko, O. - Ukrainski tsymbaly (The Ukrainian Hammer Dulcimer) (Kyiv, 1976)

6. Palmer, Susann - The Hurdy-gurdy - Davids and Charles (Devon, UK 1980)

7. Prokopenko, N. - Ustrojstvo, khranenie i remont narodnyx muzykalnyx instrumentov (Adjustment, storage and repair of folk music instruments) (Moscow, 1977)

8. Sadie, S (ed) - The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. - Macmillan Press (NY, 1984)

9. Skliar, Ivan - Podarunok Sopilkariam (A gift to Soplika players) (Kyiv, 1968)

10. Skliar, Ivan - Kyivs'ka-kharkivs'ka bandura (The Kyiv-kharkiv bandura) (Kyiv, 1971)
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