Wind

Birbynė

The original, authentic Lithuanian musical wind-instrument – aerophone. Its name comes from the word birbti meaning to play a pipe, to blow. This is a simple instrument, made of a feather, a straw, tree bark, animal horn or wood. It is believed that the first prototypes of this instrument could be made in primitive society. Research shows that this instrument was played mainly by shepherds, who performed various improvisational music, dances, songs, trills.

In 1940, after the creation of the folk instruments orchestra – Lietuva ensemble, birbynė began to improve, in order to obtain a professional concert chromatic instrument. After much research and testing in 1950 an improved high chromatic birbynė, in 1952 a contrabass, and in 1953 a tenor chromatic birbynė was constructed. The body of the instrument (the high, and the tenor birbynė) is made from ash, maple, apple, pear tree, and contrabass birbynė of metal. The mouthpiece is made of ebonite, and its shape is similar to the clarinet (in tenor birbynė it resembles the tenor saxophone), where the ligature is tied with a string. The tip of the body is ended with an animal horn, usually a cow horn.

Birbynė has a large dynamic range, and its timbre is extremely flexible. The instrument (depending on the performer’s technical skill, imagination and repertory) can sometimes sound like an oboe, a flute, a clarinet, a saxophone, or even a trumpet. Birbynė can be used for performing diverse repertoire as well as works written specifically for birbynė and various wind instruments (essentially the oboe, flute, clarinet, saxophone) transcription. Birbynė playing is taught in the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy, conservatories and music schools.

Ožragis

It is the ethnographic Lithuanian folk musical instrument made of the horn of a goat with holes and a wooden mouthpiece. Ožragis was popular not only in Lithuania but also in neighbouring countries. It’s traditional version has 2-6 sound holes. It may be without them. Ožragis is used in the ensemble orchestra with a mouthpiece from birbynė, and its sound covers a quarter range. Ožragis repertoire consisted of special trills, short song and dance tunes. Ožragis music is characterized by fast tempo, melody flexibility and variety.

Lamzdelis

It is a flute group music instrument widely spread around Lithuania. Lamzdelis was most popular and made by shepherds during their night watch. During holidays and other popular recreational events elderly people also enjoyed playing lamzdelis. Lamzdelis was made of ash or willow bark, or a tree. Lamzdelis has a gentle timbre, reminiscent of the small flute timbre. Low tones sound pretty quiet, and the high ones are sharp. National lamzdelis player melodies have a lot of embellishments and decorations.

Horn

It is one of the oldest Lithuanian instruments. It was used as a means of communication and interaction measure between neighbours. A trumpet from the higher hill could mean the beginning of the meeting for rural people. It is produced from wood, wrapped in birch bark. The music set consists of 4-5 horns. Each of them produces only one sound (tone). Like trumpets, horns were used in ancient times during various festivities. They are used for playing various sutartinė, fanfares.

Skudučiai

It is one of the most popular and best-loved folk music instruments. This is a simple and primitive wind-instrument that consists of a number of different length pipes, each of them producing one sound. Several of these skudučiai tuned in some way constitute a skudučiai set. It can be played not by a single person, but by a few: two, three, four, five, six, and sometimes more. Skudučiai were used for playing special musical compositions, accompanying to sutartinės and other musical instruments. The old skudučiai music is called the sutartinės type of music. It is based on the harmony of 2nds and consists of using the repetition of eighth-quarter rhythm figures.

Strings

Kanklės

Traditional Lithuanian folk stringed musical instrument. Its origin and usage is associated with primitive beliefs. Its production customs include the relics of the cult of the dead – the tree is cut and kanklės are made after the death of a family member. Kanklės shape and colour resemble of the antique vehicle and ritual instruments (skiffs, a coffin), the number of strings coincides with magic numbers (5, 7, 9, 12), and the ornamentation includes the sun, light and other cosmological symbols.

Traditional kanklės in the North East Aukštaitija were played with a finger nail, different types of sutartinė (polyfonic piece), and in the west Aukštaitija, Samogitia and Suvalkia with a nail, a plectrum and sometimes fingers were used to play folk songs and dances (chordal playing). West Aukštaitija and Samogitia residents sometimes used them in the nineteenth century music bands, kanklės ensembles in Suvalkia for playing and singing. Reconstructed traditional kanklės are used by folk ensembles. Players use their fingers and a plectrum to play, and for contrabass kanklės also a special hammer. Modified kanklės are used in folk orchestras and ensembles.

Percussion instruments

Skrabalai

It is a Lithuanian melodic percussion folk instrument assigned to idiophone group and reminiscent of a xylophone by its sound and technique. It includes different size trapezoidal wooden trays with built-in within one or two hanging wooden pencils – kankaliukai. When the skrabalas is moving, its inside piece is hitting the trough walls, which emit a muffle, but clearly audible sound. The height of the sound depends on the wooden tray dimensions. Nowadays, folk ensembles use refined skrabalai with 27 chromatically tuned sounds c1 to e3 (no inside pieces), attached to special transverse. Skrabalai are beaten with two wooden sticks.

Since ancient times, skrabalai were used by shepherds. They used to tie a wooden bell around the cow’s neck while grazing then in the forest, to easier find the animals. Old people say that some of the musicians – drummers in Samogitia were playing skrabalai for dancing. If skrabalai had the inside piece – they were played while holding in the hand, and if no inside pieces – they were tied to a stick in the ground and played with dry wood sticks. Skrabalai were used for various melodic and rhythmic motifs.

Drum

Drums played an important role in the ancient Lithuanian musical life. They were festive, ritual and military instruments. Their use is often mentioned in the old Lithuanian writings of historians, their popularity is seen in folklore – songs, legends. People used two kinds of homemade drums – one-sided and double-sided. Over the years, ethnographic versions of these instruments were developed.

One of them was common in Samogitia and was called a “stump”. The drum body was made from a healthy or rotten piece of wood, often from a stump. If a healthy tree was taken, it was hollowed leaving 2-3 cm thick walls. But most often the rotten willow, lime, and sometimes birch trunks were used. Both open ends were cut evenly and untreated dog or goat skin was attached on the narrow end, with a bow. The stump height ranged 30-40 cm and the diameter 40 – 30 cm. Put on the ground at the drummer’s feet, the stump was played with one or two wooden sticks of about 30 cm long, one end of which was wrapped with cattle hair felt or hard textile.