Slovák Traditional Instruments
Actually, this compilation is an extract from a project, conducted by SLUK, called
Slovak Folk Instruments“ (see also the last page, containing acknowledgements).
with the intention to give widespread use and knowledge about musical tradition in Slovakia.
For the purpose of our project we have selected some of the most significant / unique instruments!

Rapkáč (RattLe or flapper; turned by a crank)

RattLes šuch as these are among the best-known idiophones. Due to their simple design and their distinctive sound they make great chiLdren’s sound toys, although their jse in traditionat folk cutture exceeds this usage. The sounds of ktepáče and rapkáče are stí U used by altar boys during Holý Week instead of church tower beLts, which are put away on Maundy Thursday and are sounded again during the Easter VigiL on HoLy Saturday. In som e church towers on e can stillfind great rattles with turning cogwheeLs, operated by a duli m en, šuch that their harsh rattling sufficiently contrasts with the sound of bells. Smaller verši on s of these instruments could be occasionally found in the hands of boys game drivers for hunting wild boar and hares. Klepáče and rapkáče can aLso be good objects for their manufacturers’ more complicated technical and artistic visioris. This i s evidenced by the exi štence of double or tri p Le rapkáče, or ktepáče with severalhammers, which can beshapedin theform of birds, and so on. One modern usage of these instruments can be seen in the stands sports arenas, where the instruments arespunin the hands offans rooting for their favouriteteams.

Ozembuch rattle stick

These instruments are popular in folk cuLture and are used for their distinctive sound. The core of their design is a simple stick or a round piece of thicker wood, with various objects attached to it. On the kulaga, metal ducats or other coins are strung on wire; on the bunkoš nails are beaten into the wood, and on them are hung chains, ducats and other metal objects. These resonate and shake when the inštrument is rattled in the hand or hit on the ground. In this respect, the most perfect rattle stick is the ozembuch, on which can also be attached asmalldrum,a pot, a beli, chimes, andsoon.Therearenolimitstowhatcan be attached, nor to the way the the ozembuch can be played: in one hand it can be shaken and beaten on the ground, while with a stick or bow the other hand can beat a potordrum, cymbal, beli, etc.
Instruments of similar construction appearin differentvariants, with numerous individualforms and names: kyje, budzogáňe, bakule, osekance, pobfjance, as well as betlehemské palice (“Bethlehem [i.e. nativity] sticks”), jasličkárske čerkadlá (“nurseryjangles”), trojkráľove palice (“Three Kings sticks”), and others. EqualLycolorfulis their varied usage. While kutagy are used mainly used byshep-herds guiding their flocks, bunkoše and similar instruments háve a wider appli-cation: at weddingsin the hands of members of the wedding party, as symbols of their position and as a means of calming down or coordinating the wedding guests during entertainment; in nativity, New Year’s, and Three Kings plays, where they are used as a rhythmic or signál inštrument for dance or song se-quences, or at the moment when the group of players is requesting entry to a house, presenting the play, or introducing individual performances and mono-logues. Sticks, switches, but also bunkoše and similarinstruments appear as typ-ical props in several SLovak folk dances, especially during Fašiangy (Carnival) rounds (stick dances, sword dances, sabre dances, etc). The ozembuch, by con-trast, is not so closely connected to folk rituals or local or regional dance and musictraditions. It mostoften servesas a rhythmic inštrument in small, ad hoc instrumental ensembles, played togetherfor example with an accordion, a vio-lin, and the like.

Large cimbalom

Images of the cimbalom appear in old Iranian and Assyrian reliefs. Arabs brought the inštrument to Európe in the 12th century, and it became known as the was a picked inštrument with a resonant body in the shapeof a triangle. This inštrument flourished in the 15th century, when it became known by other names (tympanum, hackbrett, dulcimer, Tambov, cimbal). The inštrument then took on its current trapezoidalform, and strumming was replaced by the striking of strings with wooden mallets. Itenjoyed great popularity in Germany, from which it spread throughout Európe, including Hungary. In the Baroque periód, it was used as a virtuoso musical inštrument in the French royal court. The earliest known reports of its occurrence and its predecessors in our area include, for example, Comenius’s Orbis Pictus (1685), in which itis depicted as a stringed inštrument with two sticks called picks. In our folk environment, one can find a so-called small cimbalom, which in the 18th century became a partof string bands. Itwas a portable inštrument which players could sling overtheir shoulders and then plače on a table or on their laps while playing, leaning forward, with sticks wrapped in cloth, felt, wool or other soft materiál. The inštrument was improved fundamentally in the late 19th century, when in the Budapest inštrument workshop of J. V. Schunda and J. Bohákitwas placed on legs, equipped with a damper mechanism controlled by a pedál, enlarged, and given a broader range of tones. Italso changed from its originally diatonic form into a chromatic inštrument with almost unlimited
interpretive possibilities. Although the production of the small cimbalom has survived to this day (an important centre of manufacturing in the 20th century was Kysuce), it could not compete with major concert dulrimers which, despite the difficulties of transporting them, háve become a štandard partof folk bands throughout Slovakia, with the exception of the country’s northern regions.

Trough violin (a.k.a. oktávky or zlobcoky)

The popularity ofstring inštrumente in Centrál European folk musicisevidenced by the wide range of homemade folk violins, distinguished by their shape, structure, acoustic properties, and manner of production. Their production in Slovakia came aboutthanks to a highly-developed woodworking tradition and forthe obvious economic reason thatfactory-produced violins were expensive for folk musicians.
A common feature in the designs of homemade violins is the distinctive construction of their bodies. In the modem violin, the top is spruce and the base is a maple plate, joined on the sides with so-called ribs. Violin makers could avoid this complicated construction by, for example, making so-called children’s board violins. In these, the body is made of a thicker board, into which a square or rectangular opening is cut and then covered with another, thinner plate with sound holes. As itis a children’s practice tool, the number of strings is reduced to oneortwo, andinstead of a bowthechildren uses horsehairs. The so-called trough violin is a treasure of technical design and art. It was given its name because technique of making the body was taken from the production of troughs. Using a specially curved chisel, a cavity is carved out of a thick piece of wood, which is then covered with a fiat board with sound holes. The distinctive feature of the trough violin is thatthe lower, carved part of the body and the neckare madefrom asingle piece of wood. Someof these violins took on unique Local and regional names, according to their shape and artistic expression. For example, large or small “oktávky” in Liptovské Sliače or “zlobcoky” in Orava and Zamagurie (the latter name is derived from the word, “žfab,” referring to an object made in a way similar to troughs). In the 20th century, trough violins were replaced with factory-made violins or were used as children’s practice inštrumente. They are still used today in Goralfolk music bands.
Folk violins are a testimony to the exceptional inventiveness and creativity of their makers. They are treasures of our instrumental repertory, and they draw attention to connections with older European instrumental practice.

Three-row diatonic button accordion

In the Czech Repubiic and Slovakia the the diatonic button accordion goes by the folk name of “heligónka”. In contrastto the better-known (chromatic) piano type accordion, the main characteristic of the diatonic button accordion is its smaller size and the presence of buttons on both sides of the inštrument. From the player’s point ofview, melódie buttons are Located on the rightside and bass buttons on the Leftside; thatis, the former are used for playing melody and the latter ereate harmónie and rhythmic accompaniment. Both parts are connected to bags, and when moved they force air through metal reeds placed on both sides of the inštrument. Theyaresimilarto harmonicasinthata single pressed button can produce two differenttones, depending on whetherthe bags are squeezed together or pulled apart. The tone range of the inštrument and its interpretive possibilities are inftuenced by the number of lines of melódie buttons contained on the inštrument.
The origins of the diatonic button accordion can be traced to 1829 and connected to a Vienneseinštrument maker named CyrillDemian. Itcameto Slovakia through Czech workshops (J. a A. Hlaváček, R. Kalina, K. Stibitz and others) in the 1920’s. Thanks to its portability, strong sound, and the fact thatit does not need to be tuned, the button accordion immediately gained great popuLanty and began to compete with bagpipes and even smallstring bands, especiallyin secluded settlements and hamlets. It became popular as an inštrument for listening to, for playing for personál enjoyment, or for accompanying singing and dancing at parties and weddings. Its popularity today can be seen in its presence throughout all of Slovakia, at numerous gatherings, exhibitions, and at button accordion competitionsin Podpolanie, Myjava, Záhorie, Nová Baňa, Hont, Kysuce, the Terchová Valley, Orava, Liptov, and elsewhere.


The fujara is queen among Slovák pastoraLaerophones. Itis also our longest closed f lute (with a Labium edge cut into the instrumenťs wall, over which air is directed). It has its roots in Long Renaissance European three-hole whistles, of which the mostsimilarin terms of construction and size is a bass f lute described in the outstanding organological work of Michael Praetorius Syntagma Musicum from 1619. Although inspired by the range of European instruments, the fujara appears to háve developed autochthonously, and thatin spite of connections to broader Centrál European or Carpathian herders’instrumental practíce. Although the inštrument probably took on its currentform no Laterthan the 17th century, thefirstwritten record of itcomes from the 18th century, and thefirsticonographic depiction of itfrom the 19th century. The most remarkable attribute of the fujara isits length, which today can reach approximately 180 cm, twice the length of fujaras preserved from the late 19th century. Another remarkable feature is the instrumenťs air tube, which serves as a solution to a problém of construction resulting from the length of the inštrument, making it possible to blow into it while atthe samé time fingering its three h o les.

The fujara, like otherwhistles, is made by drilling into elderwood. Asthe inštrument has developed, so has its external design. After earlier geometncal and figurative pastoral motifs, flower designs began to appear in the first half of the 20th century, and today they decorate the majority of fujaras. The most widely-used technique for decoration involves burning the wood with salt or nitric acid, which is dripped onto a pre-drawn motíf. The result of the burning is a darkening of the wood, and the creation of contrasting areas on the originally light-colored elderwood.
Fujara players combinethe use of aliquottones with the use ofthreefinger holes. This results in the mixolydian móde, which can (in comparison to the major key) beidentified by the presence ofa minorseventh,thatis, theseventhtonein thescaleis lowered by one half step. Thebasis of the fujara repertoireisformed by slow, herder and bandit melodies of rhapsodic and recitative character. Typically, instrumental parts alternate with vocals, butcertain parts are of purely instrumentalorigin, thatis, withoutconnection to anyfolksong: so-called rozfuky, characteristic runs from the highest to the lowesttones; and so-called “mumbling,” playing in the instrumenťs lowesttones. The fujara is seen in our musical traditionasanintimate inštrument ofshepherds. Itisprimarilyfound in Podpofanie and the surrounding regions Horehronie and Gemer.
Today the fujara is undergoing a significant revival, and fujara makers and players can befoundin many parts of Slovakia, including big cities. In 2001, a Fujara Players Guild was established, and in 2005, the Fujara was added to the UNESCO listof “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” as a unique Slovák folk inštrument.


Similar to the clay whistle, this is also the product of potters who produce it from fired clay. Although its origins dáte back to Ancient China and Mesoamerica, in Európe the inštrument is associated with the 19th century and with the city of Bologna, Italy, where it transformed from a children’s toy into an inštrument with broader interpretive possibitities. Ocarinas are characterized by their oval shape; they vary in size, number, and fingerhole location.Theresulting lineand range of tones, which can be modified by experienced players through various combinations of finger placements and modes of blowing. In our territory, ocarinas are known as sound toys, facilitating the aural and musical experimentation of children.

Four-voice Bagpipe (Štvorhlasné gajdy)

Bagpipes are the most important and most complex of reed instruments. They can be generally characterized by the existence of shorter melódie pipes (chanters) and longer accompanying pipes (drones), into which ain’s not blown directly from the player’s mouth, but rather through a leather bag which serves as an air reservoir. In Európe, perhaps there is no country where bagpipes are not found. In ScotLand, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Bulgaria, they háve become the mostimportant representatives of their respective fotk inštrument repertories. Nevertheless, the origin of bagpipes is apparently non-European, as evidenced by references to them in connection with ancient Assyrians, Chaldeans, BabyLonians, Persians, and by a variety of inštrument types and variants still preserved in South Asia. The bagpipes most likely spread to Európe through Arab trade routes or through the expansion of the Roman Empire, as suggested by their first clear deseription in the 2nd century, written by the Roman historian Suetonius. The instruments havesince undergonea long evolution, which means not only design improvement butalso wider application. While in Eastern Európe they are known in the village environment as an inštrument for shepherds and peasants, in the 17th century France, for example, bagpipes sounded in the royalcourtas a partof orchestras, and distinct musical pieces were composed specifically for bagpipes.
The first precise reference to bagpipes in our territory relates to medieval musicians and artists known as igríci (minstrels), jokulátorí (jesters), mími (mimes), pjsŕc/ (pipers) and hudá (musicians), as demonstrated not only the appearance of the designation of “gajdoš” (piper, bagpipe player) in the 15th century in this milieu, butalso by a representation of the inštrument in whatis known as the Levoča Fresco, from the mid-14th century. The popularity

of bagpipes is also evidenced by their continued development and typological diversity. In Slovakia, the inštrument still occurs in three basic types, which in addition to sharing common features – a leather bag, an inflatabíe tube, and a single drone, differfrom each otherin the construction of their chanters. The chanter may be single, double, or triple, a number which tends to vary by región. In the traditionalfolk bagpipe environment, bagpipes are identified by the total number of their pipes. Two-voice bagpipes with one simple chanter, found in northern Orava (Oravská Polhora, Sihelné), také their namefrom the factthat they háve one drone and one chanter (1 + 1 = 2). Three-voice bagpipes are the most common type; in addition to the drone, they háve a double chanter (1 + 2 = 3); they are primarily associated with the regions of Podpofänie and Pohronský Inovec (near Nová Baňa). Four-voice bagpipes with a drone and a triple chanter are found in the area around Nitra. The centrál pieces of the inštrument are its piskoty, simple clarinet-type reeds, which are inserted into each ofthe pipes.The bagpipes’soundisgenerated byairflowfrom themouth of the player through the inflatable tube to the leather bag, which is pumped to the reed, which then vibrates. The role ofthe bag, which the player controls under one arm, is to maintain the air pressure flowing to the reed even while the player breathes. Unlike other types of wind instruments, bagpipes play continuously. In the pást, in Slovakia a type of bagpipes was widespread in Slovakia which was notblowninto by the player’s mouth, butwithauxiliarybellows (reminiscentof the bellows with which one kindles a fire), as shown in one of our short films demonstrations, presenting a replica from Kysuce.
The wooden parts of bagpipes are made out of plum wood. The bells at the end ofthe pipes are usually made of brass or of cow or ox horn. The leather bag is made from goatskin, sheepskin, or, in the pást, the skin of dogs. Bagpipes, as physicalartefacts, areimportantworks of art. Their common artistic feature in Slovakia is a richly decorated with a goaťs head, which connects the chanter to the bag.
In the pást, bagpipes were primarily an inštrument for accompanying dances. Pipers, who played atweddings and dance parties, not onLy were excellent musicians butin some places wereattributed magicalabilities. Bagpipes experienced their greatest boom in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the exception of some ofthe above regions, in most of Slovakia they ceased to exist in the interwar periód ofthe last century, due to the arrival and popularity of modem musicalinstruments šuch as the accordion. Over the pasttwo decades, however, bagpipes háve experienced a significant revival, as evidenced by the growing number of pipers joined together in the Slovák Pipers Guild, and by bagpiping events likethe Carnivalof Bagpipersin Malá Lehota by Nová Baňa and the Gajdovačka in Oravská Polhora.

Fujara Trombita

The distinctive chacacteristic of the fujara trombita is its length, which can in extréme cases can be as Long as five meters. The inštrument is made from the trunk of a fir, spruce, Linden, or maple tree, which is firstto cutinto two haLves, which are gouged out with a curved bLade, then glued back together with pitch and tightened with wire, tin oriron hoops. FinaLLy, the fujara trombitais wrapped in cherry orbirch bark.
In our animal herding regions, this inštrument is associated with a signaling function. Using previously agreed-upon signals, the Lead shepherd organized the daily work schedule in the sheepfold, called the shepherds together, and announced thetimefor milking. The powerfulsound oftheseinstruments warned against dangers and drove away wolves and bears. Instruments with similar functions and structures are known from several other herding areas of Európe (in the Carpathians, Beskids, ALps, and Pyrenees).


A Multimedia Educational Project
ProjectCoordinator: Vladimír KyseĽ
Expert ConsuLtant and Author of Commentary: Bernard Garaj
Film Documentation – Preparation and Camera:
Vladimír Kysel, Daniel Luther, Juraj Hamar, Bernard Garaj
Vladimír Kysel, Tibor Szabó, Monika Velšicová, Bernard Garaj, Stanislava Ľuptáková,
Zuzana Jendrichovská
Linguistic Modification: Hana Brunovská
Professional Co-Workers: Juraj Dubovec, Boris Dobiš
English translation: Joe Grim Feinberg
Editor: Monika Velšicová
Responsible Editor: Vladimír Kysef
Technícaland Master: VIS GRAVIS, s.r.o.
Packaging and Graphics: VIS GRAVIS, s.r.o.
Issued: Slovák Intangible Cultural Heritage Centre

Included in the list of recommended teaching aids for elementary schools, high schools and out-of-school activities and other broader uses.
Sources Used:
• Musical documentation of Oskár Elschek
• Musical instruments from the Literary and Musical Museum of the State Scientific Library in Banská Bystrica
• Musical instruments from the Svetozár Stračina collection
• Musical instruments owned by individual artists
Thankyou to Oskár Elschek for the musical materials provided.
Thank you to the artists for their voluntary and willing help in the filming of the videos.
Those who participated include:
Milan Bela (Podhradie), Anton Bendík (Hrušov), Tomáš Blažek (Nitra), Igor Dundek (Lúky pod Makytou), Štefan Foriš (Bratislava), Bernard Garaj st (Zlaté Moravce), Juraj Hamar (Bratislava), Bartolomej Gernát (Turzovka), Vladimír Homola (Priechod), Dominika Kevická (Bratislava), Karol Kočík (Zvolen), Miroslav Králik (Bratislava), Matúš Kyseľ (Bratislava), Vladimír Kyseľ (Bratislava), Stanislava Ľuptáková (Detva), Stanislav Marišler (Bratislava), Peter Matis (Oravská Polhora), Ján Miho (Terchová), Ján Palovič (Poniky), Ľubomír Párička (Martin), Milan Rusko (Braťslava), Jozef Suchý (Nová Baňa), Pavol Štefánik (Lúky pod Maky¬tou), Ľubomír Tatarka (Slovenská Ľupča), Matej Tkáč (Bratislava), Ladislav Tóth (Nenince), Monika Velšicová (Trnava), Róbert Žilík (Mojmírovce).
Children’s Folk Ensemble Matiäarik from Banská Bystrica (led by Zuzana Drugová) and thier members: Tereza Melicherová, Zuzana Bienska, Matúš Druga, Matúš Kovačech, Jozef Hudák, Soňa Jágerská.