The lira, or relia, is a variant of the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument that can trace its history back to the 10th century. It is thought that the lira was introduced into Ukraine in the 17th century and served as an instrument to accompany of religious psalms and epic ballads performed by wandering blind musicians called 'lirnyky'. Occasionally lirnyky were hired to play dance music at weddings. These lirnyky often organized themselves into guilds or brotherhoods with their own laws and secret language.
The traditional lira has three strings, one on which the melody is played with the aid of a special keyboard, the other two producing a drone of a fifth. The sound is produced by a wooden wheel that is rotated by a crank held in the right hand. This wheel rubs against the strings, setting them in motion like a bow on a violin. Several different types of chromatic liras have been produced in Ukraine, however interest in the instrument has declined considerably. Prominent contemporary performers on the lira include Vasyl Nechepa and Mykhailo Khai.
The Fiddle (Skrypka)
The traditional fiddle has now been replaced by the standard violin, however the folk tradition of playing the instrument is still alive. The fiddle is a prominent instrument at weddings, found in ensembles of troyista muzyka that usually perform dance music. Fiddlers also play solo works of a program type for listening. Many traditional fiddles were very crude in construction, some being just boards with strings attached. The Ukrainian writer, Ivan Franko, said that "in Galicia one has to make the fiddle from a pine tree struck by lightning. Then it will be loud."
One of the most ancient bowed string instruments of the Eastern Slavs is the hudok. The hudok had three strings and was played with a bow. It was popular in the times of Kievan Rus' where it is thought to have used primarily for the playing of dance music.
It was often used by the buffoon musicians and accompanied by the husli. An 11th century fresco on the walls of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev shows a hudok player with a group of other musicians. The instrument was approximately 80cm (31.5 in.) in length and was balanced on the knee while it was played. The back of the hudok was carved from a single piece of timber and the three strings were bowed all at once. Two of the strings providing a constant drone while a melody was played on the third. The hudok was made redundant by the violin and the lira and is no longer used in Ukraine.
The basolia has now been replaced by the standard cello. Previously the Basolia was these instruments were homemade and of very rough construction, and usually had having only three strings and usually being larger than the standard cello. Sometimes the soundboard was sewn rather than glued to the body. The basolia has now been totally replaced by the standard cello.
The basolia was an instrument that was often ridiculed for its quality of sound and the skill of the player. All the same, wedding music without it was unthinkable. The basolia was introduced into Ukraine from the West after the fiddle had established itself, however, there are mentions which date back to the 17th century in descriptions of the wedding of Bohdan Khmelnytsky's son Yuri where an orchestra containing this instrument performed.
The Kozobas (Byjkoza)
The kozobas is a bowed and percussive instrument that is popular in folk ensembles in Western Ukraine. It is a recently developed instrument and is basically a wooden pole joined to a drum at one end with a cymbal hanging from the other end. The drum membrane acts as the soundboard for one or two strings strung from the end of the pole to the end of the drum. The strings are played with a bow that occasionally hits the cymbal hanging from the other end of the pole. Recent developments include instruments with four strings tuned like those of a double bass.
The Musical Saw
A musical oddity is the musical saw. It uses a violin bow to set the saw blade into motion. The frequencies of the vibrations from the saw blade are controlled by bend the blade of the saw. It is in common use in the Priashiv region in West Ukraine.