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Listen to the Balalaika


The Balalaika family includes, from the highest-pitched to the lowest, the prima, sekunda, alto, bass and contrabass balalaika. All have three-sided bodies, spruce or fir tops and backs made of from three to nine wooden sections, and all have three strings. The most common solo instrument is the prima, tuned E-E-A (the two lower strings being tuned to the same pitch). The piccolo, prima, and secunda balalaikas are ideally strung with gut (or, today, usually nylon) strings on the lower pegs and a wire string on the top peg.
An important part of balalaika technique is the use of the left thumb to fret notes on the bottom string, particularly on the prima, where it is used to form chords. The index finger is used to sound notes on the prima, while a plectrum is used on the larger sizes. One can play the prima with a plectrum, but it is considered rather heterodox to do so. Due to the gigantic size of the contrabass's strings, it is not uncommon for the plectrum to be made of a leather shoe or boot heel. The contrabass balalaika rests on the ground on a wooden or metal pin drilled into one of its corners.


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