Lithuanian folklore. Part 1: Instruments

Today I want to start short series on the subject that I adore, am proud of and just love talking about: Lithuanian folklore! I believe that my country’s folk music, dance and traditional art in general are truly authentic and unique. That is why I want to spread the knowledge and passion about it! 

My series are going to be divided into these topics: instruments, songs, dances and games. I might also add traditional clothes and art later on if there is demand.

Before going into the discussion about Lithuanian instruments, I want to quickly point out a few main characteristics of Lithuanian music/folklore:

  • most of the traditional music is very archaic and ritualistic, sometime religious – both pagan and catholic
  • Lithuanian music is quite diverse, as it uses all kinds of instruments on the same time -you will see performances with many string, wind, percussion instruments and singing at once
  • music has been predominately used to express and “talk” about the most significant everyday life moments, such as, birth, wedding, harvest, death – not only for entertainment
  • each region of the country has its own distinguishable style of singing and dancing, moreover it might not even have any common traits to other regions, despite the small size of Lithuania

And now, on to the instruments! I will shortly talk about some of the most common instruments, show the photos of each and if you click on the name of any instrument, you will be taken to YouTube, where you can actually see and hear the performance.

String instruments

KanklėsThe most popular traditional instrument in Lithuania. It is made of wood and has from 5 to 12 strings, depending on the region. I myself can play the one shown in the picture, which has 9 strings – the most common one. The instrument is played by pressing down a combination of strings with your left hand (they become muted) and swiping through the remaining strings with your right hand to make a sound. Kanklės is  used in almost all the folklore bands as the main accompaniment for songs and dances.

Wind instruments

Skudučiai. Another very popular instrument, mostly used for performances. It is made of a wooden tube, with an open top and closed bottom. As each skudutis can produce only one note, it is always played in groups – most of the time 5-8 people. Each performer has 1 or more instruments (the number can go up to 5-6). To play this instruments you truly need good lungs, as it does require quite a lot of oxygen and stamina.

LumzdelisA Lithuanian equivalent of a flute. It is made of willow or ash tree. Used less than kanklės or skudučiai, but still quite common. It can be played solo or with a folklore band. Most of the time it is used as an accompaniment for songs or dances and if it is being played on its own – for trills.


Birbynė.  A contemporary instrument is very similar to clarinet and is much more complex and professional than its shepherd made ancestor. Traditionally it is made of wood, bark, horn, straw and goose feather. Now it is used both in folklore performances and serious ensembles.

OžragisThe first instrument on my list, whose name I can actually translate, it literally means “goat horn”. It is different from a simple horn, as it can produce more notes due to the sound holes (2-5). It requires a lot of strength to blow the horn, but it creates a very strong and loud sound. It has many uses: for entertainment, as a signal during the hunting season or even war time, for trills, dances, marches, songs, pasturage and etc.


Percussion instruments

Skrabalai. Or as YouTube tells me – Lithuanian wooden bells. A rather interesting instrument made of many different sized wooden (oak or ash) trays with an attached wooden cartridge inside. It basically works as a bell, only a wooden one. This instrument makes a hollow but strong sound. In old times it has been used by the shepherds who would tie the separate trays on their kettle, in order to find them easier. Now it is used just like any other instrument – in performances, as an accompaniment for songs and dances.


And that will be it for this time. It is only a very small part of Lithuanian instruments, but these are the most common and most important ones. I hope that your liked reading the post, as much as I enjoyed the writing process, and maybe even learned something new and exciting!

Please tell me, if I should continue with this topic and if it’s useful or interesting overall. Have a great day/evening! 🙂


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