Bally good fun…




Back in February, I acquired a balalaika and wrote that I needed to learn to use it. Never happened… I didn’t have the time, didn’t have the energy, and certainly didn’t have the money to pay a tutor. Ever since, the poor balalaika’s been in its bag, hanging from a peg on the wall, and making me feel mildly guilty…

Anyway, the recent Q&A I did with Andrey Karimov gave me the push I needed to do something about it. I have even less free time now than in February, but my health is better and, having moved to a new apartment closer to work, I have a bit more spare cash, so it’s possible now for me to have a lesson a week,

It wasn’t easy to find a tutor. In fact, it was remarkably difficult. You’d think that with the balalaika being one of Russia’s national instruments, and with St. Petersburg being Russia’s cultural capital, there would be quite a few to choose from, but no. Eventually, with much use of Google Translate, I tracked one down on Vkontakte and had my first lesson earlier this week.

The tutor’s name is Roman; he’s a member of an army orchestra, and speaks a very little English – enough for us to get by.

I’d mentioned that I already had an instrument, and he was really curious about that. Most Russians I know find it utterly bizarre that a Westerner wants to learn the balalaika; some of my colleagues can’t help laughing every time they think about it! Anyway, when he saw it, he rolled his eyes: it’s a bit of a crock, apparently, a tourist souvenir. The bridge is too high, the pegs aren’t set deeply enough, and it had the wrong strings on…

Still, it’s playable. He replaced the strings, and spent half the lesson tinkering with it to get it usable, and then we went through the most basic of exercises, the pizzicato. This is just to get me familiar with the frets and finger placement, important as I have absolutely no musical skills at all. I have to practice this every day…

Before he left, he gave me the contact details for a ‘master’. I need to take my balalaika to him to get the bridge and pegs sorted out. I got a colleague to call him yesterday, and he turns out to lie quite close to one of my clients’ offices, so I hope I’ll be able to pop in to see him later today…

I’m quite excited about this. Roman told me that he had an American student who went from zero to very good in a few months. I don’t know if I’ll manage that, but I would love one day to be able to play like this:



Image credits: Balalaika Favorites 6461 by user Nesster on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. I hope you have more success than I have had with the shakuhachi. Lack of musical ability may be something we have in common. 🙂


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