domraThe Domra is a long-necked Russian string instrument of the lute family with a round body, three or four metal strings played with a mediator and thought to be a prototype of the Russian balalaika.

The main domra players in Russia were skomorokhi, wandering minstrels, who were not only musicians, but actors, dancers, acrobats and jesters as well. (The word “skomorokh” derives from the Arabic “maskhora” translated as “laughter” or “mockery”).

From 1648 onwards instrumental music was forbidden by a succession of Russian Tsars. All instruments in Moscow were forcefully taken away from their owners, piled up together on five carts, taken to the Moskva River and burnt.

Details and records of the Dorma were therefore lost until the late 19th century when a small instrument with a rounded body was discovered in Vyatka Province and thought to be a Dorma. It was restored and re-created in a whole family of domras, ranging from piccolo to contrabass.

Later, a four-stringed version was developed employing a violin tuning by Moscow instrument maker, Liubimov, in 1905.

Today, it is the three-stringed domra that is used almost exclusively in Russia. It is played with a plectrum, and is often used to play the lead melody in Russian balalaika ensembles.