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Explained: The bayan

Russian musician Aydar Gaynullin presents his instrument.

Explained: The bayan

Aydar Gaynullin

with Aydar Gaynullin

Name: Bayan

Origin: China

Type of instrument: Squeeze-box, harmonica with bellows

How does it work, how is it played? – The bayan is a sister of the accordion, and is in common use in Russia and Eastern Europe. While the accordion familiar in the German-speaking countries has both keys and buttons, the bayan only has buttons. It is played using sets of buttons on both sides: on the right, sounds like »organ« or extremely high or low registers can be selected, while the accompaniment is played on the left of the instrument.

Like with the accordion, the sounds themselves are produced with the help of a flow of air. The air is produced by pressing and pulling on a pair of bellows in the middle. The air thus created flows through the air chambers, making so-called free reeds vibrate. Thus the sound is produced.

Evolution: The underlying principle that the bayan is based on, namely freely vibrating reeds, originated in China and Japan, where people were already playing mouth organs known as »sheng« or »sho« three thousand years ago. These instruments began to appear in the West towards the end of the 18th century, where a pair of folding bellows and bass keys were subsequently added. It seems likely that the bayan's predecessor was developed in Russian in the 1870s. But it wasn't given its name till later: the name bayan probably comes from the Russian instrument-maker Peter J. Sterligov.

Useless knowledge: The bayan also has some special effects available, such as air buttons with which the sound of wind can be imitated.

Bayan meets mandolin: Aydar Gaynullin and Avi Avital at the Elbphilharmonie

Click here for the video

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