The Russian folk musical instrument treshyotka, translated as ‘rattle’, is known to produce a variety of unique percussion sounds, similar to the clapping of hands.
The Russian Rattle is at its best when made of perfectly dry wood. The ideal choice of material is oak as this creates the best results in terms of musical quality of the instrument.
A Russian rattle is made of eighteen to twenty narrow wooden plates, each of these measuring around 16 to 18cm long. The plates of wood are connected with a sturdy string which is threaded through small holes in the upper ends of the plates. The long plates are kept apart with short plates at the top, which allow the production of the well-known rattling sound.
In order to produce the correct sound, the player should firmly hold the instrument by the string and stir it using a variety of different forces and at various angles. The player should first stretch the rattle like they would an accordion, and then squeeze it firmly. This technique allows the production of numerous different sounds and rhythms. The rattle is usually held in front of the player’s chest or head. However, it is sometimes held high into the air, as the instrument’s is known to be attractive not only with its unique sound but also with its appearance.
The technique of playing entails some skill, because the rattle can be widened and shortened, as well as stirred at different angles, in order to produce a wide variety of sounds.
This Russian wooden instrument was traditionally very popular and frequently used during wedding ceremonies. During archaeological digs in Novgorod in 1992, two plates were found which are thought to have been part of an ancient rattle set, dating back to the twelfth century. This dig was momentous in providing evidence for just how far back through culture these rattles date.
Russian rattles were used during wedding ceremonies to complement religious songs and dances. A choir was often accompanied with a whole ensemble of rattles, sometimes numbering more than ten players. During a wedding ceremony and celebration, the rattles were often decorated with ribbons, flowers and small bells, making them quite beautiful to look at as well as to listen to. By decorating the instruments with different items, the players were able to personalise them and make them appropriate for any occasion.
Their use during wedding ceremonies suggests that the rattles not only were used to perform entertaining music, but also carried out the magical task of protecting the newlyweds from the presence of evil spirits. It was thought that their beautiful sound was attributed to higher mystical powers, and that they were therefore capable of conducting this ritual for the married couple. In some parts of Russia, the use of the rattle in chasing away bad luck and evil spirits is still alive today.
In the twelfth century it was possibly the rattle’s simple construction that made it so highly popular as an instrument. However, in the present day, the instrument is successfully used as one of the main instruments in instrumental folk music ensembles.
Native American Rattles
Rattles are fascinating Native American icons that represent Indigenous tribes and their distinctive culture. They are also one of the more popular musical instruments for use during ceremonial rituals, by many Indian tribes. For countless years, rattles have played a major part in spiritual communications and medicine, in addition to being played at public gatherings.
Native American rattles existed in many different forms. Some were made by hollowing out gourds and then filling them with corn kernels or small pebbles. Others were made from hollowed spheres of rawhide, or with folded bark, both again filled with pebbles to make the rattling sound.
Somewhat gruesomely, sometimes a turtle was dried out and then the shell emptied, without damaging any of the body parts. Pebbles were then put inside the shell and a wooden stick attached. This resulted in an attractive and durable rattle.
Popular images, such as the Navajo bear or Navajo eagle, that are displayed on the rattles, vary depending on tribe. Different tribes can be identified by the variations of the varying art on their hand crafts, and the rattles are an excellent example of this.
The majority of rattles tended to be shaken by hand. There were some, however, that were tied to the legs of dancers, usually just below the knees.
The Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands commonly used these rattles along with drums and flageolets. The rattles, along with the drums, were used in all ceremonies and numerous games, to accompany singing and dancing.