The zhaleika (Жалейка in Russian, also known as брёлка or bryolka) is the most commonly possessed and used Russian wind instrument, also known as a "folk clarinet" or hornpipe. The zhaleika was eventually incorporated into the balalaika band, the Hungarian tarogato, and may have contributed to the development of the chalumeau, a predecessor of the clarinet.
The zhaleika consists of a single reed that can be covered by a mouthpiece (or "wind cap"). The design consists of a wooden barrel with finger holes and a flared bell that can be made of either natural or man-made materials. It can either consist of a single or double pipe. The single pipe is about 10–20 cm long with a reed made out of either cane or goose feather with an end bell made of cow horn or birch bark with 3–7 finger holes. The double pipe consists of two pipes and one bell, and is found mainly in the southern parts of Russia.
The zhaleika has diatonic tuning and comes in various keys (G,A,D, sometimes C,E,F). It has a natural or "normal" soprano voice, but can perform in alto or piccolo forms. It is tuned by adjusting the reed and can be turned to the major scale or mixolydian mode with flattened 7th note. Only an octave's worth of notes can be played. Its timbre is described as "piercing and nasal, sad and compassionate".
The zhaleika was a shepard's instrument used to perform solos, duet's, or ensemble pieces. The earliest single-reed pipe instruments date back to about 2700 BCE in Egypt, where most of these instruments most commonly had double pipes and used idioglot reeds. The earliest evidence of the zhaleika was in A. Tuchkov's notes dating back to the late 18th Century. It was widely spread in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania, but now can only be seen in folk music orchestras. In 1900, V. V. Andreyev incorporated a modified zhaleika into orchestras. It consisted of a double-reed oboe type with additional finger holes and vents for chromatic scale.