Vocal tradition and polyphony

As in Ukrainian art, Ukraine's vocal traditions also exist within a great sphere of diversity. The origin, age and level of development of songs can be determined on the basis of the theme, the literary style and the rhythmic and melodic structures. Within Europe, folk polyphony exists in Ukraine, Georgia, Russia, and in isolated areas in the Mediterranean (Corsica, Sardinia and inland Spain). The tradition of singing in Ukraine has no comparison to any other choral tradition, except for certain areas of southern Russia.

Solo and choral singing is practiced in the main: some songs are sung by a single male or female singer; other are sung by choirs exclusively. The melody line in solo singing is mostly characterized by it's greater liveliness and richer melismata.

A frequent and popular type of song is one in which the beginning of the verse is sung by one or two singers (called zaspiv, introductory singing), and the rest of the verse or the refrain is then sung by the choir (called pryspiv).

Choral singing in western Ukraine is performed in unison, while two-part singing is mostly practiced in the eastern regions. The latter is characterized by a higher leading-voice and a sub-voice. Sometimes a middle melody line develops from these, resulting in three-part singing. By singing in octaves, a mixed choir generates a larger power of separate voices, but the basis always remains two-part singing. More typical for Ukrainian two-part singing uses the voice in parallel thirds, sometimes changing into fifths or octaves. Apart from the thirds, fifths, and octaves, that form the basic harmonies, other intervals may occur in choral singing, like added 'passing through' tones (passages through main melody and corresponding harmonies) and assisting sounds for the melody, as well as those that are generated by the performers through variations on the melody. This style of singing is called ‘polyphony of sub-voices’, or ‘variant-polyphony’.

Three-part and four-part singing – following homophonous harmonies – also occur in Ukraine. These are a later development and are connected to melodies that have their origin in the cities, rather than in the countryside and villages.