List of Mongolian musical instruments

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This article is an overview on the various, mostly traditional musical instruments of ancient and current Mongolia. It doesn't cover western instruments like the trumpet or the piano, which are also taught in Mongolia, but their origin is clearly from outside of Mongolia.

History[edit]

After the 6th century BC it is known that people of Mongolian ethnicity played stringed instruments. The most ancient instrument is probably the tsuur, which is shown in cave wall paintings dated to the 4th or 3rd millennium BC. Other instruments were adopted or modified from instruments in use from neighbouring countries, or from conquered countries (for example the Hun/Xioungnu empire 200 BC - 600 and the Mongolian empire between the 12th and 18th century founded by Genhgis Khaan). Before the democratic revolution in 1911 several instruments had been restricted to noblemen or for use in monastery ceremonies. The yatga especially wasn't allowed to commoners if the number of strings exceeded eight; only at court could the eleven or twelve stringed yatga be played.

In contrast most of the Mongolic ethnicities adopted four instruments for folk music and other oral performances: the morin khuur, huuchir, tovshuur and the tsuur. Nowadays some ethnicities changed from the tovshuur to the shanz.

In modern times some instruments have been adapted like the 21-stringed yatga (about 10 strings added), the morin khuur (modification of the sound box and string material) - or invented in the 1960s for completing orchestras like the "ih huur", a horse headed double bass, also having a trapezoid sound box.

There are various contexts where Mongolian instruments are in use, and nowadays there are no restrictions about who may play what.

Instruments[edit]

Most of these instruments had been modified during the 1940s and 1960, for standardization during the socialist period in Mongolia and the time after the cultural revolution in China. That means many instruments have a "modernized" shape, different materials, changed construction details. The traditional shape and the modernized shape is often mentioned in the detail articles.

Examples: The traditional morin khuur had mostly a skinned top and bottom, and sound holes at the sides. It was modernized in creating a wooden sound box, F holes and the soundpost. The traditional Yatga had about 8-13 strings, which survived in Korea (Kayaegum) but the modernized shape has 21 Strings (China, Gu Zheng) or 23 Strings (Korea) Mostly all strings of the bowed instruments were made from horse hair, and the plucked instruments had silk or gut strings. Nowadays only the bows have horse hair, but the strings are made from nylon (Morin Khuur, other bowed instruments) or steel (Dulcimer/Yochin, Shanz, Yatga)

Plucked[edit]

  • (Shanz, Shudraga) - a plucked three string instrument, widespread across Asia. In Japan known as Shamizen, in China as Sanxian, and in traditional Mongolian Shudraga.
  • Tobshuur (Mongolian: ᠲᠣᠪᠰᠢᠭᠤᠷ Tobshuur; Khalkha dialect: Товшуур Tovshuur; Chinese: 托布秀尔) - a two stringed and skinned instrument made from a 4-foot long spoon-alike nomad tool for airag making, especially popular in Oirat territories.
  • Yatug-a zithers - a plucked zither which is used in two sizes nowadays:
    • (Master Yatug-a) (Mongolian: ᠶᠠᠲᠤᠭ᠎ᠠ) - usually equipped with 21 strings, sometimes 23 strings. Typical concert instrument.
    • (Small Yatug-a) (Mongolian: ᠶᠠᠲᠤᠭ᠎ᠠ) - closer to the historical shape, commonly with 11-15 strings and a smaller body. Sometimes equated with the Korean Kayagum.

Bowed[edit]

  • Morin Khuur (Mongolian:"Морин хуур") - the national instrument of Mongolia.It is a typical Mongolian two-stringed instrument. The body and the neck are carved from wood. The end of the neck has the form of a horse-head and the sound is similar to that of a violin or a cello. The strings are made of dried deer or mountain sheep sinews. It is played with a bow made of willow, stringed with horsetail hair and coated with larch or cedar wood resin.
  • Igil Huur (Mongolian:"Игил хуур") - a variant used by the Tuvinian and the Altai Uriankhai ethnicity, also known as Choor
  • Ih khuur - (Mongolian:"Их хуур") A two or three stringed bass with horse head and trapezoid sound box
  • Huuchir - (Mongolian:"Хуучир") two stringed instrument with a small sound box
  • Khuurchir - a four-stringed instrument with a slightly bigger sound box

Struck[edit]

  • Yoochin (Mongolian:"Ёчин") - hammered dulcimer of varying strings struck using two bamboo hammers
  • Gong / Tam tam class
    • big metal gong, also known as Tam Tam
    • 9 little gong frame
    • monastery drum - formerly used for liturgy purpuses
    • Orchestra drum

Wind[edit]

  • Buree class (Mongolian:"Бүрээ") - clarinet style of blown instruments
    • Ever Buree - (Mongolian:"эвэр бүрээ") - horn alike clarinet
    • Bayalag Buree - (Mongolian:"Баялаг бүрээ" - ) - straight clarinet
    • Hiidiin buree - long and deep as an alp horn
  • Limbe - (Mongolian:"лимбэ") - end blown flute with a mouthpiece
  • Tsuur (Mongolian:"цуур") - end blown flute without mouthpiece, mostly made from light wood, like bamboo, other materials:
  • Reeds, several grasses
  • Shoulderbones (Mongolian:"мөрийн яс")
  • Seashells

Playing contexts[edit]

  • Богино дуу-short (pop) song
sometimes smaller ensembles play on various classical instruments, but also modern style bands

Only accompanied with the Morin Khuur

Only accompanied with the Morin Huur, mostly performed in yurts with imitating daily tasks of the

nomads life

  • [Tatlaga|Татлага] - imitating solo pieces

Played on the morin khuur, Igil huur, tovshuur and shanz

  • Ulger, Magtaal, Domog - Магтаал-Praisal, Домог, Үлгэр, Туул - legends, (folk) tales played only with the Morin Huur or the Huuchir. The most often recited magtaal is "Huhuu Namjil", the legend of the creation of the Morin Khuur, and the Jangar - an epos that endures for three days. The Mongolian minority in Xinyang (China) celebrate it every year in August.
  • Ерөөл-Wishspelling

Mostly recited without instruments, or rarely with the morin huur

  • Contemporary orchestral music

Beginning with the Russian occupation between 1926 and 1990 various attempts have been made to build orchestras. Large orchestras had been unknown in the ancient history of Mongolia, but the popularity of Mongolian orchestra pieces still exists in the 21st century. Many orchestral pieces exist, also some smaller dance arrangements.

Mongolian composers have a standard ensemble: 17x Shanz, 14x Yatga, 11x morin khuur, 5x yoochin, 2x ih huur, 1x triangle, 7x huuchir 4x durvun chikh, 1x gong, 2x drums, 1x monastery trumpet, 2 big and 6 small flutes, 6x Buree, 2x Ever buree

  • Contemporary composers:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Хөгжим 8-9 (Ulaanbaatar 2009) - Mongolian school instruction book for 8 and 9th class in the 11 year college. ISBN 978-99929-3-358-5
  • Luvsannoroviin Erdenechimeg 18 melodies for the nomads flute / Гүн гэрийн хатагтайн "нүүдэлчдийн цуурын арва найман аялгуу", languages: English-Mongolian-(traditional)Chinese, Ulaanbaatar 2002, ISBN 99929-0-127-6

External links[edit]