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Music of Mongolia

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Title: Music of Mongolia  
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Music of Mongolia

Sambuugiin Pürevjav of Altai Khairkhan playing a morin khuur

Music is an integral part of Mongolian culture. Among the unique contributions of Mongolia to the world's musical culture are the long songs, one of the greatest features of the Mongolian music, overtone singing and morin khuur, the horse-headed fiddle. The music of Mongolia is also rich with varieties related to the various ethnic groups of the country: Oirats, Hotogoid, Tuvans, Darhad, Buryats, Tsaatan, Dariganga, Uzemchins, Barga, Kazakhs and Khalha.

Besides the traditional music, Western classical music and ballet flourished during the MPR. Among the most popular forms of modern music in Mongolia are Western pop and rock genres and the mass songs, which are written by modern authors in a form of folk songs.

The Mongolians are renowned for their love for music and singing. Any celebrations by the Mongolians always turn into a celebration of singing.


  • Long song 1
  • Horse-head fiddle 2
  • Other traditional instruments 3
  • Throat singing 4
  • Court music 5
  • Pop music 6
  • Popular folk music 7
  • Classical music 8
    • List of Mongolian composers 8.1
  • See also 9
  • References 10

Long song

This genre is called "Long song" (Urtyn duu) because each syllable of text is extended for a long duration. A four-minute song may only consist of ten words. Lyrical themes vary depending on context; they can be philosophical, religious, romance, or celebratory, and often use horses as a symbol or theme repeated throughout the song. Eastern Mongols typically use a morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) as accompaniment, sometimes with a type of indigenous flute named limbe. Oirat groups of the Western Mongols typically sing long songs unaccompanied or accompanied with the igil.

Horse-head fiddle

The horse-head fiddle, or morin khuur, is a distinctively Mongolian instrument and is seen as a symbol of the country. The instrument has two strings. There is some controversy regarding the traditional carving of a horse on the upper end of the pegbox. Some scholars believe that this is proof that the instrument was originally a shamanistic instrument, as the staffs of shamans have a horse similarly carved on top; the horse is a much-revered animal in Mongolia.

Other traditional instruments

Other instruments used in Mongolian traditional music include shants (a three-stringed, long-necked, strummed lute similar to the Chinese sanxian or Japanese shamisen), yoochin (a dulcimer similar to the Chinese yangqin), khuuchir (a bowed spike-fiddle), yatga (a plucked zither related to the Chinese guzheng), everburee (a folk oboe), khel khuur (Jew's harp), tobshuur (a plucked lute), ikh khuur (bass morin khuur), and bishhuur (a pipe similar in sound to a clarinet).

Throat singing

Perhaps the best-known musical form of the Mongols is the throat singing tradition known as hoomii, extant among all or most Mongols though best known internationally from Tuva. Sung differently than traditional vocals. In Mongolia, the most famous throat-singers include Khalkhas like Gereltsogt and Sundui, while the Tuvan group Huun-Huur-Tu has an international following. This unique type of singing involves the production of two distinctively audible pitches at the same time, including a low pedal note, or drone, derived from the fundamental frequency of the vocal cord vibrations, and higher melodic notes that result when the singer's mouth acts as a filter, selecting one note at a time from among the drone's natural overtone series pitches.

Court music

In neighboring China's autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, 15 notated chapters of the court music of the last Mongolian Great Khan Ligdan (1588-1634) was found in a temple near the ruins of his palace Chagan Haote (Ochirt Tsagan Khot). It was already known that the Qing Dynasty of China greatly valued Mongol court music and made it an integral part of its royal ceremonies, especially at feasts.

Pop music

Mongolian singing group at the 1949 World Festival of Youth and Students

Largely unknown outside of Mongolia, there is a thriving popular music scene centred in the city of Ulan Bator. Actually, this is a mixture of various kinds of popular music. It is often subdivided into pop, Rock, hip hop and alternative (consisting of alternative rock and heavy metal). The pop scene includes boy bands like Camerton, Nomin Talst and Motive, girl groups like Kiwi, Emotion, 3 ohin and Lipstick and solo artists like Sarantuya, Serchmaa, Delgermörön, Bold, BX and the renowned Ariunaa, the alternative scene bands like Nisvanis, Night train and Lemons, the rock scene rock-n-roll like the Pilots and Soyol Erdene, folk rock like Altan Urag and hard rock bands like Kharanga, Hurd and Niciton, and there are also some techno bands like Khar Sarnai. A few of the younger Mongolian popular artists are becoming increasingly well established internationally, mostly notably, the young female singer Nominjin (singing in 8 languages in a variety of genres) and Amarkhuu Borkhuu, a star of the Russian pop music.

Hip hop/Rap has gained considerable popularity in Mongolia. From early 1990s, Mongolian teenagers and youngsters formed dancing groups with anywhere between three to thirty members that started to compete in national tournaments. This was the beginning of the Mongolian hip hop movement. For some reason single rappers had never “made it” into the Mongolian hip hop scene.

Early bands include Har Tas and MC Boys. The later two groups represented the beginning of rap in Mongolia. Their songs mostly stressed on social issues, philosophy and rebellious ideas. A later generation consisted of bands like Dain Ba Enkh, 2 Khüü, Erkh-Chölöö, Lumino, Mon-Ta-Rap, Ice Top, Odko, Gee, Quiza, B.A.T and URMC. They continued with similar messages as their predecessors, but also came to include “soft” touches in their songs, which faced with strong resistance from hard core rap fans but welcomed by the general public.

Popular folk music

There is also a long established and distinctive "Mongolian pop" genre that occupies the same place on the musical spectrum as Japanese Enka music or Western soft-pop-oriented folk music or country music. Classic singers from the late 20th and early 21st centuries include Vandan and Dulamsüren, Batsükh, Tömörkhuyag and Egshiglen. Some of the repeatedly heard lyrical themes are very distinctive for Mongolia: heartfelt tributes to the songwriter's mother, for example, or paeans to great horses.

Mongolian popular folk music is not considered world music in the west and was long generally unavailable outside Mongolia, but can now be downloaded from various Mongolian websites. It may be filed under the designation Zohioliin Duu (Зохиoлын Дyy) (schlagers). In the Mongolian language, duu means song; and the genitive word zohioliin derives from the noun for a literary composition. A typical zohioliin duu may include three four-line stanzas and a refrain. The lyrics of zohioliin duu, like those of Mongolian folk poetry, tend to be alliterative. Often, the lines of a zohioliin duu share not only initial letters, but also initial syllables.

Classical music

Mongolia features a rich tradition of classical music and ballet. The classical music owes its prosperity in the 2nd half of the 20th century to a patronage of then Socialist government that favoured Western and Russian/Soviet classical arts to Western pop culture. In addition, the Mongolian composers developed a rich diversity of national symphony and ballet.

List of Mongolian composers

E. Agvaantseren, (УГЗ, People's Artist)
Music for the film a Pearl in the Forest
Melodies of Mongolia
G. Altanhuyag, (УГЗ)
Opera Mother Hoelun (Өэлүн эх дуурь)
Song The beauty of the Mongolian woman (Монгол бүсгүйн үзэсгэлэн)
L. Mördorj, (УГЗ)
National anthem
Music for film The golden yurt (Алтан өргөө)
Symphony The birds in spring (Хаврын шувууд)
World Festival of Youth and Students in 1947
Dance Eerenceg (Ээрэнцэг бүжиг) won awards at the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1947
Music for film Wish I had a horse (Морьтой ч болоосой)
Opera Namjil nicknamed cuckoo (Хөхөө Намжил)
Music for film Oh, these girls! (Энэ хүүхдүүд үү)
Symphony My motherland (Миний эх орон)
Song Steppe in four seasons (Дөрвөн цагийн тал)
B. Sharav
Cantata The sun over the wonderful Jambudvipa (Уяхан замбутивийн нар)
Symphony Melody of the soul (Сэтгэлийн эгшиг)
Opera Genghis Khan (Чингис хаан дуурь)
J. Chuluun
Ballet The skillful master Has (Уран Хас)
Variation of two folk melodies (Ардын хоёр дууны вариац)
B. Damdinsüren
National anthem
Symphony In the upland of Hentei (Хэнтийн өндөр ууланд)
Opera The three tragic hills (Учиртай гурван толгой)
Opera The road to happiness (Жаргалын зам дуурь)
B. Smirnov
Opera The three tragic hills (Учиртай гурван толгой)
Song The lovely city Ulan Bator (Үйлсийн сайхан Улаанбаатар)
N. Jantsannorov, (Тєрийн шагналт)
Music for film Queen Manduhai the Wise (Мандухай Сэцэн Хатун)
Music for film Under the power of the eternal Heavens (Мөнх Тэнгэрийн Хүчин дор)
Symphony The white stupa (Цагаан суварга)
Symphony The eight bay horses (Найман шарга)
Ts. Namsraijav
Symphony The mountains Gobi Gurvan Saihan (Говь гурван сайхан)
Symphony Celebrity of magnificence (Баярын жавхаа)
Song The country in the heart (Халуун элгэн нутаг)
E. Choidog
Symphony The beautiful country of Mongolia (Монголын сайхан орон)
Dance The black ambler (Жалам хар)
Song Mother of mine (Миний ээж)
S. Gonchigsumlaa
Buryat dance (Буриад бүжиг)
Chinzorig (Тєрийн шагналт)
The tear of Lambugai (Ламбугайн нулимас)

See also

A one minute video of Mongolians singing a folk song around the campfire. Video is very dark, mainly for audio.

Problems playing this file? See .


  • Pegg, Carole. "Mongolian Music, Dance, and Oral Narrative: Performing Diverse Identities". 2001. University of Washington Press. Book & CD. ISBN 0-295-98112-1
  • Pegg, Carole. "Sixty Horses in My Herd". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 189–197. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Central Asia in Words and Pictures: Mongolia
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