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Music of Tuva


Music of Tuva

Tuva is a part of Russia, inhabited by a Turkic people related to the nearby Mongolians. Tuvans are known abroad for khoomei (xöömej), a kind of overtone singing.

Traditionally music from Tuva was only a solo effort. The musician's intention was usually to emphasize timbre and harmonics over rhythm. The performances were often in places of natural acoustics such as caves, cliffs, rivers, and so on. The performer would often take long pauses to allow nature its own chance to converse back. The modern music found today is often composed of ensembles of musicians playing multiple instruments and often is much more pulsatile than its traditional uses.

Traditional songs

Tuvans' belief in spirits is apparent in their musical practices. Praise songs and chants, called algysh, and the rhythmically chanted poetic couplets that precede breaths of throat-singing, address cher eezi, or local-spirit masters with words. Throat singing is instead made to imitate sounds produced by the places or beings in which the spirit-masters dwell. Singers establish contact with the spirit-master by reproducing the sounds made and enter into conversation, whose aim is supplication, an expression of gratitude, or an appeal for protection. The same imitative or mimetic interaction with the natural sound world may also be meditated through the use of traditional musical instruments. Calm, mimetic singing in reproduction of the sounds of a certain place is believed to be the best possible offering to spirit-masters.

This region is also famous for its indigenous shaman population. Shamans commonly created music in order to call upon spirits, conjure ancestors, discover birthplaces, connect with natural surroundings, and to attract spirits for hunters. Shamans were not the only people to practice this type of communion between nature and song. Shepherds would also play music to herd animals and imitate galloping horses. Each song had a certain meaning according to where the musician was and whether or not the situation was work or relaxation. Early Tuva created sounds that don't fit in with Western musical theory but instead stand alone, existing for a certain way of being.

Many traditional Tuvan songs share the same structure. They may consist of several verses, each four lines long, and each line having eight syllables. It is not uncommon for all lines in a verse to begin with a word starting with the same letter or a similar sounding letter.

Traditional instruments

  • Amyrga (horn used for hunting Maral)
  • Byzaanchy (4-string spike fiddle)
  • Chadagan (similar to zither)
  • Chanzy (3-string plucked lute)
    • Bichii chanzy (small chanzy tuned one octave higher)
  • Doshpuluur (3-string plucked lute)
  • Dungur (flat drum used by shamans)
  • Ediski (birch wood vibrated with the mouth to imitate birds)
  • Igil (2-string bowed horsehead fiddle with skin-covered soundbox)
  • Khomus (jaw harp)
  • Shoor (end blown flute used by shamans to attract spirits)
  • Yat-kha (long zither similar to Korean gayageum)
  • Xapchyk (rattle made of a dried bull's scrotum filled with the knuckle bones from sheep)
  • Kengirge (large frame drum) and shyngyrash (bells that sit atop the kengirge)


  • Levin, Theodore and Valentina Suzukei. Where Rivers and Mountains Sing. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006.
  • Miller, Bruce. "Tuva: National Geographic World Music." National Geographic Society. 2006. March 15, 2007.

External links

  • Bejin'den
  • National Geographic World Music
  • Tuvan Instruments: text, photos, audio, video, folktales
  • Tuvan throat-singing: audio & video clips demonstrating various styles
  • Tuvan National Orchestra
  • Ovaa: Tuvan Musical Instruments
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