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The traditional music is part of Tibetan life, which can be heard from the festival celebrations, marriage and funeral ceremonies, religious activities, and both at work and rest.

Categories of Tibetan Music

Tibetan music can be generally divided into three kinds: Folk Music, Religious Music and Palace Music. Folk music is the main part of Tibetan music. Many of the other two kinds of music originate from the folk music and are made some changes according to their target groups.

Folk Music relates to real life and is music by and for the ordinary public. It includes folk songs, folk music with songs and dances, folk instrumental music, folk operas, and music with narrations and songs (zarzuela). The folk songs can again be heard in various forms, such as children's songs, love songs, drinking songs, work songs and pastoral songs.

Religious Music is popular among the temples. In Tibet, the music of Bon and Tibetan Buddhism are similar, which are generally divided into narrative music and instrumental music. The narrative music is sung when reciting sutras, while the instrumental music is mainly used in religious festival celebrations, religious ceremonies and Changmo Dance (Sorcerer's Dance). Amongst the thousands of temples in Tibet each has over ten typical ones of their own - except for a few instrumental songs which are the same.

Palace Music is mainly played in the Potala Palace, Tashilhunpo Monastery, Sakya Monastery, Dzongyab Lukhang (also known as Naga King) Park, and some other temples. Palace music has created a pretty perfect system of composition, instrument and performance. Some of the excellent traditional parts have been absorbed into Tibetan operas and other kinds of music.

Tibetan Musical Instruments

The instruments used in the Tibetan music are divided into wind instrument (flute, clarion, conch, Suona (a double-reed wind instrument with a large, flared opening like a horn)), plucked stringed instrument (six-stringed instrument, Yangqin (hammered dulcimer)), bowed stringed instrument (horn fiddle, Huqin (Chinese violin)) and percussion instrument (bell, drum, gong). Six-stringed instrument, horn fiddle, big clarion and vertical flute are the most featured instrument of Tibetan music. Two wind instruments - Tongqin and Jialing are the main melodious musical instrument of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tongqin is the largest Tibetan wind instrument, with an average length of 3 m. (10 ft.) and the Jialing is shaped like the Chinese Suona. Both of them are used on important occasions at the temples.

Famous Musicians, Singers and Songs

Since 1949, Tibetan music has made rapid progresses and many expert musicians have sprung up both in Tibet and the inner land of China. The famous ones include the Tibetan opera artists – Dunzhu Zhaxi and Va-ma-tshe-ring, zarzuela artists of Epic of King Gesar – Zhaba and Yumei, lyric writers - Liu Yilan, composers – Baideng Langjie and Gesang Daji, directors & composers – Ezhu Duoji, singers - Tshe Brtan Sgrol Ma, Soinam Wangmo, Gyung drung Rgyal, Ya Dong and Han Hong.

The classic and popular songs include Longing for the Sacred Eagle (Ya Dong), Golden Hometown (Soinam Wangmo), On the Golden Mountain of Beijing (Tshe Brtan Sgrol Ma), Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (Han Hong), Plateau Red (Gyung drung Rgyal) among others.

The popular religious music includes The Luminous Mantra of Six Words, Heart Sutra, Heart Mantra and Great Compassion Mantra. And the popular instrumental music include Snow Mountain Connected to Beijing, The Girl Da Wa Zhou Ma, Ice River, Road Toward Hongxia Waterfall, The Prayer Flag and Tender Mother.

Comments and Questions

I hope you can help me. I am researching Tibetan music, in particular the imaginary rite of death and re-birth. I am particularly interested in the instruments and voices used in the context of a 'ritual melody'. I would be very grateful if you could forward me info on these themes. Many thanks


6/9/2011 8:55:00 AM


Asked by Victoria Haviland (United Kingdom)