'List of Mongolian musical instruments

Instruments of western origin, such as piano and trumpet, are excluded.


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 neighboring 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 Genghis 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 Tovshuur, huuchir, morin khuur 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.


Most of these instruments had been modified during the 1940s and 1960, for standardization during the communist 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 but the modernized shape has 21 Strings or 23 Strings. 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)






Ancient Traditional String Instruments and Flute Instrument.


Playing contexts[]

Smaller ensembles of both contemporary and traditional style are known to play on various classical instruments.

Only accompanied with the morin khuur.

Only accompanied with the morin huur, mostly performed in yurts with imitating daily tasks of the nomads life.

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

Mostly recited without instruments, or rarely with the morin huur.

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, as well as 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.

See also[]