Music of Central Asia

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The music of Central Asia is as vast and unique as the many cultures and peoples who inhabit the region. Principal instrument types are two- or three-stringed lutes, the necks either fretted or fretless; fiddles made of horsehair; flutes, mostly open at both ends and either end-blown or side-blown; and jew harps, mostly metal. Percussion instruments include frame drums, tambourines, and kettledrums. Instrumental polyphony is achieved primarily by lutes and fiddles.

Central Asia Region of the Asian continent

Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also colloquially referred to as "the stans" as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix "-stan", meaning "land of".

Lute Has five to twelve courses, the upper courses tuned primarily in fourths.

A lute is any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back enclosing a hollow cavity, usually with a sound hole or opening in the body. More specifically, the term "lute" can refer to an instrument from the family of European lutes. The term also refers generally to any string instrument having the strings running in a plane parallel to the sound table. The strings are attached to pegs or posts at the end of the neck, which have some type of turning mechanism to enable the player to tighten the tension on the string or loosen the tension before playing, so that each string is tuned to a specific pitch. The lute is plucked or strummed with one hand while the other hand "frets" the strings on the neck's fingerboard. By pressing the strings on different places of the fingerboard, the player can shorten or lengthen the part of the string that is vibrating, thus producing higher or lower pitches (notes).

Fiddle musical instrument

A fiddle is a bowed string musical instrument, most often a violin. It is a colloquial term for the violin, used by players in all genres including classical music. Although violins and fiddles are essentially synonymous, the style of the music played may determine specific construction differences between fiddles and classical violins. For example, fiddles may optionally be set up with a bridge with a flatter arch to reduce the range of bow-arm motion needed for techniques such as the double shuffle, a form of bariolage involving rapid alternation between pairs of adjacent strings. To produce a "brighter" tone, compared to the deeper tones of gut or synthetic core strings, fiddlers often use steel strings. The fiddle is part of many traditional (folk) styles, which are typically aural traditions—taught 'by ear' rather than via written music.


The origin of the bowed string

Use of the bowed string is thought to originate with nomads who mainly used the snake-skin, covered horsetail-bowed lute. In Mongolia instruments like the morin khuur or horse-head fiddle survive today.

Morin khuur musical instrument

The morin khuur, also known as the horsehead fiddle, is a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument. It is one of the most important musical instruments of the Mongol people, and is considered a symbol of the Mongolian nation. The morin khuur is one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity identified by UNESCO.

The fiddle wiener is widespread in the Gobi areas of central Mongolia and among Eastern Mongols, the Khuuchir and Dorvon Chikhtei Khuur being a two and four stringed spiked fiddle respectively. The resonator can be cylindrical or polygonal and made of either wood or metal. The face is covered with sheep or snakeskin with the belly or back left open to act as the sound hole. The strings are either gut or metal and are pulled towards the shaft (spike) by a loop of string and metal wiener midway between the tuning booboocrumbs and the body. A horse-hair bow is threaded between the strings which are tuned a fifth apart. The Darhats of Hövsgöl province, north-west Mongolia, call it hyalgasan huur, and by predominantly female ensemble-performers. The 12th-century Yüan-Shih describes the two-string fiddle, xiqin, bowed with a piece of bamboo between the strings, used by Mongols. During the Manchu dynasty, a similar two-string instrument bowed with a horsehair bow threaded between the strings was used in Mongolian music.

The khuuchir is tuned in the interval of a fifth and is small or middle sized, has a small, cylindrical, square or cup-like resonator made of bamboo, wood or copper, covered with snake skin, through which is passed a wooden spike. The neck is inserted in the body of the instrument.A bridge, standing on the skin table, supports two gut or steel strings, which pass up the rounded, fretless neck to two posterior pegs and down to the bottom, where they are attached to the spike protruding from the body. A small metal ring, attached to a loop of string tied to the neck, pulls the strings towards it and can be adjusted to alter the pitch of the open strings, usually tuned to a 5th. The thick, bass string is situated to the left of the thin, high string in frontal aspect. The bow's horsetail hair is inseparably interlaced with the strings.

Other similar instruments have two courses of two silk strings, the first and the third tonic, the second and fourth at the upper fifth. On four-string types, the bow hair is divided into two strands, one fixed between the first and second strings, the other between the third and fourth. Chikhtei means "ear" in Mongolian so the name of the instrument there also translates as “four eared” instrument.

The Buryat huchir is mostly made of wood rather than metal. Buryats use silk or metal strings, tuned in fifths; in the case of the four-string instrument. The huchir is related to the Mongolian huuchir.

The musician rests the body of the instrument on the left upper thigh, close to the belly, with the table directed diagonally across the body and the neck leaning away. The thumb of the left hand rests upright along the neck of the instrument. Horsehairs of the arched, bamboo bow are divided into two sections so that one section passes over the bass string and the other over the top string. The bow is held underhand with a loose wrist. The index finger rests on the wood, and the bow hairs pass between middle and ring finger to both regulate the tension of the hairs and direct them. To sound the thick string one has to pull one section of bow hairs with the ring finger, and to sound the thin string, to push the other section. Strings are touched lightly on top by the fingertips. In modern ensemble orchestras, there are small-, medium- and large-sized huchir.


Flute musical instrument of the woodwind family

The flute is a family of musical instruments in the woodwind group. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening. According to the instrument classification of Hornbostel–Sachs, flutes are categorized as edge-blown aerophones. A musician who plays the flute can be referred to as a flute player, flautist, flutist or, less commonly, fluter or flutenist.

Inner Asia refers to regions within East Asia and North Asia that are today part of Western China, Mongolia and eastern Russia. It overlaps with some definitions of Central Asia, mostly the historical ones, but certain regions of Inner Asia are not considered a part of Central Asia by any of its definitions. Inner Asia may be considered as the "frontier" of China, and as bounded by East Asia, which consists of China, Japan, and Korea.

Pastoralism branch of agriculture concerned with raising livestock

Pastoralism is the branch of agriculture concerned with the raising of livestock. It is animal husbandry: the care, tending and use of animals such as cattle, camels, goats, yaks, llamas, reindeer, horses and sheep.

Preservation of Asian musical heritage

In 2000 the Aga Khan Trust for Culture established a music initiative with the goal of assisting to preserve Central Asia's musical heritage. Known as the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA), the programme works with tradition-bearers throughout Central Asia to ensure that their traditions are passed down to a new generation of artists and audiences, inside and outside the region. AKMICA has also produced and sponsored music tours and festivals, is engaged in documentation and dissemination, and collaborates with the Silk Road Project. [2]

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a family of institutions created by Aga Khan IV with distinct but complementary mandates to improve the welfare and prospects of people in the developing world, particularly in Asia and Africa. It focuses on the revitalization of communities in the Muslim world—physical, social, cultural, and economic. The AKTC was founded in 1988 and is registered in Geneva, Switzerland, as a private non-denominational philanthropic foundation.

The Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia was established in 2000 by His Highness the Aga Khan with the aim of assisting in the preservation of Central Asia's musical heritage by ensuring its transmission to a new generation of artists and audiences, both inside the region and beyond its borders. It is an initiative of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network.

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String instrument musical instrument that generates tones by one or more strings stretched between two points

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Bağlama a stringed musical instrument

The bağlama is a stringed musical instrument.

In music, a bow is a tensioned stick with hair(usually horse-tail hair), coated in rosin to facilitate friction, affixed to it that is moved across some part of a musical instrument to cause vibration, which the instrument emits as sound. The vast majority of bows are used with string instruments, such as the violin, although some bows are used with musical saws and other bowed idiophones.

The fingerboard is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

The erhu, or urheen, is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a Southern Fiddle, and sometimes known in the Western world as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle.

Kamancheh spike fiddles, lutelike chordophones: bowed, lutelike chordophones, chordophones, <sound devices by acoustical characteristics>, sound devices (equipment), Sound Devices (Hierarchy Name), Furnishings and Equipment (Hierarchy Name), Objects Facet

The kamancheh is an Iranian bowed string instrument, used also in Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish and Kurdish music and related to the rebab, the historical ancestor of the kamancheh and also to the bowed Byzantine lyra, ancestor of the European violin family. The strings are played with a variable-tension bow. It is widely used in the classical music of Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kurdistan Regions with slight variations in the structure of the instrument.

Komuz musical instrument

The komuz or qomuz, Azerbaijani Qopuz, Turkish Kopuz, is an ancient fretless string instrument used in Central Asian music, related to certain other Turkic string instruments and the lute.


The rebab is a type of a bowed string instrument so named no later than the 8th century and spread via Islamic trading routes over much of North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Europe, and the Far East. The bowed variety often has a spike at the bottom to rest on the ground, and is thus called a spike fiddle in certain areas, but plucked versions like the kabuli rebab also exist.

Đàn gáo

The đàn gáo is a bowed string instrument, a part of the traditional Vietnamese orchestra. It is similar to the đàn hồ. The instrument originated from South Viet Nam, and is used in entertainment contexts. It can be played alone, as part of an orchestra, or to accompany cải lương. The instrument’s name can be broken down as “đàn” meaning string instrument, and “gáo” literally translated as an aged coconut shell used as a scooper. The đàn gáo is most closely related to the fiddle in Anglo-American culture, and the yehu and banhu in Chinese culture.

Rubab (instrument) musical instrument

Rubab, robab or rabab is a lute-like musical instrument originating from central Afghanistan. The rubab is mainly used by various ethnic groups in Western Asia. Rubab is one of the national musical instruments of Afghanistan. It has "proliferated throughout West, Central, South and Southeast Asia."

Kobyz Kazakh string instrument

The Kobyz or kyl-kobyz is an ancient Kazakh string instrument. It has two strings made of horsehair. The resonating cavity is usually covered with goat leather.

Byzaanchy type of fiddle

The byzaanchy is a four-stringed vertical spike fiddle used in the traditional music of Tuva. It is similar to the Chinese sihu. However, the byzaanchy's soundbox is generally made of wood whereas the sihu usually has a metal soundbox. The byzaanchy's soundbox may be cylindrical or, more rarely, cubical.

Ghijak Uyghur spike fiddle

The ghijak, ghijek, pronounced aijieke (艾捷克) or jizihake (吉孜哈克) in Chinese, is a four-stringed bowed spike fiddle, either with a bowl soundbox, or with a box soundbox often made from a tin can, with three or four metal strings. It is used by Afghans, Uzbeks, Uyghurs, Tajiks, Turkmens, Qaraqalpaks and in the Xinjiang province of western China.

Yaylı tambur

The yaylı tambur is a bowed long-neck lute from Turkey. Derived from the older plucked tambur, it has a long, fretted neck and a round metal or wooden soundbox which is often covered on the front with a skin or acrylic head similar to that of a banjo.

Tanbur various long-necked, string instrument originating in the Southern or Central Asia

The terms Tanbur, Tanbūr, Tanbura, Tambur, Tambura or Tanboor can refer to various long-necked, string instruments originating in Mesopotamia, Southern or Central Asia. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "terminology presents a complicated situation. The term tanbur is applied to a variety of distinct and related long-necked string instruments used in art and folk traditions in Iran, India, Iraqi Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikestan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. Similar or identical instruments are also known by other terms."

The xiqin was a bowed string musical instrument. It is perhaps the original member of the huqin family of Chinese and Mongolian bowed string instruments; thus, the Erhu and Morin khuur and all similar fiddle instruments may be said to be derived from the xiqin. The xiqin had two silk strings and was held vertically.

Temir komuz

The temir komuz is a Kyrgyz jew's harp, while the komuz is a 3-stringed fretless lute. As an instrument temir komuz is unrelated to the komuz in terms of style and structure however, it takes its name from this other popular Turkic instrument.

Dutar traditional long-necked two-stringed lute found in Iran and Central Asia

The dutar is a traditional long-necked two-stringed lute found in Iran and Central Asia. Its name comes from the Persian word for "two strings", دوتار do tār, although the Herati dutar of Afghanistan has fourteen strings. When played, the strings are usually plucked by the Uyghurs of Western China and strummed and plucked by the Tajiks, Turkmen, Uzbeks. Related instruments include the Kazakh dombra. The Dutar is also an important instrument among the Kurds of Khorasan amongst whom Haj Ghorban Soleimani of Quchan was a noted virtuoso. In Kormanji one who plays the dutar is known as a bakci (bakhshi), while in Azeri the term is ashiq. Khorasan bakhshi music is recognized on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The rawap is a fretted plucked long-necked stringed instrument used in folk music by residents of the Uyghur Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang, Western China. The history of the instrument dates back to the 14th century in southern Xinjiang. It is an instrument of the Tajiks and Uzbeks. It's particularly associated with Uyghur music and culture.


  1. "Turkmen Dutar songs on Tmhits website" . Retrieved 2010-01-17.
  2. "Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia on the AKDN website" . Retrieved 2006-12-08.