ICH of Mongolia: Traditional music of the Morin Khuur

Journalist A.Odontuya

2017-02-07 09:48 GMT+8

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Traditional music of the Morin Khuur, Mongolian bowed two-stringed instrument (translates as horse head fiddle) was inscribed in 2008 on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The instrument consists of a trapezoid wooden-framed sound box to which two strings are attached. It is held nearly upright with the sound box in the musician's lap or between the musician's legs. The strings are made from hairs from nylon or horses' tails, strung parallel, and run over a wooden bridge on the body up a long neck, past a second smaller bridge, to the two tuning pegs in the scroll, which is usually carved into the form of a horse's head.

The bow is loosely strung with horse hair coated with larch or cedar wood resin, and is held from underneath with the right hand. The underhand grip enables the hand to tighten the loose hair of the bow, allowing very fine control of the instrument's timbre.

The larger of the two strings (the "male" string) has 130 hairs from a stallion`s tail, while the "female" string has 105 hairs from a mare`s tail. Nowadays the strings are made of nylon. The strings are stopped either by pinching them in the joints of the index and middle fingers, or by pinching them between the nail of the little finger and the pad of the ring finger.

Traditionally, the frame is covered with camel, goat, or sheep skin, in which case a small opening would be left in back. But since the 1970s, new all-wood sound box instruments have appeared, with carved f-holes similar to European stringed instruments.


The morin khuur`s significance extends beyond its function as a musical instrument, for it is traditionally an integral part of rituals and everyday activities of the Mongolian nomads. Playing the morin khuur is accompanied with dances, throat singing (khuumii), long songs (urtiin duu), mythical tales, ceremonies and everyday tasks related to horses. 

On the national festival "Naadam" praise songs are played for the most magnificent horse and for the highest ranked wrestler and archer. The songs are called "Magtaal" and accompanied by a unique style of praise and morin khuur.

To this day, the morin khuur is used to tame animals. Herders in Mongolian Gobi region who face a problem when the female camel unexpectedly rejects her newborn colt after a particularly difficult birth. There is a tradition to coaxing ritual to encourage a female camel to accept a newborn or to adopt an orphan. The mother is tied close to the calf and a singer with morin khuur begins a monotone song accompanied by gestures and chanting. The use of morin khuur for coaxing ritual for baby camels came to the attention of the public in the West with the introduction of the "Weeping Camel" movie by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorn.  

Moreover, many festivals are held for celebrating the importance of this instrument on the Mongolian culture, like the biannual "International Festival-Competition of Morin Huur", which is organized by the "World Morin Khuur Association", which was first held in 2008 with 8 participating countries (Mongolia, Korea, China, Russia, USA, Germany, France, Japan). 

Also many Mongolians have morin khuur in their home, because it is believed as a symbol for peace and happiness. In regards, the second President of Mongolia N.Bagabandi ordered every families to have morin khuur at their homes. 


In Mongolia the morin khuur can be learned at following schools:

  • The University of Art and Culture - Here students enter in adult age for obtaining a bachelor's degree after 2 years and a master's degree after 5 years of musical education. After the master's degree the students are considered to be professional musicians, and can play at one of the state ensembles or later become a teacher at the University of Art and Culture. 
  • The music and dance college - Here usually children enter this school, which has a strong focus on music, but not exclusively. 
  • The Culture School of the University of Art and Culture - Here several qualification courses are available. Graduates from this school mostly become teachers or enter the Culture School of the University of Art and Culture. 

In addition, number of musical training courses in Mongolia offer dedicated program for beginners. 


State Morin Khuur Ensemble with the aim to inherit, promote and develop morin khuur performs several concerts annually. 

On Mar 7- 8, the Morin Khuur Ensemble will present its annual "Playing Love" movie soundtrack concert at the Corporate Hotel & Convention Center to promote Mongolian traditional music to the world.

Moreover professional artists and State Morin Khuur Ensemble have released albums that you can buy online, please click HERE.

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