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Tibet Traditional Music

Time: 11-06-2018 This Article is Composed by BudgetTibetTour

Traditional music of Tibet is usually classified into four types: Palace Music, Folk Music, Religious Music and Opera Music.

Palace Music

Palace music in Tibet usually refers to such music as the Potala Palace entertainment during the period of the local government of Tibet, and it also includes that played in the palaces of all local grand Living Buddha's with various monasteries. It can be classifies into three types:

"Gar" (dance) music. This involves singing and dancing, and is often played by "Suona", "Damar" drum and clarinet.

Palace Music

"Garlo" (song) music. The song has a graceful and elegant melody, and it is often played by "dranyen" violin, dulcimer, "Piwang" (stringed instrument), flute, "genka" (stringed instrument), etc.

Welcoming and seeing-off music accompanied by drum beats, and light music. They belong to pure instrumental music, and welcoming and seeing-off music accompanied by drum beats is often played by "Suona","Damar" drum and clarinet; light music is often played by clarinet and "Damar" drum.

Palace music often represents religion or songs in praise of religion. In the past, players of amusement music were men, showing the sanctity and holiness of religion.

Folk Music

Folk music occupies a large proportion of traditional music of Tibet. In regard to types, numbers, abundant content, coverage and playing frequency, it is always listed at the head of the four types of music of Tibet. According to styles, folk music can be classified into five types: singing and dancing, ballad, labor songs, talking and singing, and instrumental.

Folk Music

Singing and dancing music. This includes Goshie, Shieqen, Raba, Duishie, Nangmar, Shuanzi, Agar, Chogar, Kaibakaimar, Shuan, So-o, and so on. The Tibetan word "Goshie" has the meaning of singing and dancing in a circle. It has spread to all the Tibetan-inhabited areas, and prevails especially in rural areas, "Shieqen" is singing and dancing of sobriety and elegance played at grand and ceremonious celebrations. ‘Shieqen" is popular in most villages and towns in Tibet, but in pasturing areas in northern Tibet and eastern Tibet, this kind of art are not popular.

"Raba" is folk singing and dancing popular in eastern Tibet and the Changtang Grasslands; Dingqen Raha is the most famous. The music of "Raba" includes two types: one is music accompany dancing; the other one is singing or interludes, accompanied by "Raba" drum and brass bells. A yak horn qin is often played for accompaniment.

"Duishie" is folk singing and dancing popular on the Tibetan plateau. "Dui" in Tibetan has the meaning of "upper" referring specifically such counties as Tingri, Lharze, Sagya, Ongren and Ngari areas in upper reaches of the Yarlung Zangho River; "shie" in Tibetan has the meaning of singing and dancing. With the establishment of the local government of Tibet "Gandain Phoodrang", cultural exchanges became increasingly frequent and active in Tibetan-inhabited areas, and the singing and dancing art of "Duishie" was gradually introduced to the Lhasa area and transformed by folk actors according to characteristics of folk music there, changing from rude, sanguine, and active "Duiba Duishie" to light, lively, graceful and implicative "Lhasa Duishie" Today on the Tibetan Plateau there are three co-existing types of "Duishie": "Lhasa Duishie", "Lharze Duishie" and "Tingri Duishie".

Folk Music

"Nangmar" singing and dancing is often popular in the cities of Lhasa and Shigatse. The accompaniment of "Nangmar" singing and dancing is almost the same as "Duishie" and is often played by dulcimer, urhien, jinghu, flute and stringed bells.

The word of "Shuanzi" originated from accompaniment of yak horn pin, and it is a folk singing and dancing popular in eastern Tibet.

"Agar" is a singing and dancing during construction work, most popular on the Tibetan Plateau. It is an old and traditional art of singing and working while constructing monasteries, palaces, and manors, and repairing building roofs or the inside and outside floors.

"Chogar" is a dancing with a round and flat waist drum. It is popular in the rural areas of Lhasa and Shannan.

In Tibetan, the word of "Kaibakaimar" has the meaning of men and women singers and dancers. This sort of singing and dancing is popular in some rural areas, including Ritog County in Ngari district.

Folk Music

"Shuan" is an old folk singing and dancing popular in Ngari district with special style and long history.

"So-o" is an old singing and dancing from popular in Sagya County in Shigatse district, and it often appears in religious festivals.

Ballads. In respect of styles, ballads in Tibet can be divided into toast songs, love songs, pilgrimage songs, antiphonal songs, field songs (pasturing songs), children's songs, praising songs, escorting-bride songs, expedition songs, guessing songs, ballad ditty, bandit songs, etc. Among them, toast songs, lose songs, children's songs, escorting-bride songs and antiphonal songs are spread most widely overt the Tibetan-inhabited areas. Field songs have another name of pasturing songs and are often popular in the Kham area (including Nagqu), with free rhythm and loud and long timbre. Expedition songs were played before armies' left fora battle or returning home from victories in ancient times. And it is said that it prevailed during the Tuba Kingdom period, and later it was popular in some areas in Tibet, including Qunggyi County of Shannan district. Bandit songs are often popular in some counties in the Nagqu area.


Work songs. Labong songs in Tibet can be divided into five types, i.e. those sung during construction, agricultural work, pasturing, sideline jobs and transporting. Construction work songs include earth-moving songs, huge stones and timbers-moving songs, stone-carrying songs, tamping-groundsill songs, tamping-wall songs and "Agar clay" songs, etc.

Agricultural work songs include plowing songs, earth-moving songs, weeding songs, carrying-fertilizer songs, and grain-threshing songs, etc.

Pasturing work songs include herding songs, butter-making songs, shearing songs, milking songs, butter-refining songs, etc.

Work songs

Sideline work songs include weaving pulu woolen fabrics songs, washing pulu woolen fabrics songs, frying qingke barley songs, grinding feedstuff songs, oil-pressing songs, arrow songs, etc.

Transporting work songs include home and mule state songs, donkey state songs, driving yak songs, paddling yak hide rafts songs, etc.

Talking and singing music. The talking and singing music in Tibet include Gesar, Lama Mani, etc. Talking and singing music is characterized by talking for a while and singing for a while, talking before singing, and circling a course.

"Gesar" talking and singing music is often popular in Nagqu in northern Tiibet and Qamdo in eastern Tibet.

Work songs

"Lama Mani" talking and singing music is often popular in areas of Lhasa, Shigatse, and Shannan in the middle areas of Tibet: "Zhegar" talking and singing music is mostly popular around the whole Tibetan-inhabited areas, and contains some simple dances during talking and singing.

"Gorlo" is an old Tibetan ballad. It was developed in three stages: the initial one was "Gorlo" of TuboTsampo (king) period, the medium one was "GorIo" of the feudalist separatist regime period (Gorlo of Milha Raba is typical), and later one was "Gorlo" of the local government period of "Gandain Phodrang" (Gorlo of the 6th Dalai Lama Camyang Gyamco is typical); "Shia" is an antiphonal ballad mostly popular on the Tibetan Plateau, and it is usually played during various religious festivals; the word of "Zonglu" in Tibetan has the meaning of songs sung in storytelling, and it has another name of folk song of story-telling, popular throughout Tibet.

Instrumental Music

Instrumental music in Tibet is not very developed. There were many instruments during each historical stage, but most were played more in religious music than in folk art, Even if it was used by the folk, it only served as accompaniment to folk songs or dances and hardly showed up solo. In the early 20th Century, military bands emerged in the Tibetan army. The instruments played were tuba, trumpet, French horn, trombone flute, piccolo, large and small military drums and plucked stringed instruments. The songs played included foreign works, Tibetan folk music, and some Han Songs.

Religious Music

Before 1951, when Tibet won peaceful liberation, almost all people in Tibet believed in religion. Hence, religious music occupied a vital position in Tibetan society. Religious music in Tibet is another name for monastery music, and it can be divided into music of the Bon and Tibetan Buddhism. Performances were carried on during religious festivals, and wherever religious activity is, there is religious music.

Religious Music

Religious instruments often have "Tongqen" (Buddhist horns), which are applied in large-scale ceremonies. "Gyaling" is a wind instrument originating inhabited areas and is often applied in large-scale ceremonies as well. "Suona" is an instrument originated from Arabia and is often applied in various ceremonies. Drums of long handle or bell drums are often played in the halls of the Buddhist guardians and ceremonies. Big gongs or brass gongs are often used to announce the rallying time of monks. White sea conch is one or the important accompaniment instruments in religious ceremonies; the big sea conch is mainly used in Tantric ceremonies; in the Sagya, Nvingma and Gagyu Sects, this sort of instrument is often used in praising Songs.

Opera Music

This includes Tibetan opera, Qamdo opera, Moinha opera and etc. Tibetan opera is the general name of Tibetan opera arts. Qamdo opera and Moinba opera both belong to Tibetan opera, while the music for voice and performing form of these operas are obviously different from Tibetan opera in the U-Tsang area.

Opera Music

In regard to the color of the masks, Tibetan opera can he divided into two kinds: white mask opera and blue mask opera. It is usually believed that blue mask opera was created by the famous accomplished monk Thang Stong Rgyal Po of the Gagyu Sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the 14th century. Later, during a long development course, it evolved into eight lists of opera, including Prince Norsang and Princess Wencheng.

A drum and a plucked stringed instrument serve as accompaniment and the music is particularly characterized by long rhythm and loud tone.

Travelers' Questions Might Help

The questions raised by our past customers can help you get a more clear picture about tours to Tibet, read them or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side, our specialists will reply you within 24 hours.

user portrait Mr. St*** from: Kailash Circuit ( 18 Days )

ello, we are willing to organized a tour of Kailash from Lhassa for a group of 4 persons (3 french and 1 from Kazakstan) around end of august. Could you provide a private tour for 4 persons ? and for what price ?

Thank you very much


Answered by Helen

Dear St***, 

Greetings from Helen at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry. I do not know if your friend who hold Kazakstan can apply China visa, as it is quite strict for them to get China visa, and almost the embassy would turn them down. So please tell your friend about it. No offence, and we had Kazakstan clients before but failed to get China visa so cannot come to join in the tour. If there are 3 or 4 of you, and I just wonder whether it will be OK for you to join in a group tour, and we have the group tour on 12th Sept, which I can provide you some discount if all of you would like to join in, and also our group size is 4 to 12 people, so not large group.  I will provide you the private tour quote too with 3 people and 4 people and also you can start it in Aug or Sept any time you want. And 30th Aug. will be Tibet Shoton festival which will last about 1 week in Lhasa, and the highlight will be the first day in Drepung Monastry for Thangka Buddha Show there. Best regards.

Email to Helen about any question or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side

user portrait Ms. jo*** from: 10 Days Tibet Mt. Everest Base Camp plus Namtso Lake Group Tour


I am interested in your 10D Tibet Mt. Everest Base Camp plus Namtso Lake Group Tour for the departure date on 20 May. However I may likely book the flight arriving Lhasa on 17 May. is it possible to arrange the Tibet tour permit from 17 May before start of tour?

as my flight will be arriving at around 6pm after the free airport pick up time, can I take the airport shuttle bus by myself to my accommodation without a guide? how do I arrange pick up from my own-arranged hotel to the hotel booked by this tour on day 1 of itinerary?

also I am booking for one pax only and will like to share room. currently only one pax has booked. may I know if there is a minimum group size for the tour to be confirmed? or will it be last minute cancelled if the tour booking does not meet the minimum pax requirement.?

Answered by Helen

Dear Ms. jo***,

Thanks very much for your inquiry, and we currently have one departure date on 20th of May, you are quite welcome to join us! I was wondering whether you could fly to Lhasa on 20th or not. Well, you can also arrive in Lhasa on 17th, but there is extra fee. When you arrive in Lhasa at 6pm of 17th, you'll miss our free pick up on 20th, please note that you can't take bus or taxi from airport to hotel by yourself, because when you enter Lhasa, you must be escorted with a guide according to the policy (there will be policeman check-point on the way from airport to downtown), so the guide will pick you up at the airport and help you pass the check-point, and there is extra pick up fee. There is one tourist who has booked this tour, but he will stay in a single room. We will try our best to find a roommate for you, but if we fail, I was wondering whether you mind staying in guesthouse (dorm-bed, public bathroom, with breakfast), which can avoid single room supplement fee for you. The minimum group size is two persons, now there is one tourist has booked this tour, if you book this tour, there are two persons together, we won't cancel it. I will send detailed itinerary to you by email, please check it. Warm regards.

Email to Helen about any question or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side

user portrait Mr. Ro*** from: Mount Kailash Tour Cost

Hi ,

Can I get information to do the Inner Kora Darshan of Mount Kailash. I am planning to start my tour from Lhasa. Appreciate if you could provide details//// Tour Operators . Please note I will flying from Canada to Lhasa and I do have a mutiple Chinese Visa.

Answered by Helen

Dear Mr. Ro***, 

Greetings from Helen at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry. Normally people are not allowed to take the Inner Kora unless they finish the 13 circles outside kora, so at present we never managed it successful for the inner Kora tour there. And we only have the 15 days Tibet Mount Kailash Trekking plus Mt. Everest Base Camp tour available every month from April to Oct. Please kindly let me know when you would like to do this tour? So I can recommend you the proper date. Your visa will be No problem for us to apply Tibet permit. I will send you more details by email. Best regards.

Email to Helen about any question or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side

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