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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.

Other Travelers' Questions

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. Mi*** from: Mount Kailash Tour from Kathmandu, Nepal

I want to do tour from Kathmondu, coming from USA. what do you recommand in August 2019? Thanks.

Answered by Nancy

Dear Mr. Mi***, 

Greetings from Nancy at Budget Tibet tour, and I am glad to be at your service. Please kindly let me know your nationality firstly since your tour will be involved with Kailash. If you will enter Tibet from Kathmandu, you must leave 3 working days in Kathmandu for you to apply your China visa there, and also if you would like to visit Kailash for sure, I recommend you fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa to join in a group tour as almost all the group tour start from Lhasa. I recommend you to fly to China from USA then go to Kathmandu after the tour as we can drop off you at the border so you can go Kathmandu by overland. Anyway I will send you more details by email. Best regards. 

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

user portrait Mr. Ge*** from: 1 Day Lhasa World Heritages Tour

Dear we are a couple planning to travel from Kathmandu to Lhasa on march 2020 by flight.
We eould like to know the price for the 1 day Lhasa tour
Can we stay 2 additional days without tour-guide ? what about the price of tibet visa??



Answered by Helen

Dear Mr. Ge***,

Thanks very much for your enquiry. Please kindly note that the Tibet will closed to foreign tourists in March every year, I was wondering whether you could adjust your travel time or not. Sure, we can arrange 1 day Lhasa private tour for you, the quotation is based on your travel time. Please check your email for more details. Warm regards,

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

user portrait Mr. Ma*** from: 18 days Tibet Mount Kailash & Guge Kingdom Expedition

Hello there

I am favouring with one of your tours including the pilgrimage around mount kailash.
What is the level of fitness required ?
I am female, 54 years old and I gues medium fit. I dont do too much sports but regularly hiking.
The timeframe for me would be mid May until Mid june.



Answered by Nancy

Dear Ma***, 

Greetings from Nancy at Budget Tibet tour, and I am glad to be at your service. As we do not have group to Guge, but we do have 15days Lhasa to Kailash trekking pilgrim tour on 15th May and 10th June, both dates are available for you to join in. 10th June group tour will come cross the Saga Dawa festival in Kailash on 17th June, so if you can make it that would be great. Your age is quite young, please worry free, and most of our clients were your same age, some are more than 70 years old even did the tour quite well, and 3days pilgrim tour would be no problem. You will leave most of your luggage in hotel, and carry the necessary stuff, and also there are some tea house there providing hot water, simple food and basic shelter for sleeping, but of course please do not expect too high about it. And we will do the outer circle for the pilgrim trekking which will be 54km in total. I will send you more details to your email please check it there. Best regards.  

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

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