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Traditional instrument Morin Khuur
HomeAbout MongoliaTraditional instrument Morin KhuurUpdated 2017 June
Mongolian traditional musician instrument Morin Khuur: Fiddle with a horse's headA legend about the origin of the Morin Khuur is that a shepherd named Namjil the Cuckoo received a gift of a flying horse; he would mount it at night and fly to meet his beloved. A jealous woman had the horse's wings cut off, so that the horse fell from the air and died. The grieving shepherd made a horse head fiddle from the now-wingless horse's skin and tail hair, and used it to play poignant songs about his horse.

Another legend credits the invention of the morin khuur to a boy named Sukhe. After a wicked lord slew the boy's prized white horse, the horse's spirit came to Sukhe in a dream and instructed him to make an instrument from the horse's body, so the two could still be together and neither would be lonely. So the first morin khuur was assembled, with horse bones as its neck, horsehair strings, horse skin covering its wooden sound box, and its scroll carved into the shape of a horse head.

The traditional instrument Morin Khuur means Fiddle with a horse's head. 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 horses' tails, strung parallel, and run over a wooden bridge on the body up a long neck to the two tuning pegs in the scroll, which is always 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. Traditionally, the strings were tuned a fifth apart, though in modern music they are more often tuned a fourth apart. 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 the back. But since the 1970s, new all-wood sound box instruments have appeared, with carved f-holes similar to European stringed instruments.

Morin khuur vary in form depending on region. The Instruments from central Mongolia tend to have larger bodies and thus possess more volume than the smaller-bodied instruments of Inner Mongolia.
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